Detail from Alfred Clint’s portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819. Wikimedia/National Portrait Gallery Detail from Alfred Clint’s portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819. Wikimedia/National Portrait Gallery

The tumult of the last few weeks is an indicator of far deeper and persistent divisions, argues Lindsey German

So today is the day. Today is when we choose between the path of fear, hatred, austerity, war and vicious attacks on working class people, or choose a government for the mass of people, committed to helping the people who need it, and committed to taking some of the wealth away from some of the biggest corporations and high-worth individuals in the world. It is that which will determine the future of our health service, our children’s education, the nature of our work and wages, the whole nature of a society based on care, cooperation and equality. 

In my now lengthy experience of elections, I can honestly say that there has never been such a contrast between the two main parties, both in terms of policies but also of campaigns. There has I think rarely been a campaign as sheerly dreadful as that of Theresa May. She truly deserves to lose and lose badly. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has made record gains to come very close in a number polls, given how far behind he was at the beginning. He has run an energetic, positive and inclusive campaign, boosted by a manifesto which had the courage to take on the bankruptcy of neoliberal economics and politics. And he has won votes with it. 

Yet the Tories are still favourites to win. We can still stop that happening, and must do everything we can in the next few hours to do so, but we also need to understand why it is happening.

How low can it go? 

The Tories have run a campaign which is the most wretched and despicable I can remember. How can anyone show the slightest respect for a woman who lied about calling the election, called it for her own personal advantage, refused to engage in public debate with journalists, let alone members of the public who weren’t wearing blue rosettes, or cowering at work as their bosses made them listen to her interminably dull speeches? Who said she was cancelling campaigning because of the terrible attacks in London on Saturday and then made a speech straight out of the Tory manifesto? 

Jon Snow from Channel 4 tweeted that she was the first of seven prime ministers who had refused to be interviewed by him (before, at the last minute, she finally agreed). Jeremy Vine said the same. She is the only leader not to go on Women’s Hour. All of this led to her favoured epithet of strong and stable becoming the cue for spontaneous laughter and eye rolling. Her own side has looked on in despair, and unless she does very well in terms of majority her days must surely be numbered. Her manifesto promise to means test pensioners and take the houses of those who need social care, tested the loyalties of even the most adoring Daily Mail reader. But her terrible campaign has been endorsed by the rich and powerful, despite their misgivings. Nothing about the politics of the gutter has been too low for them, witness the slanders from Boris Johnson about terrorism, and the vile campaign against Diane Abbott.

In this, May, and her guru Lynton Crosby, are at one with the right wing press. Step forward the Sun and the Mail for two absolutely lying front pages yesterday. Also, George Osborne, editing the Evening Standard on behalf of millionaires everywhere, and declaring there would be Corbyn Chaos in London. Interestingly, it looks as those not that many will heed his words in London, which seems to be heading for a bigger Labour vote than last time. But this onslaught is a denial of democracy, as is the BBC’s slavish following of the print media, aka Tory central office, agenda. 

Nothing has gone as she had planned. There has been no coronation, and her reputation has suffered badly during the campaign. Her initial claim that the Tories had become the party of the working class was soon abandoned as her policies became widely known and disliked. 

Rise like lions

In contrast to her cold arrogance, Jeremy Corbyn has come across as honest, warm and capable of galvanising large numbers of people in his support. He grew in the campaign and his personal ratings increased remarkably. Young people especially seem to have been motivated to vote for him, but also former Labour voters, people who had given up voting, and ethnic minorities all attended the huge rallies up and down the country. It was his manifesto however that really changed things. At his final rally last night in Islington, mention of the manifesto was met with a huge cheer. 

The truth is, Corbyn’s campaign has become one about class. Whether the gross inequalities which now dominate our society will continue or whether working people will take some back some share of the wealth they create in terms of higher wages, free school meals, an enhanced NHS and decent social care. This manifesto changed the campaign. 

In my opinion, there would be no issue of him winning today if it hadn’t been for those on his own side who have done so much to attack him personally and his politics. If he hadn’t had the Guardian, some of his own backbenchers and some commentators spending the last two years doing him down (quotes from whom are now on Tory election leaflets across the country) there would have been a landslide for this manifesto. Even more galling is the way in which some of these sinners have come to repentance, claiming that he has campaigned better than they thought.  

Nonetheless, he has galvanised a huge army of supporters across the country. We should be proud of such a good campaign, and we still have today to make it happen.

Whatever the result, it won’t  be the end but the beginning, because a Corbyn government will be under attack by exactly those who have been so desperate to prevent him from winning up until now. They will not accept democratic decisions and will try to prevent the radical manifesto being implemented. If May wins, we know her attacks on the working class will begin straight away and we will have to mobilise on the streets and in workplaces to defeat her.

There is no certainty regarding the outcome – the Tories are very nervous that the people they are attacking will turn out and vote them out. We have today to make sure that happens. 

I was very proud to be at the great rally in Islington’s Union Chapel last night, which cheered Corbyn and Emily Thornberry to the rafters. He referenced local resident Mary Wollstonecraft and quoted from her son-in-law Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, written in response to the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, where dozens of protesters were cut down by the military. 

“Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number,

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you-

Ye are many – they are few.”

We can do it! 

Afterwards, I went for a drink with friends. As I got the bus home from Highbury near midnight, I passed several people outside a shop shouting get the Tories out tomorrow. And the Wetherspoons at Highbury Corner was full of people chanting ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’.

These are people mobilised by the mass campaign to get a left Labour leader elected. If we win today it will make a huge difference to the lives of millions. We all have to do everything we can to make sure that happens. And either way, we’ll be on the streets demanding real change afterwards. 

Good luck today everyone. See you on the other side.  

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.