THE TEMPTATION to over-read the UK election result is very strong. On the left of British politics the sense of both relief and jubilation is palpable. Journalists close to the parliamentary Labour Party report that until the release of the exit poll at 10:00pm on Thursday night most MPs were anticipating electoral disaster. That Jeremy Corbyn has rescued the careers of so many of his bitterest enemies is only one of the many ironies thrown up by the voters. Still, the political realities remain stark. Although he has lifted the Labour vote to its highest point since 2001 and picked up 29 seats, Corbyn is still 57 seats shy of the Tories tally. The Labour Party wasn’t destroyed in this election – far from it! – but neither did it win.
It was the British Conservative Party that secured the most votes and the most seats on 8 June. Not enough to govern, it is true. Not without the support of the ten bigoted Ulstermen and women returned to Westminster for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Nevertheless, amid all the raucous jeering and cheering that greeted Theresa May’s extraordinary discomfiture, it is easy to forget that the collapse of UKIP has pushed the Tories share of the vote to 44 percent. In the shires and suburbs, far from the political class’s pontificating, that curious combination of spite and fear which is the Tory voter remains in no doubt that theirs is the voice which, muted though it may have been by the Corbyn surge, remains the voice that counts.
That surge is, however, the key take away from the 8 June election. The Tory base may be larger than Labour’s, but its vision of Britain’s future is limited, backward-looking and profoundly hostile to all claims of social solidarity and progress. By contrast, the Corbyn-led Labour Party’s radical manifesto, and its direct campaigning style, has drawn tens-of-thousands of young and formerly disillusioned voters into the thrilling business of pursuing political, economic and social change. This Corbynista positivity is a far cry from the technocratic manipulation and cynicism of Blairism. Indisputably, the election has brought about an extraordinary expansion of political space on the left of British politics.
That expansion has been achieved in the face of the right-wing media’s unrelenting hostility. That Rupert Murdoch allegedly stormed out of the Times’s election night party in disgust as the exit poll revealed the ineffectuality of his minions best efforts to demonise Corbyn and his colleagues is one of the more telling details of the election drama. It may be too much to hope that the days of politicians approaching Murdoch’s throne on their knees are over, but there can be little doubt that his power has been much diminished.
Perhaps the best way to characterise Corbyn’s achievement is to argue that he has persuaded British voters to cease using their vote as either a weapon to punish their enemies, or as a shield to protect themselves from their opponents’ worst intentions. Instead, he has persuaded a crucial and expanding part of the British electorate to conceive of their vote as a tool: as a peaceful and surprisingly effective mechanism for creating a better world.
And that, most definitely, is a win.