FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On That Huge Upset in UK Special Election

The British Labour Party and its party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t win yesterday’s snap election called last April 18 by Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, but it was still a historic victory for Corbyn, the British left and for the concept of socialist revolution in a democratic society.

From the time Corbyn, a long-time hard-left anti-militarism back-bencher and protege of the late Tony Benn, was elevated to the leadership position of the Labour Party back in September 2015, he has had (like Bernie Sanders in the US last year) to combat a concerted effort to unseat him by the Labour Party establishment. Only last year, 172 elected Labour Party members of Parliament (that was out of a total of 204) cast a vote of no confidence that forced Corbyn into a party leadership election which he resoundingly won with over 60% of the votes of dues-paying party members.

When May, back in April, at a time when polls showed her trouncing Labour by a 20-25% margin, called a snap election for June 8 (after earlier promising that she would not do such a thing), the Labour establishment figured it would turn out a disaster and finish off Corbyn as party leader. Seven leading Labour MP’s even announced that they weren’t going to run for re-election on a ticket headed by Corbyn, with several even saying publicly that they preferred May to Corbyn. Virtually the entire British news media, from the BBC on down, piled on, deriding Corbyn as a ‘70s relic out of touch with British voters.

At first, amid all that Corbyn bashing, it did seem as though the contest would be a historic wipe-out for the Labour party which was already on its knees following an embarrassing performance in the 2015 electoral outing which left Conservatives with a 343-vote majority (17 more than needed to form a government), and Labor looking like it might be down for good. But then Corbyn, who came out with a truly socialist manifesto calling for improved funding for the gutted and struggling National Health System, an end to tuition for college and university, a major campaign of building more public housing, better funding for public education, and, most importantly, an end to reflexive British support for America’s endless and ever expanding global War on Terror, something started to happen. Suddenly his poll numbers turned around dramatically, and as the days until June 8 voting ticked off, the margin between Labour and the Tories kept dwindling. Meanwhile, Corbyn’s popularity kept rising, eventually passing Prime Minister May’s numbers in some polls.

Even two brutal terror attacks, in Manchester and then in London, failed to significantly dent Corbyn’s charge — in large part because instead of reflexively hunkering down and supporting more draconian security policies as US politicians of both parties do each time some terror attack happens or some alleged terror plot is “disrupted,” he declared that the attacks proved that “the war on terror has been a failure.” Corbyn also took the offense and denounced his opponent May who, as home secretary of the Conservatives before becoming prime minister had overseen the defunding of 22,000 ordinary police officer positions — roughly a fifth of the country’s police force. “You can’t keep people safe on the cheap,” Corbyn declared on the stump to loud cheering.

On election eve, there were basically two polls. One group of these suggested that Conservatives had rebounded following the terror attacks and that the Tories would win a historic victory, gaining a as much as a 75-seat margin compared to the 17 they’d had going into the election. Then there was one outlier poll which, instead of discounting polls showing young people were overwhelming supporting Corbyn, claimed that all the mostly young people who had come out for Corbyn at his rock-concert-like rallies across the country would, contrary to past experience, actually go to the polls on election day and vote. This outlier poll predicted that Corbyn and Labour would end up at least denying Conservatives a victory, creating a hung parliament, or perhaps even winning a majority or plurality, enabling Corbyn to become prime minister.

In the end Corbyn’s newly reinvigorated Labour Party wasn’t able to produce enough of a voter swing back to Labour the win outright, but Corbyn and his party did manage to deny Conservatives a majority of parliamentary seats. The Conservatives ended up losing 23 seats while Labour picked up 32. It was the biggest come-from-behind win for Labour since Clement Attlee in 1945. It is also a huge win for Corbyn, who is now the unassailable leader of a political party that he has managed to both return to its socialist roots instead of being just a pale liberal imitation of the Conservatives, and to restore Labour as genuine opposition party to be reckoned with instead of just a protest vote vehicle.

Corbyn, getting respect for the first time from the nation’s media, is now calling for May’s resignation and for her replacement as Prime Minister.

What comes next is uncertain. The knives are out for May in the Conservative Party leadership, but that will ignite a bitter struggle between those who think the party needs to move away from its current hard-right stance and those who would prefer to see it become even more of a right-wing party. For the time being, May is fighting to stay on as Prime Minister, after cobbling together a fragile agreement for the support of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, whose 10 MPs give the Conservatives only the narrowest of 4-vote majorities in the new Parliament.

Nobody expects this situation to last. Either May’s coalition will founder on some issue, or some Tory MPs will withdraw support on a vote of confidence, which would mean either Corbyn and Labour could have a shot at trying to forge a governing coalition, or try to govern as a minority government with the tacit support of other parties anxious to keep the Conservatives out of power — or, more probably, there could be yet another election.

Given how Corbyn steadily rose in the polls the longer he ran his old-style whistle-stop rail-based campaign, with Labour gaining support the more people got to know him and his socialist platform, it seems likely that with more time and another campaign, he could well bring Labour back into power with a majority of seats should that happen.

It’s an astonishing reversal of fortune, and also a lesson in the importance of standing up for ordinary people — and against militarism — one that progressives in the US should pay close attention to.

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail