Following the shock of Brexit, Britain has experienced another political earthquake. Theresa May is facing oblivion. A snap election has turned into a Tory disaster. The expected Tory landslide, which was supposed to usher in decades of Conservative rule, turned out to be a myth. Instead, we have seen the government’s majority wiped out by a resurgent Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.
David Cameron gambled and lost, now Theresa May has gambled and lost. The result has plunged the country into political uncertainty. It was a devastating blow for the Tories. In 2015, the Conservatives had 331 seats. Today, with practically all the results counted, they are projected to win only 318 seats. That means an unstable hung parliament (that is, one where no party has the majority).
Mrs May had promised “strong and stable” government to tackle the difficult Brexit negotiations. But May’s “strong” image is now in shreds. This has provoked a wave of alarm in big business circles that was immediately expressed by the jittery reaction of the markets. The pound fell by more than 2%, slumping against the dollar and the euro. “Clearly markets were not positioned for this and for now the result is not seen in a positive light because it just means more uncertainty,” said Geoffrey Yu, head of the UK investment office at UBS Wealth Management.
The election was the biggest miscalculation since Goliath decided to take on David in single combat. The mass media was mobilised to build up her “strong and stable” image and attack, smear and discredit Jeremy Corbyn. But the more people saw robotic Mrs. May, the more they disliked her. The fiasco of the bungled manifesto pledge to make old people pay for social care and the withdrawal of winter fuel subsidy for pensioners, swiftly followed by an undignified U-turn alienated many Tory core voters. To make matters worse, her refusal to participate in leadership debates or take questions from ordinary people created an impression of political cowardice.
Now Theresa May is fighting for her political life, her authority destroyed, not only with the electorate but in her own party, where already there have been calls for her resignation. Despite this, she has decided (obviously prodded by the Tory leaders who are terrified of the alternative) to form a minority Conservative government. But this was only made possible by a rotten deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) whose ten seats in Westminster may temporarily save her political skin.
But the support of the DUP will come with a hefty price tag. The two parties have their differences and this arrangement is not likely to last in the turmoil of the coming period. “Regardless, the deal means Mrs May will govern over a union of highly disparate interests”, the Financial Times pointed out.
During the election campaign May warned that a Corbyn government would be a “coalition of chaos”. That is a fair description of the shaky government she now intends to form. This will be a government of crisis and will be of a short duration. The disastrous election result has already pushed the Tories into crisis. Tory MP Anna Soubry has said the prime minister should “consider her position” after running “a disastrous campaign”.
Behind the scenes people like Boris Johnson are manoeuvring for the top job. The knives are out but the would-be assassins are afraid to strike just now for fear of provoking a civil war and a split in the Tory Party. Therefore they are temporarily stuck with the discredited and unpopular Theresa May and must bide their time, waiting for a better moment to launch a new leadership election. However, few serious observers believe that this uneasy truce will last after the summer recess.
The real victor of this election has been Jeremy Corbyn. And he has done this against all the odds. The whole of the Tory press and establishment were completely behind Theresa May. When the election was called, the newspapers, like The Sun, were calling May the “new Maggie” (Thatcher) who would kill off the Labour Party.
One day before the election, The Daily Mail used 13 pages to attack Corbyn in the most disgusting fashion. The gutter press and media tried to smear him with the responsibility for terrorism and other crimes. They used the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London to blacken Corbyn’s name as an apologist for terrorism. These newspaper barons, who thought they could mould public opinion, have been shown to be impotent.
The opinion polls had been predicting a big majority for the Tories of anything up to 150 seats. Now these predictions have been trashed. Even as the polls closed, the establishment pundits said everything pointed to a big victory for the Tories and crushing defeat for Corbyn. But the whole thing backfired. When they heard the exit polls, the Tories were incredulous. For some time they simply refused to believe them. When the truth finally dawned on them, their faces betrayed shock, amazement and despair.
In addition to the vitriolic attacks of the establishment and the media, Jeremy Corbyn had to face malicious attacks from inside his own Party. Labour’s right wing was constantly predicting that Labour would lose and that the Tories would win by a landslide similar to that won by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. There is absolutely no doubt that the Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party wanted to see just such a result so that they could launch a new attack to remove Corbyn as Party Leader. But their plot has failed.
Against all the odds Labour has staged one of the most spectacular comebacks in British political history. The party rocketed in the polls and gained seats when everyone predicted heavy losses. Even more important than the seats, Labour gained 40% of the vote. This was 10% more than achieved by Ed Miliband at the last general election when Labour was defeated. It was more than Gordon Brown and even more than Tony Blair in 2005. It was certainly more than Neil Kinnock, who said Corbyn would be smashed.
What this demonstrates is that Labour’s Manifesto, which is more left-wing than any other since 1950, including demands to nationalise Royal Mail, the railways and other utilities, was extremely popular. It galvanised the Labour rank and file and enthused a huge number of people, especially the youth who voted Labour in big numbers. This result for Labour is a monumental achievement, which has confounded all of Corbyn’s critics.
Millions more turned out to vote, pushing the level to a 25-year high. The reason for this was Labour’s mass campaign, its left-wing manifesto, and the involvement of large layers of youth. Starting out more than 20 points behind in the polls, Jeremy Corbyn's enthusiastic campaign drastically cut this Tory lead within a few weeks. The youth in particular were swung over to Labour. Among 18-to-24 year olds, according to a YouGov poll over the weekend, Corbyn enjoyed support of 71% compared to 15% for the Tories.
The mood at Labour’s mass rallies was electric, especially where Corbyn spoke. He was able to tap into the real mood of discontent in British society, just as Bernie Sanders had done in the United States. The political commentators are blind to this defiant mood and cannot explain it. The political pundits are aghast.
The Tories were defeated by Labour in places nobody expected. In Canterbury, which was a rock solid Tory seat for the last 100 years, they overturned a 10,000 Tory majority. What made the difference was the fact that 8,000 new people, mainly young, registered to vote in that city. Labour also almost toppled Amber Rudd, the Tory Home Secretary in Hastings. Most amazing of all, Labour seems poised to win in the safe Tory seat of Kensington, where given the closeness, the count had to be suspended after two recounts.
Labour has made gains across the country. They took the Vale of Clwyd in Wales, Battersea, Stockton South, and many others from the Tories. In many areas where Labour failed to secure a majority, Tory majorities were slashed with swings to Labour. Eight front bench Tory ministers were defeated.
The Lib Dems, squeezed between Tories and Labour, suffered a number of big defeats. Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Lib Dems and former deputy prime minister, was unceremoniously kicked out in Sheffield, a fitting revenge for his past betrayals.
Ironically, the only thing that saved the situation for May was the Tory revival in Scotland, where the Tories got an echo among certain layers by beating the drum for “the Union”. As a result of this demagogy, and a certain weariness with the SNP, they gained 12 seats, while the SNP’s vote fell by 13%. Most of their votes went to the Tories, whose vote went up by 14%. Labour also experienced a small revival, increasing its vote by 3%, mainly due to the Corbyn effect, a fact only grudgingly acknowledged by the Blairite leaders of Scottish Labour.
In Wales, one poll at the beginning of the snap election gave the Tories a 10% lead. So confident was May of a Tory breakthrough in this traditional Labour stronghold that she visited Wales three times. But the opinion polls were quickly reversed as the campaign got under way, dashing Tory hopes. Wales remains solidly Labour.
The right wing anti-immigrant UKIP vote collapsed. But the idea that these voters would automatically go to the Tories was proven to be false. Many swung over to the Labour Party, attracted by Labour’s anti-austerity policies. In the end Brexit was like the dog that did not bark, as people became more concerned with the social problems of jobs, pensions, unemployment and the NHS.
The death of Blairism
The majority of Labour MPs were hostile to Jeremy Corbyn. They tried to get rid of him at every opportunity, even passing a vote of no confidence and staging a failed coup. In the election, disgracefully the right wing put out local material only describing themselves as “local Labour”, (no mention of Corbyn) and completely ignoring the Labour Manifesto. Some even went so far as to put out leaflets saying that Theresa May was going to win and Corbyn would never be prime minister! This was blatant sabotage of the Labour campaign.
This strategy has now backfired. Labour’s right wing are being forced to eat their words. They have no alternative but to bide their time and pay grudging compliments to Corbyn’s campaign. Jack Straw, Tom Watson, Peter Hain, Margaret Beckett and others were reluctantly forced to bite their tongues and make a few gestures in Jeremy’s direction. But this is all window dressing. The plots will still continue behind the scenes. The right-wingers will never give up their attempts to undermine Corbyn.
Those commentators who wrote off the Labour Party are now clutching their heads. This was never supposed to happen. Left-wing policies were supposed to be unpopular! Owen Jones, the “left” Guardian journalist, had this pessimistic line right until last night but even he is now singing a different tune.
The main thing to see is that the pendulum of British political life has swung sharply towards the left. A programme of fairly radical reforms, including nationalisation, has gripped the imagination of wide sections of the population. Ideas that were supposed to have been consigned safely to oblivion are now firmly back on the agenda. New Labour and Blairism have been forced onto the defensive.
The result will give Corbyn greater authority in a newly-revived Labour Party. Since the beginning of the election a further 100,000 have joined the Party, pushing its membership above 600,000. This will reinforce the Left within the Party. In reality there are two Labour Parties: on the one hand, the mass membership supporting Corbyn and, on the other, the right wing within the PLP and the bureaucratic machine.
This situation cannot last. Corbyn should not allow the sabotage to continue. He should bring back automatic reselection of Labour MPs so that the party can get rid of the Fifth Column of careerists and Tory fellow-travellers that is undermining the Party from within.
A new chapter
After this election Britain finds itself in uncharted waters. Difficult Brexit negotiations are imminent. British political life has been polarised between Left and Right in a way not seen since the Second World War. This is what is alarming the strategists of Capital.
The two main parties, Labour and Conservative now account for more than 80% of the vote, a phenomenon not seen for decades. The Tories are ever more inclined to the right, and Labour under Corbyn is veering to the Left. This political polarisation is a reflection of a growing polarisation between the classes in British society. The “middle ground” represented by the Lib Dems is being squeezed out of existence by this polarisation.
We are in a period of deep political, economic and social instability. Even if they manage to patch up a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, a minority Tory government will not be long lasting. It will certainly not last its full term. Pressures will be exerted from outside Parliament, with one movement after another taking to the streets against the government. The Tories will be completely discredited.
Sooner rather than later new elections will be on the order of the day. The political crisis is a reflection of the capitalist crisis that began in 2008 and is still continuing. This will create sharp and sudden changes in the situation, which will open up new opportunities for Labour and the Left. The whole political climate has radically changed.
Capitalism offers no solution to the problems of working people and will increasingly pose the urgent need to change society. In the coming period the support for the ideas of genuine socialism and Marxism will grow by leaps and bounds. An exciting new chapter opens up before us.