By ProgBlog, Jun 11 2017 05:59PM
The UK has been gripped by the general election over the last week, somewhat surprisingly when it appeared that the electorate was completely battered by a spate of recent polls: The Scottish Independence referendum; the 2015 general election; the EU referendum; then the somewhat unnecessary call for a stronger mandate to bolster Theresa May’s negotiating hand for our exit from the EU. Yet, on Friday as I prepared to go for work, there was an indication that the world of politics may never be the same again as the results indicated a hung parliament and a good number of seats gained by the Labour Party, including mine in Croydon Central. Seven weeks ago there was a tacit understanding, promoted by almost all mainstream media, that Labour faced annihilation and that Jeremy Corbyn would be personally responsible for the wipe-out at the ballot box. However, on that morning commentators and a large proportion of the Parliamentary Labour Party had to admit just how wrong they’d been; though Labour didn’t get more seats than the Tories it was widely recognised that in overseeing a net gain of 32 seats, including positive results in Conservative heartlands such as Canterbury and Kensington, Corbyn had emerged as the biggest winner of the previous night.
At the start of the campaign, the contradictory behaviour of May, parroting that she was ‘strong and stable’ while embarking on a series of damaging U-turns seemed to be sufficient to dispel any vestiges of interest in politics in all but the politicians themselves, numbed as we were by the inane slogans of a political class which frequently put itself before the constituents. The gap in the polls between the two main parties was running at over 20 points, leading to the conclusion that May was calling the election, already with a working majority, for simple political gain. Despite the backing of media moguls and big business, however much money was thrown at the Tory campaign it was insufficient to hide May’s innate deficiencies. Badly advised and playing to vested interests, and projecting many of the damning qualities she accused the Labour leadership of possessing, her presidential-style campaign came unstuck with her refusal to debate head-to-head, the catalogue of changes in policy, a lack of empathy towards struggling working people, plus her dismal record as Home Secretary as she sought to pin the blame for the murderous attacks in Manchester and London on ‘terrorist sympathisers’ leading the opposition.
Meanwhile, Corbyn did what he does best; take his campaigning style out around the UK. Helped by the most socialist manifesto for a generation, one which had been agreed by the PLP, he sent out a message of hope and a rejection of seven years of failed neo-liberal economics. If anything, the manifesto was a little too cautious for me but I understood that the Labour document would undergo more forensic scrutiny than anything produced by the incumbents; fortunately for Labour, the Tories relied on their (entirely unwarranted) reputation for sensible fiscal management and didn’t bother to properly cost their programme, thus revealing a deep disdain for the voting public. The trend for the poll gap to close in some surveys, attributed to Corbyn’s message of hope to the young, was also dismissed as being of little concern because of the perceived notion that young people wouldn’t bother to turn out to vote.
The other misplaced presumption was that UKIP votes, even those from former Labour supporters would end up with Conservative candidates. This worried many prospective Labour MPs in the north, in Wales and the Midlands where they believed that Corbyn was responsible for alienating voters. What I already knew and what people saw following the announcement of the election, was that when seen outside of the bear-pit of the House of Commons with its turn-off adversarial politics, a game Corbyn was unhappy playing, he went down very well with thousands of people all around the country and, when reported on the news outside the prism of normal parliamentary coverage, millions more could hear his message of hope and positivity and witness his inclusivity. It became obvious, rather quickly, that he wasn’t a monster with fringe ideas dedicated to destroying the UK but quite the opposite; he wanted a fairer system where those who could afford to, paid a bit more tax and through investment, wealth was better distributed and services were resumed for the benefit of all.
I became politically active when Andrew Lansley proposed his Health and Social Care Bill after the formation of the coalition government in 2010. This was something that didn’t even feature in the Conservative manifesto at the time but, because of its swift introduction, it had evidently been pre-planned and I could see that it spelt out the certain break-up of the NHS. Over the following years I marched, sat down in the middle of Westminster Bridge for an hour or two and made connections with like-minded individuals. The highlight of this time was giving a short address to a crowded Central Hall, Westminster, about the threat of privatisation in the NHS. I’d just organised a ‘Hands Around St Thomas’ Hospital’ event, held opposite Parliament during some of the most dreadful spring weather imaginable and Jeremy Corbyn was one of the only MPs to attend; then, when I’d given my speech, John McDonnell approached me to say how much he enjoyed what I’d said.
The drift towards an acceptance that austerity was the only possible answer to the global crash of 2008 was simply the will of large corporations who wanted to carry on as normal. Politicians, possibly fearing the wrath of vested interests, went along with this because the alternative narrative required a shift to economics proposed by the left and a refutation of centrist social democracy so ironically, it was Labour who saved neo-liberalism. The coalition inherited an economy that had begun to shows signs of recovery but, following the dogma that decried the requirement for any form of state control, they imposed a wage cap on the public sector and began a series of cuts to services which hit the poor, the ill and the young while cementing the lifestyle of the top earners. The downward pressure on wages of already low-earners in an economy dominated by the service industries provided one of the sources of anti-immigrant sentiment; another was a chronic shortage of appropriate housing stock. No one in a position of power had the will to challenge the causes of this tension because this too would have upset the orthodoxy. Instead, we witnessed the return of slum landlords and an increase in top-end properties bought by foreign investors who never set foot in their purchases; the divide between haves and have nots got ever wider and resentment simmered in former industrial heartlands, stoked by the multimillionaire proprietors of The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and The DailyTelegraph and the people ignored by Westminster.
This election result changed all that. Originally deeply despairing of the Labour leadership, fuelled by the difference in opinion of the members and the PLP, The Guardian came round to supporting Labour following the publication of their manifesto. The contrast between Labour and Conservative became quite stark: positivity vs. fear and negativity; concern for social justice vs. conceited indifference and, crucially; discipline vs. chaos. Even after the exit poll at 10pm on Thursday there were still some Labour MPs who doubted. Of the imagined carnage, they only lost five seats but gained 37; the Conservatives lost 33 seats and gained 20, losing the parliamentary majority they held before the election. May’s Brexit-election gamble backfired spectacularly. Winner? Hardly!
Jeremy Corbyn may be an unorthodox leader but his sincerity and willingness to listen in a world where shouting loudest (including electronically) and acting strong were formerly seen as important traits, has enabled him to rewrite the rules. Brexit may have been a tussle between the Conservatives and an irrelevant UKIP but 40% of the voting public had much more to worry about and Labour has the best answers to their problems. I’m looking forward to the Conservative-DUP deal coming unstuck – bring on the next general election!