Universally ridiculed and mocked by the media, the Tories, and many senior Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn has achieved an amazing electoral breakthrough that leaves the Tories unable to form a majority government. The “unelectable” socialist Corbyn has won a 9.5 per cent swing, reversing a long trajectory of Labour losses that go back to Tony Blair.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the snap election confident that her 20-point lead over Corbyn would result in a landslide, has been humiliated. She has been reduced to forming government with the support of the bigots of Northern Ireland’s pro-British Democratic Unionist Party. Her minority government will be weak and unstable. Her call for “strong and stable” government going into Brexit negotiations with the EU next week is a joke.
Corbyn’s manifesto included ten pledges which included increasing the minimum wage, re-nationalisation of railways, 500,000 new council houses, free university tuition, one million new jobs through public investment and the repeal of anti-union laws. He promised to pay for all this by increasing corporate tax and increasing income tax on the rich.
For anyone wanting to see a stand against the privatisation, cuts and neo-liberalism of the last 30 years, Corbyn’s stunning success is a shot in the arm. Voter turnout was high and 72 per cent of young people between 18-25 voted, up from 43 per cent in the last election. The racist and nationalist UKIP was decimated, winning only 2 per cent of the vote.
Blairism—the idea that social democratic parties like Labour (and the ALP here) can only be electable if they are pro-market, centrist and neo-liberal—has been blown out of the water.
Most commentators put May’s defeat down to the appalling Tory campaign and May’s U-turn over her central pledge to privatise care for elderly people in their homes. This is a mistake. May’s campaign would not have unwound if she was running against a neo-liberal, technocratic Labour leader like Tony Blair or Bill Shorten. Her “mistakes” came as the political rug was pulled from underneath her and more people came behind the manifesto being offered by Corbyn.
The dramatic “Corbyn surge” fits a pattern of political upsets seen in the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Greek “oxi” vote and Brexit. The wall-to-wall media support for the status-quo only fuelled a voter rebellion against the political establishment. Labour’s mobilisation around basic anti-austerity policies proved more powerful than all the media accusations that Labour had “loony” policies or Corbyn was sympathetic to terrorism.
The question now is how to fight the Tories and the bosses that back them. Everything the Tories do must be vigorously resisted. Waiting for the next election and hoping for a Corbyn win is a dangerous mistake.
As we saw with the election of the radical Syriza government in Greece in 2015, a democratic mandate is not the same as having the power to make change. The kinds of reforms promised in Corbyn’s manifesto are never delivered without a struggle to force them from the unwilling hands of the corporate elite.
The rallies for Corbyn in the final weeks of the campaign, some attracting tens of thousands, show the potential to turn support for Corbyn’s policies into a force that can win them.
Socialists in the National Union of Teachers successfully organised for their branches to call demonstrations against May in the two days following the election. Union activists bouyed by Corbyn’s success can translate this into immediate struggle in other sectors. Everyone at Corbyn’s rallies should be joining their union and preparing to step up the protests and strikes in the schools, the NHS and the universities.
The strikes and demonstrations against the education cuts that took place during Corbyn’s election campaign need to be turned into national struggles that can fight for an end to zero-hour contracts, to reverse school cuts, and smash the public-sector pay cap.
Corbyn’s leadership has brought hundreds of thousands of people into contact with left-wing ideas for the first time. There is a huge opportunity to rebuild a fighting left in Britain. Everyone who door-knocked for Labour now needs to be organising protests against the Tory cuts.
But there are crucial questions facing Corbyn and the movement. Blairism has taken a battering but the right still dominates the ranks of the Labour MPs. They now call for unity but they remain just as determined to pull Corbyn to the right. The hypocrites who knifed Corbyn, like deputy Tom Watson and leadership challenger Owen Smith have been forced to congratulation Corbyn for “strong campaign skills” but they still call for a more “Prime Ministerial” (read “conservative”) leader.
Chris Leslie, one of the Labour front benchers who resigned when Corbyn was elected in 2015 revealed the right’s determination to undermine Corbyn, telling the media, “We should not pretend that this is a famous victory… I will never apologise for my view which is… that you can actually move from protesting about a government to being the government.”
Such right-wing Labour MPs and right-wing union officials will have to be fought.
On another crucial issue, Brexit and free movement of people, Corbyn has wavered. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote last year Corbyn came under pressure from Labour MPs to pander to the UKIP/Tory led anti-immigration idea that migrants take jobs or are responsible for declining government services. Corbyn rejected this, but now accepts that free movement will end after Brexit (while refusing to say whether immigration will rise or fall).
Such concessions politically weakened his election campaign and can only disarm Labour supporters in the struggle against the Tories. What’s so clearly needed is an argument that migrants are welcome, and they are not responsible for job losses or service cuts.
In response to the two terror attacks during the election, after saying the war on terror had failed and making mild references to Britain’s war-mongering in the Middle East, Corbyn then attacked May from the right. He accused May of making Britain less safe by cutting police numbers.
But more police will do nothing to stop terrorism. They will be used to harass and intimidate Muslim and migrant communities, increasing the racist divisions that fuel domestic terrorist threats.
To build a strong movement against war and Islamophobia Corbyn’s supporters need clear, coherent arguments to end Britain’s ongoing imperialist role in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
The lessons of Corbyn’s success have been completely lost on Australian Labor. ALP National president Mark Butler told reporters there is no need to find a Jeremy Corbyn-like Labor leader in Australia. “We’ve been united, we’ve been disciplined and we’ve been holding this government to account.” But Shorten is leading a Labor Party that is hide-bound by neo-liberalism when what is needed is a stand for refugees, for the right to strike, and against Turnbull’s cuts.
Like Sally McManus’s declaration that unjust laws need to be broken, Corbyn’s success is a boost to anyone wanting an alternative to casualisation, anti-union laws, cuts and Islamophobia.
All those who mobilised for Corbyn, and all those who want to see a real fight for change—for socialism—need to become part of the resistance on the campuses, on the streets and in the workplaces that goes beyond business-as-usual and a focus just on the next election.
By Jean Parker