Britain’s general election has changed everything. Over the past two years since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, history has been moving at a frenetic pace. As events unfold, it only seems to accelerate. The election may have not been won outright by any one party, but does anyone seriously doubt that the greatest loser was Theresa May and that the biggest winner was Jeremy Corbyn?
Arraigned against almost the entire political and media establishment, the Labour Party’s most left-wing leader ever pulled off stunning gains, with a net increase of 30 seats for Labour MPs compared to the previous election in 2015; the ruling Conservative Party, whose leader called the election, actually lost 13 seats.
Corbyn’s insurgent campaign managed to capture 40 per cent of the popular vote. He won back enough seats to snatch away May’s parliamentary majority, making her position increasingly untenable the longer she stays in Downing Street.
The Labour Party manifesto put forward some radical departures from Conservative doctrine on international affairs of war and peace; it promised to “end support for unilateral aggressive wars of intervention.” This is a radical departure too, from the now-dead Blairite consensus which once held a vice-like grip on the Labour Party. It signals the end for British arms sales to the tyrants of Saudi Arabia, and an end to British support for the Saudis’ war on Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians.
On Palestine, as I have argued elsewhere, the manifesto was by no means radical. While it did call for an end to the Israeli occupation, it offered no concrete measures to hold Israel to account. A good step in that direction for the next Labour manifesto would be to impose an immediate and full arms embargo on Israel, something for which Corbyn has expressed support in the past.
May is now trying to negotiate a deal with a hard-right party in Northern Ireland, which has a long history of links to violent extremist groups. Even this support from the Democratic Unionist Party will leave her with at best a razor-thin majority when trying to pass any new legislation. The potential “confidence and supply” arrangement — which Corbyn has already ironically dubbed a “coalition of chaos” after May’s own slogan aimed at Labour — seems unlikely to endure in the long term.
Nevertheless, thanks to the support of the Christian Zionist fanatics of the DUP, Theresa May looks set to remain as prime minister for the time being. However, another general election seems likely within a year or maybe even less, depending on the pace of events.
With every day that passes, Corbyn looks ever more like a prime minister in waiting, while May is increasingly isolated and absent. The shocking, and entirely preventable, disaster at Grenfell Tower in London this week provided stark evidence of this.
On Thursday, both leaders made visits to the scene of the deadly tower block fire, but only Corbyn actually visited the traumatised and rightly angry residents, most of whom have lost everything. May, on the other hand, spoke to the fire brigade chief and was then swiftly chauffeured out of the area. She refused to meet local people, no doubt afraid to face their anger in front of the TV cameras.
The prime minister was absent where the Labour leader was present. Corbyn is starting to act like he is ready to take her place.
Given that when May called the election in April she was widely expected to gain as many as 83 seats, the election result is a stunning and historic defeat for her, and a massive victory for Corbyn’s Labour Party, which saw a huge increase in its share of the vote; it was the biggest electoral achievement in many years.
According to the utterly-failed conventional wisdom, Labour was supposed to have been facing “election wipeout” under its supposedly “Marxist extremist” leader. As well as the hostile media, for more than two years now, Corbyn’s main enemy has been the tired old guard within his own party, all too often associated with the clapped-out and discredited neoliberal theories of former leader Tony Blair.
Last year, some three-quarters of Corbyn’s own MPs launched a coup and called on him to step down as leader, backing a leadership challenge by no-mark Owen Smith. Corbyn refused to betray the people who voted him into the leadership role. He refused to resign and instead won a stunning second leadership election victory, with an increased mandate from the membership, many of whom flocked to join the party specifically to support him.
The Labour Party is now the largest democratic socialist party in Europe with well over half a million members.
May called the snap election because Jeremy Corbyn’s poll ratings were poor, on the back of almost entirely hostile media coverage, including that of the liberal Guardian and traditionally Labour-supporting Mirror. At the start of the campaign, May had a poll lead as high as 22 percentage points. A series of spectacular strategic blunders — such as refusing to appear in televised debates — along with a deeply unpopular manifesto, and Corbyn’s very-well-received social democratic proposals, meant that the polls began to turn around swiftly. May gradually lost ground, while Corbyn’s polling surged positively. Most opinion polls during the election campaign failed to predict the level of Corbyn’s success.
By the time polling stations closed on Election Day, the exit polls conducted on behalf of the BBC and the other main broadcasters were predicting a hung parliament, with no single party having an overall majority. That turned out to be broadly accurate.
When the Tories are forced to call another general election, and when Corbyn enters Number 10 as prime minister, as seems likely, it will amount to an unprecedented political revolution in this country. The Labour leader’s policies are not revolutionary in and of themselves. Public ownership of the railways, for example, is something that even a majority of Conservative voters now support. No; the radical implication is that the direction of travel could now turn around 180 degrees: the Tories have become more and more extreme in recent years, and have even started to privatise the National Health Service by the back door, something not even Margaret Thatcher in her heyday attempted.
With a government under Corbyn, there is some hope that Britain will finally, albeit gradually, start to head in the right direction.