Not for the first time in our new political era, the polls got it wrong. Every polling company worth its salt was predicting a Conservative majority government being returned to parliament this year; the main question commentators were grappling with was how large Theresa May’s majority would be, and what Labour would do when it was driven further into the wilderness. I must admit that I also succumbed to this school of thought– naturally pessimistic of Labour’s electoral prospects, I was telling anyone willing to listen that the Tories were on course to win a majority of at least 60 seats.
Well, once again, Jeremy Corbyn defied all expectation. Rather than the British people having to suffer through five more years of Conservative majority government, Jeremy Corbyn (and, to a large extent, Theresa May) have gifted the United Kingdom its second hung parliament in a decade.
I will not deny that Corbyn led a valiant campaign. With only a matter of weeks to prepare for the election, the party put up an impressive fight against odds that, at the time, seemed insurmountable. Every Brit loves a good underdog story, and the party’s aggressively rapid advances in the polls before election day made for (cautiously) optimistic reading. Labour’s formidable ground forces were deployed to maximum effect, with party veterans and newcomers alike convinced that the election would have to be fought tooth and nail. Corbyn spoiled us with uncharacteristically coherent media appearances, and campaigned harder, better, and more enthusiastically than Theresa May. Combine this with Jeremy surpassing every prediction– in terms of swing, vote share, and seats– and it seems that the Labour party was the real winner of this election.
And yet, between mouthfuls of my humble pie, I must urge caution. Whilst Corbyn is certainly able to boast significant achievements (an incredible 9.6 per cent swing to Labour, to name one) we should not label our efforts this year a complete success.
First of all, we should not exaggerate Corbyn’s result; the party, electorally speaking, is where it was seven years ago, and we are still well short of a majority. Whilst we gained seats, we took them in our traditional strongholds; in student cities, Scotland, Wales, and London. We greatly increased our vote share, but so did the Tories, who are now enjoying Thatcher-era popular support. And yes, we did far better than anyone thought we would, but we still lost, meaning that the last time Labour won an election was now twelve years ago.
The triumphalism that seems to have gripped many within the party is far too premature. Whilst people correctly point out that a lot of polls are now in Labour’s favour, and that only a relatively small swing would be needed for the party to enter government, they forget that a Conservative Prime Minister is still in Downing Street, and, in the absence of any major incentive for the Tories to return to the polls, this is likely to remain the case for a while.
The absolute worst thing that the party can do, therefore, is treat this year’s election as a victory. We are not solely a party of protest; Labour’s raison d’etre is to improve the lives of Britain’s working people, and as such it has a responsibility to win power. Whilst the party’s result was a welcome surprise, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are (again) stuck with a Tory government that will continue to damage and mismanage the nation. Corbyn did well, but to the thousands upon thousands of impoverished Britons, “well” simply isn’t good enough.
So, after Labour’s third consecutive election defeat, we are still far from power and our future remains uncertain. The spectre of Brexit now haunts Europe, promising to dog Labour politics for some time and expose old party divisions. Changes to constituency boundaries and a reduction in the number of MPs due next year mean that Labour could “lose” up to 30 seats and, with the knives now out for Theresa May, Labour is likely to face a very different opponent the next time the country goes to the polls.
We have a lot to be proud of this year, but even more to do if we want to deliver the socialist reform that Britain desperately needs. It is wrong to claim this election as Labour’s victory, but with the right principles, campaigning, and leadership, the next one can be.
Archie Batra is the President of the St Andrews University Labor Society. The views are his own and not necessarily those of the society’s.
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