Friday, June 09, 2017

How Jeremy Corbyn Proved the Haters Wrong

By Rachel Shabi


LONDON — Among the many satisfying outcomes of Britain’s general election has been the roll call of pundits reeling out apologies for getting it so wrong. The Labour Party has, against all odds, surged to take a 40 percent share of the vote, more than it has won in years. And so the nation’s commentariat, who had confidently thought that the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership would be wiped off the political map, are now eating giant slices of humble pie.

Nobody is in politics to gloat. Labour’s leadership team and supporters alike want the party to win not for the sake of winning, but in order to bring Labour’s economic and social agenda to Britain, to measurably improve people’s lives. Still, a little schadenfreude is definitely in order.

Mr. Corbyn, from the left of the party, unexpectedly took its helm in 2015 after a rule change allowed, for the first time, rank-and-file members to have an equal vote for their leader. And he has been ridiculed, dismissed and bemoaned ever since. Cast as an incongruous combination of incompetent beardy old man and peacenik terrorist sympathizer, Mr. Corbyn faced down a leadership challenge from his own party about a year ago and constant sniping, criticism and calls for him to quit throughout.

The political and pundit classes, in their wisdom, thought it entirely inconceivable that someone like him — so unpolished, so left wing — could ever persuade voters. After Britain’s referendum decision, last June, to leave the European Union, more scathing criticism was piled upon the Labour leader for his decision to, well, accept the democratic referendum decision, however bad it was.


By the time Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election six weeks ago, her party ran a 20-point poll lead ahead of Labour and her personal approval ratings were sky high while Mr. Corbyn’s were abysmally low. Liberal pundits were aghast at the thought of the Labour Party self-destructing under Mr. Corbyn’s supposedly toxic leadership. He was once again urged to step down.


Then the campaign started — and every prediction was turned on its head. The well-funded, hyper-efficient Conservatives and their chorus of supporters in Britain’s mostly right-wing press ran a terrible campaign. Mrs. May came across as robotic and out of touch; she didn’t seem to like engaging with the press, much less the public. The more people saw of her, the more her ratings sank.

For Mr. Corbyn, the opposite was true. His detractors said his appeal was limited to a niche of radical left activists, but in reality his quiet confidence, credibility and integrity — so refreshing at a time when politicians are viewed as untrustworthy careerists — drew crowds of enthusiastic supporters to ever-growing rallies. At one point, arriving to a televised debate just over a week before the election, he was greeted with solid cheers en route to the event. That was when his leadership team sensed something significant was taking place.

Part of this extraordinary success was a result of the party’s campaign. Fun, energetic, innovative and inspiring, it created its own momentum, with organic support mushrooming out of the most unlikely places, flooding social media with viral memes and messages: Rappers and D.J.s, soccer players, economists and television personalities alike climbed aboard the Corbyn project. Momentum, a grass-roots organization of Corbyn supporters, activated the party’s estimated 500,000 members — many of whom had joined because Mr. Corbyn was elected as leader — into canvassing efforts across the country, including, crucially, in up-for-grabs districts. Supporters were further encouraged by the sight of Labour candidates demolishing long-hated Conservatives on television, appearances that were swiftly turned into video clips and raced around the internet.

But the main mobilizer of support was the party’s politics. For decades, Labour has been resolutely centrist, essentially offering a slightly kinder version of neoliberal consensus politics. Those on the left had long said that this was what had caused the party’s slow decline, a hemorrhaging of support from its traditional working-class voters. With Mr. Corbyn at its helm, the party tacked firmly to the left, proposing to tax the few for the benefit of the many and offering major national investment projects, funding for the welfare state, the scrapping of university tuition fees and the re-nationalization of rail and energy companies.

It was a hopeful vision for a fairer society, offered at a time when the country is experiencing wage stagnation and spiraling living costs, with many buckling under because of the economic crash of 2008 and the Conservative Party’s savage austerity cuts that followed. Given the chance for the first time in decades to vote for something else, something better, a surprising number of voters took it. Young people, in particular, seized this offer: With youth turnout unusually high at 72 percent, it’s clear that Labour brought them to the ballot box in droves.

Labour’s shock comeback has tugged the party, along with Britain’s political landscape, and the range of acceptable discourse back to the left. In a hung Parliament, the Conservatives still came out of the election as the main party, and now looks set to go into coalition government with the homophobic, anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party. But the Conservatives are now a maimed party with a discredited leader — weaknesses to be seized upon and exploited by a now united and empowered Labour party.

NYT

No comments:

Twitter Updates

NetwokedBlogs

Search This Blog

Total Pageviews