They’re All Corbynites Now!
During the election campaign, Theresa May warned voters of the danger of a “coalition of chaos” involving Labour and the SNP. She wanted a landside win to strengthen her hand at the Brexit negotiations. But also to wipe out Labour as a force in Parliament. She failed abysmally, falling eight seats short of an overall majority.
Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of claiming that Labour won the election, not the Tories. He didn’t actually say that. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story? He claimed that Theresa May and the Tories didn’t have a mandate to govern, being dependent on the support of the ten DUP members from Northern Ireland. The “coalition of chaos” of Labour and the SNP has mutated into a Faustian pact between the Tories and the DUP.
The election was a personal triumph for Corbyn. Labour MPs who had poured scorn on him as leader and undermined him at every opportunity, have undergone a Pauline conversion. Many of their seats which were forecast to fall to the Tories, were retained with increased majorities. So they now praise him for a brilliant campaign and his ability to reach out to people of all ages and backgrounds. The majority of elderly voters continued to support the Tories. But this was more than compensated for with a huge surge in support for Labour from relatively young voters. Corbyn’s popularity with youth was shown at the recent Glastonbury festival where he received a rousing reception. People have claimed that the key was the promise to abolish Tuition Fees. But most of the new voters were too old to benefit, and too young to be worrying about it for their children.
Corbyn and Labour focused on the economy, jobs and public services, drawing attention away from Brexit. This tactic was both pragmatic and productive. It didn’t alienate Labour leave voters entirely or unduly concern those who voted to remain. Meanwhile, May’s need for a strong hand in the Brexit negotiations fell on deaf ears. They clearly believed the referendum was behind them and were now focused on austerity and the economy. She badly misjudged the mood of the electorate.
Theresa May fought a personalised campaign; a clear choice between her and Jeremy Corbyn. She and the Tory supporting press demonised Corbyn throughout, with half-truths and lies. But the voters liked what they saw about Corbyn as he walked and talked among them. Whereas May is ridiculed. Her “strong and stable” slogan has now entered the lexicon of satire.
Voters were also persuaded by Labour’s manifesto which, unlike the Tories’, had answers to their problems. To scare the voters the Tories described it as “Marxist”, when it was broadly similar to the manifesto of Attlee’s post-war Labour party. With its emphasis on a key economic and social role for public spending Corbyn’s Labour party, like Attlee’s, is firmly within the European left social democratic tradition.
The Tory manifesto offered little to voters. It even managed to scare the elderly with its threats of abandoning the triple-lock on pensions, scrapping the winter fuel allowance for higher income pensioners, and the prospect of a “dementia tax.” These were deeply unpopular policies across the voting spectrum, and not just with the over 65s. But most significantly, the Tories failed to fight the election on the economy. In spite of their constant boasting that they were delivering an economy that was strong and stable. Many senior Tories now believe this was a huge mistake.
Labour’s manifesto was criticised for its promises to increase spending across the public services and to borrow to invest in Britain’s infrastructure. “There isn’t a magic money tree” echoed the Tories and their supporters in the press. But there appears to be a magic mattress, under which money is found to funds wars in the middle east and astronomically expensive nuclear weapons. Not to mention the £1 billion handed to the DUP for Northern Ireland. As well as tax cuts to business and high earners. And, let’s not forget, gigantic sums were spent bailing out the banks, saving the bad investments of millionaires and billionaires.
The paucity of the Tory manifesto is reflected in the Queen’s Speech. A number of the more unpopular policies have been ditched. These include abandoning the pensions triple lock, means testing the winter fuel allowance, kicking the “dementia tax” into the long grass, and not reintroducing grammar schools. There is also a vague feeling that austerity may be rolled back, but we have yet to see that in government statements. The Queen’s Speech is silent on this. So we will have to assume that at this stage the £12 billion in cuts in public spending will go ahead.
Prior to the election May spoke incessantly about her determination to help people who were “just about managing.” Little was heard about this during the election campaign and there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to suggest she is still committed to it. It may have slipped her memory, focused as she is on getting the “best possible deal” from the Brexit negotiations. A large chunk of the Queen’s Speech relates to Brexit, eight bills in total, including one on immigration. The target reduction of net migration to the tens of thousands is now simply an aspiration. It will take years to achieve, or may never be reached.
What of Labour’s future? Corbyn has selected his shadow cabinet. Most positions are filled by previous occupants. Those who remained loyal to Corbyn. Owen Smith, who stood against Corbyn in the last leadership election, has been brought in as shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. His is the only new face. But loyalty is a two way street. Corbyn’s critics within the parliamentary party must now unite behind him. Show loyalty to a leader who achieved a remarkable result in an election expected to deliver a Tory landslide. In doing so they will strengthen Labour’s opposition and at the same time unite the party in preparation for another election, which Corbyn believes may come within six months.