A victory for Jeremy Corbyn that’s also a real advance for the working class, writes Lindsey German
Peter Mandelson said early on in this election campaign that Jeremy Corbyn would own this result. He certainly does. And it is an achievement which no one should deny him. Not the right wing Labour MPs who have constantly denigrated him and told journalists privately that the result was going to be a catastrophe for Labour (like the Titanic said one); not the media who launched some appalling slanderous attacks on Corbyn and his allies; not the pollsters who got it so wrong and who repeatedly underestimated the voting wishes of the young and the poor.
I was probably like many Corbyn supporters. I have felt for weeks that the campaign was going very well, but also tried to temper my hope with realism. As one friend put it when she messaged me yesterday, she had so many memories of being disappointed on election night that she was hopeful and inspired but also fearful because she feared her daughters would be terribly let down if it went wrong. I really didn't think the polls which gave a big Tory lead were right, but at the same time had no actual knowledge to the contrary. I was heartened by news yesterday of very substantial turnout, which favoured Labour, but worried that Labour votes might pile up in safe seats across London and other cities but not come out in the smaller northern towns.
So even though this is a hung parliament and Labour still has fewer seats than the Tories, who may be able to form a government with the DUP, this is a real victory for Jeremy Corbyn and those millions of people who put their trust in him. Any government will be extremely weak and unstable and the likelihood is of another election soon, where Labour will be in a very strong position.
Even as it stands, if the Tories fail to put a government forward, Labour will be able to propose a minority government. Andrew Marr said last night, no one expected Corbyn to be such good campaigner. Well, we all did. He played a blinder, and Labour has won some significant seats - Canterbury, Sheffield Hallam, Enfield Southgate, Battersea, Croydon Central.
This result was born in part out of the extra-parliamentary campaigns of the last decade and a half - over war, austerity and other issues. These movements and the changes in ideas that they brought about were key to Jeremy's support in becoming leader, and to the votes for his party. This is one reason the pollsters and experts have never understood the Corbyn phenomenon, and why they are constantly confounded by events.
Why were all the predictions so wrong?
Firstly, the experts thought all UKIP votes would go to the Tories. They did not. A significant number went to Labour - and this was despite Labour not making concessions to anti-immigrant and right-wing rhetoric. The whole argument put by those like Blue Labour was that Labour had to move to the right to keep its supporters. That was false.
Secondly, there was a huge turnout, especially of young people who were motivated to turn out in huge numbers by Labour's campaign, not just over tuition fees but over defence of public services and decent jobs. It was a defeat of fear and scapegoating. If only the former PLP had been behind him, Labour would have headed for a landslide.
May deserved to lose and she has. Her campaign was nothing short of a disgrace. Her failure is a shock to the whole of the political establishment, who really could never believe that a man who wanted an end to austerity and inequality, to abolish student tuition fees, and tax the rich, could ever win seats. If it were not for Scotland, where the Tories did well at the expense of the SNP, mainly by playing the anti-independence unionist card, the Tory seats would be even fewer.
This is a very big crisis for the ruling class, perhaps the biggest crisis for the UK since May 1940, when Churchill took over the wartime government, despite the opposition of much of his own party.
This is particularly grave given the start of Brexit negotiations which May wanted a strong hand to go into. She won't be doing that now, but no one is quite sure who will.
This is about class
Commentators are trying to make out that this is all about Brexit but it cannot be explained as simplistically. As I have always said, Brexit is important but even more important to people are public services, how old people are cared for, whether our children live in poverty and sometimes hunger. Above all, there is a discontent with a society which is, in Mandelson's words, extremely relaxed about the rich getting richer, while the rest of us suffer austerity and worsening working conditions.
This is an election then which is above all about class, and whether we can take back some of the wealth we produce to benefit the whole of society. That is why Corbyn managed the achievement of getting big votes in remain areas of London, and also kept seats in northern constituencies like Hartlepool and Darlington. Despite the best efforts of Ukip and the Tories, one of the dogs that didn't bark in this election was immigration. It never became a central issue, which tends to reinforce my view that the referendum was not mainly about this issue, but was a vote about other issues. Jeremy Corbyn managed to articulate people's concerns about inequality and privatisation and to put them centre stage.
Class may also have affected some of the votes in Scotland, where the SNP had a left of centre programme, but pushed the idea of independence above and beyond some of the basic class issues and lost to Labour.
This is a defeat for the Tories, even if they form a government in the short term. Their leader will be gone, their policy in tatters. For the first time in many years, there is a clear choice in British parliamentary politics. We need to do everything to back this up with the biggest possible mobilisations against Tory policies, in defence of the NHS, and for a decent education for all.
Jeremy Corbyn emerges from this in a good place. Blairism is dead. He will be stronger in his own party at least for the time being. The Tories are in huge crisis. The whole austerity agenda is now under attack. Predictions of doom following last year's referendum have been proved wrong.
I will be analysing more of this over the next couple of days - so there will be a couple more briefings still to come. Well done to all who campaigned for a better world. I'll leave you with one thought this morning. What a joy the Sun and the Mail haven't won this election, and what a joy that Lynton Crosby's gutter tactics lost.
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’.
More articles from this author
- Where do we go from here? – election briefing 13 December
- We have a world to win – election briefing Polling Day
- Ignore the naysayers and keep fighting – election briefing 11 December
- Lindsey German: don't underestimate how far we've come - video
- One nation or the one percent? - election briefing 10 December
- Ten points to remember before polling day – election briefing 9 December
- Antisemitism, politics, and voting Tory - election briefing 6 December