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Two key reasons for Corbyn’s stunning advance

This post first appeared on Socialist Economic Bulletin.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party has staged a stunning revival, prevented Theresa May achieving a landslide which she would have claimed as a mandate for ‘Hard Brexit’ and has caused a crisis of Tory government which will make it harder to make new cuts in public spending, apart from rising inflation. None of Corbyn’s opponents could have possibly achieved that outcome.

This point can be factually established in two ways. First, there is the record of the election campaign itself. None of Jeremy Corbyn’s internal or external opponents would have conducted anything like the same campaign or written anything similar to the manifesto that was produced. On the contrary, the tactic of Corbyn’s opponents was to ‘give him enough rope to hang himself’, believing that his programme would prove massively unpopular.

The Labour manifesto was leaked on May 11. It was probably not the intention of the leaker(s) but the effect was that Labour was able to have two launches and close examination of what proved to be a very popular manifesto. The polling effect was clear. On May 11, Labour was 14 points behind the Tories at 32% to 46% in the average of polls. On June 8 that lead had been cut to 2 points.

No doubt some of the narrowing was due to the Tories’ own manifesto, which in the words of one commentator ‘promised permanent winter but never Xmas’. But in the event the Tory support only fell by 4 points overall despite the dementia tax, axing free school meals, ending the ‘triple lock’ on pensions, no new money for the NHS and much else besides. Evidently, the main motor of the narrowing of the gap was Labour’s own platform aimed at defending living standards. 8 of the 12
point narrowing in the Tory lead was due to Labour’s campaign.

Chart 1. UK Poll of polls 2017

Source: Guardian

Secondly, there is comparative data to draw on. The Dutch general election and French Presidential elections have already taken place this year. The Labour Party has sister parties in both countries, the Dutch Labour Party the PvdA and the French Socialists, Partie Socialiste. They both stood on platforms that were at odds with the Corbyn manifesto. In both cases they accept and even embrace austerity. They also have policies which are anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. Corbyn’s Labour had none of these. The result is a full justification of the superiority Corbyn approach in electoral terms.

Chart 2. European Left Vote in 2017 Elections

For a number of years numerous commentators and academics have claimed that UKIP primarily took votes from the Tories, that Labour was therefore ‘unelectable’ and even that UKIP ‘posed an existential threat to Labour’. All this was done to support the reactionary claim that Labour could only advance by being anti-immigrant, as this reflected the views of its core supporters. As the election result shows, none of this was true. Labour primarily advanced because it promoted policies to defend living standards when they are falling once more and the Tories plan to deepen that. Labour eschewed all blame on migrants for the crisis, and the manifesto only had warm words for the contribution that migrants make to the economy and to society more widely.

Partly as result, where 41% of voters cited immigration as a key issue in 2015 only 6% thought it was a key issue in 2017, according to Ashcroft’s exit polls. In 2015 Labour had a ‘zero-based spending review’ and pledge to cut net migration but in 2017 it had policies to defend the living standards of the overwhelming majority and only warm words about migration. Labour rose by almost 10% in 2017.

As the economic crisis deepens and real wages continue to fall sharply the Tories will attempt to deflect the blame for their policies onto migrants once more. Labour is currently on course to win the next election because it has policies that defend the material interests of most people. Labour looks for solutions to the crisis from those who have caused and benefitted from it, big businesses who refuse to invest and the rich whose incomes have risen even in economic stagnation. In stark contrast to the Tories, Labour has not sought scapegoats. This is a winning formula.


  1. Tony says:

    Corbyn now needs to do two very obvious things:

    1. A renewed effort to drop support for Trident replacement.

    2. Changing the nomination threshold for future leadership elections. No candidate in this general election was expected to get 15% of the electorate in order to get nominated.

  2. Robin Edwards says:

    Corbyn did the sensible thing and made it clear that Brexit means leaving the ESM and the Custom’s Union. By doing so the election was able to become about what it was really about: the Tory search for a mandate for a massive extension of austerity to which he offered a mild anti-austerity, something different, which was sufficient to mobilise a very decent Labour vote.

    Now the manifesto needs to be hugely sharpened by getting rid of all the Blairite dross that is still there. Hopefully the Labour Party conference in September will be able to do that.

    1. Stewart says:

      Ironically, the greatest obstacle to Labour’s advance is the Blairite wing of the party more than the Tory party. After yesterday’s so called Brexit Letter signed by what the MSM call ‘Labour Big Hitters’, it is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that they are going for the bring-down-the-temple option. They can no longer be ignored. Their dislike for the British people is all there to see. First, they denied the British people the victory they so deserved by continually undermining the elected leadership of the party, not for any justifiable reason, but to make the party un-electable. The British people, having sailed against hurricane force winds to deliver a stunning 40% of the vote for Labour, are again having to deal with the second installment of the ‘Big Hitters’ recalcitrance as they are cheered on by the right wing media. They are scheming to condemn the British people to 5 more years of austerity with their Tory soulmates. Brexit, whatever shade of it, is just a trojan horse argument. This has now gone beyond their hatred of Jeremy Corbyn, it is a declaration of their contempt for the 40% of electorates who voted for Labour and the 52% who voted for Brexit. In my humble opinion, it leaves the party with no choice but Disciplinary action followed by expulsions. The MSM/Blairites coalition will bleat on about un-electability of Corbyn/Labour Episode-2, but at least Labour wont be having 5th columnist in its midst.

  3. Bazza says:

    Yes before the next election comes we need to have selection meetings – this is not North Korea, China, or Hong Kong with Appointmentism!
    I will be voting for any left wing democratic socialist candidate.
    Oh May just said re Brexit give all EC migrants the right to remain if they have been here 5 years, will this also mean all UK citizens living and working in EC countries if they have not been there 5 years will have to return?
    Labour under JC has said the right to remain for all current EC migrants and to fight for our citizens in Spain etc. for the right to remain too!
    Yes dreadful letter from Right Wing/Progress Neo-Liberal Morons and hopefully the last stand of the Great Men and Women of History without an original idea in their heads!
    Power to grassroots members and trade unionists!

  4. Sacha Ismail says:

    There’s a lot of truth to this but I think the claim Labour was clearly pro-migration is wrong. It endorsed the biggest limitation on immigration for a very long time, one that is a key demand of the nationalist right. This is both wrong from a socialist point of view and will I think start to cause a tangle on how to respond to Brexit, because if you accept ending free movement you can’t stay in the single market. I agree Labour was perceived by many as pro-migrant, but in fact it had conceded something massive.

    1. JohnP says:

      The terms “pro migration” and indeed “freedom of movement” are simply liberal platitudes – euphemisms for the underlying socioeconomic reality of one of the core capitalist neoliberal “freedoms” which underpin the current neoliberalism enforcement structures of the EU, ie its real description is “Unlimited Labour Supply”.

      Being in favour of Unlimited Labour Supply (and freedom for the movement of capital ,goods and services ) has nothing in common with socialist principles at all. Any radical Left government would have to confront ALL the “Four Freedoms” if even a mildly radical Left Keynsian, never mind “socialist” economic policy was to be pursued, involving selective nationalisations and the protection of key domestic industries , and labour supply planning.

      Time the supposedly “radical Left” , (now profoundly saturated with a pacifistic, liberal sentimentality which appeals to its overwhelming middle class membership ), stopped echoing the policy priorities of Big Capital, and recognised that it is unlimited labour supply , and its associated super exploitation of the poorest works across the EU, and shackling of trades unionism and collective bargaining power domestically, that lurks behind the liberal platitude of “freedom of movement”.

      The entire tradition of the socialist Left is to pursue a progressively PLANNED economy, in which labour supply planning is as central as capital controls and economic sectoral planning. This task is quite impossible within the strictures of the neoliberal Single Market, with its unlimited labour supply core “freedom”.

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