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General Election 2017: For the many, not the few

The British general election has produced an impressive list of casualties.  Theresa May may survive for the time being but her gamble on a snap election so as to increase her majority – and her authority, especially in the forthcoming Brexit talks – has spectacularly misfired.  Even with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, it seems unlikely that she or her government will survive a full further term.

Other casualties were even less expected.  The Scottish National Party’s losses seem to have put paid to any talk of a second referendum on Scottish independence. And the loss by Nick Clegg of his seat in the House of Commons demonstrates the price that has been paid by the Liberal Democrats for the coalition arrangement Clegg took them into with the Tories.

That leaves for consideration the political leader who was widely expected to come a cropper. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, did not of course win the election – though, under an MMP voting system that would surely have produced more seats for smaller parties, he might have had a good shot at forming a minority or coalition government.

But he did out-perform all expectations and could justifiably be regarded as the stand-out figure of the campaign.  He achieved this, despite being dismissed as lacking personality, charisma and relevant experience, and as being as a consequence unelectable.  He achieved this despite the most vitriolic campaign of vilification against him by the right–wing press who used banner front-page headlines to accuse him of being unpatriotic and of being a jihadist sympathiser.  Even BBC journalists conceded that he had been very unfairly treated by the media.

He achieved this, despite the repeated efforts by the “New Labour” or “Blairite” wing of his own party in parliament to unseat him as leader, and their constant efforts, both in public and in private, to undermine him.

Imagine what he could have achieved if he had had a united party behind him and a fair go in the press!

So, what did he have going for him? What explains the unexpected (and admittedly comparative) success that he and Labour enjoyed?

What seems to have attracted voters is that he was willing to talk to them, not as a politician but in human terms – in marked contrast to Theresa May, who was so robotic that she attracted the nickname “Maybot”.  Jeremy Corbyn, by contrast, attracted huge crowds, and seems to have particularly enthused young voters.

What did he talk to them about?  He talked to them about what a good and decent society looks like, about how its members should treat each other, about government’s responsibility to ensure that no one gets left behind and that everyone has a fair chance of achieving what they want and are capable of – in other words, he described “a politics for the many and not just for the few”.

This meant, he said, that there must be an end to “austerity” which was merely a clever way of saying that the many must “go without” while the few made fortunes.  He said that pubic services – like the railways or the health service – should not be privatised and run (often inefficiently) for private profit, but should be truly “public” – owned by and serving “the public”.  It meant that taxation should be paid fairly by those who can afford it so that the country could deliver good health and education for all, as well as effective policing, defence and security.

He said all this, despite the warnings – even from within his own party – that it would mean electoral suicide.  He understood that if politicians commit only to what will win the approval of the few, then the voters will quickly understand that the interests of few will always prevail, and that those of the many must then come much further down the list.

Corbyn’s readiness to talk about the issues that matter to most people struck a chord with voters who had been told for years that he was a no-hoper.  Bernie Sanders had already demonstrated much the same thing in the US presidential primaries.  Left-of-centre parties around the globe – and not least in New Zealand – might at last take note.

One Comment

  1. CraigieBhoy says:

    I appreciate the mention at the end to New Zealand parties. I have been living here on and off for 12 years most of that with a right-wwing govt. The Labour Party is impotent. The Greens are more radical. There is an election in September, which I assume to be the reference to NZ, but don’t expect those two parties, which have a memorandum of understanding for this election, to overwhelm the ailing National Party, which has been in power for three terms.
    NZ Labour is a resolutely centrist party and there’s been little reaction to the Corbyn surge. One right-wing Labour candidate has said Corbyn would have won if he had embraced the Blairite wing.

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