I didn’t intend to write about the British election again so soon, but a topic has intrigued me enough that I felt the need to write a short post.
Over the past few days since the UK general election, we have been witness to one of the more rapid and curious transformations in public opinion of a political figure. Jeremy Corbyn was previously derided as an electoral no-hoper who would lead the Labour Party to a catastrophic defeat. He is now hailed as a model campaigner from whom both the Conservative Party and American progressives can learn from. Many have now dared to say what was previously unthinkable: that he could make a great prime minister. Labour politicians are rushing over to embrace him; former shadow cabinet ministers are lining up to rejoin.
I do not mean to diminish in any way Corbyn’s accomplishments. He has survived attempt after attempt by the Labour parliamentary party to bring him down. He has managed to, from an exceptionally low base, turn an election competitive and increased both Labour’s seats and its share of the vote. He has, unlike Theresa May, ran an upbeat, positive campaign that spoke to hope, not fear. He has energised younger voters in Britain, which has led to higher turnout and signs that democracy can still flourish even in this era.
But I still have to say, however, that this has left me a little bit puzzled. First and foremost is the fact that Labour did not win the election. To see the triumphant parading of people like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would have led you to imagine that they had just won a landslide. This is by no means true; while they managed to deny the Tories an overall majority, they still failed to unseat them from government. With the DUP completely opposed to the prospect of a Corbyn premiership, there is no route to Labour managing to form a minority government, even if May’s administration blows up. Yes, Corbyn greatly exceeded expectations- but expectations were so dreadfully low. It would be strange, indeed, if against such a weak Conservative campaign, after seven years of Tory rule, Labour did not manage to increase their seats.
In fact, I would argue that based on how terrible a campaign May ran, so many other Labour politicians, had they been leader, would have been able to claim a majority. Instead, many traditional Labour voters still found themselves repelled by a politician with so many perceived- regardless of whether or not they actually are real- flaws, including his alleged terrorist sympathies in the past. These links were blown out of proportion by Corbyn’s enemies (and the Conservatives have no right to use this as ammunition now that they must get in bed with the DUP), but they still point to a man with perhaps serious, disqualifying flaws in his judgement.
Something else about Jeremy Corbyn that many seem to have forgotten entirely is his role in the Remain campaign during the Brexit referendum last year. The past few days have been spent hailing Corbyn’s strengths as a campaigner; indeed, his ability to connect with people and his authenticity have been on full display during his campaign. Much like Bernie Sanders, he has managed to electrify and inspire a whole new generation of voters. However, Corbyn certainly did not put these skills to use during the referendum. In fact, Tim Shipman’s book All Out War, which is a narrative of how Brexit happened, provide a damning account of how Corbyn and his closest aide, Seumas Milne, essentially sabotaged the Remain campaign. In short, Corbyn, like most of his other older leftist colleagues in the Labour party, has always wanted to leave the European Union. However, the majority of his party wanted to stay, and so he was forced to reluctantly back Remain. Corbyn, however, managed to sabotage the campaign by refusing to provide the needed assistance to David Cameron to reach the Labour voters that were leaning towards Leave. He also barely ever spoke out forcefully or made a compelling enough case for why Labour should back Remain; in fact, he took a holiday in the middle of the campaign. A survey showed that many Labour voters did not know which side their party had backed. In the end, many of those traditional Labour heartlands backed Leave, resulting in the narrow vote for Brexit.
I had written a previous post calling Theresa May ‘The Ironic Lady‘. This is another irony: Jeremy Corbyn, champion of the youth vote, may be the key factor in bringing about Brexit, which is the most likely thing to impact the future of Britain. After all, millennials had overwhelmingly backed the Remain campaign- but if that were the case, why did they rush to make the man who seemed to have sabotaged it prime minister? One answer may be that memories are short; another answer is that public understanding of Corbyn’s role in the Remain campaign is still little understood. I would argue, however, that those who were serious about the importance of Britain’s place in the European Union should have voted for the Liberal Democrats- who instead had a very unimpressive night.
Finally- and let’s not forget this- Labour also gained popularity due to a heavily populist manifesto that essentially promised to throw money at every problem. I’m a believer in Keynesian economics, and austerity is not working for Britain, just as it hasn’t worked anywhere. But many experts have agreed that the tax rises that Labour would have needed if they won to fund all their promises would have been fairly greater than what they had claimed – and on a greater segment of the population. Bad economics and false promises will not do anything to lead more voters to trust a far left government.
Yes, Corbyn has been an impressive campaigner who narrowed the polls far more than anyone would have believed a few months ago. But let’s also not forget all of his shortcomings.