Late Election Special: Jeremy Corbyn

How the fuck did he do it, eh? How did Jeremy Corbyn lose the election so well? Labour went to war a listless, dejected outfit, pitied by the media (and Alan Sugar). The debate will rage on about whether the contempt of the commentariat shaped public distrust of the party or vice versa, the political equivalent of the nature/nurture argument, but everyone who saw the polling data and examined the recent local election results agreed – Jeremy Corbyn was going to be butchered at the ballot box. It would be like Murder on the Orient Express with each member of the public taking their turn to plunge in the knife.

Yet, with a final tally of 262 seats (that’s 30 gains), Jeremy Corbyn looks like a rock solid loser, the new Neil Kinnock. Accept, whereas the Welsh colossus had to compromise everything he believed in to end up further behind the Tories than Corbyn is today, Jeremy, leader for less than two years, wiped out the government’s majority on his general election debut, estranged from the party’s so-called modernisers.

The assumptions of the last 30 years were hit hard – perhaps harder than Clint Eastwood’s right hook to Jessica Walter’s face in Play Misty for Me. 13 million people turned out for Labour, motivated by noble causes like improving society and giving the Tories a good kicking. And the bedrock of this new support? Hitherto indifferent youngsters – fresh faced victims of government policy who’d grown up knowing nothing but Thatcherite continuity. Not old enough to have internalised propaganda about the insanity of the alternative, and largely ignorant of the 1980s, the kids liked the cut of his jib and intuited he had a slim chance of winning. Sure, he was an ideological Brexiteer who’d barely engaged in the referendum campaign, consigning Remain to defeat, but a helpful Theresa May neutralised the issue by triggering the Article 50 process. What a useful ally she was.

It was oft noted that Jeremy, by every measurable yardstick, was the opposite of Theresa May – ideologically, educationally, sartorially. He only had one pair of shoes. There was also a gulf in confidence, though Corbyn felt more comfortable sparring with May than Cameron, her lack of patrician self-belief and plastic charm going a long way to diffusing his inferiority complex. But who knew, as the Tories geared up for suicide, that Jezza, as he was known in the pubs around Belfast, was also the psychological antithesis of the Conservative leader and this factor, above all else, would prove decisive?

May went into the election expecting to win but, I suggest, daring herself to lose in the dark nook of the brain that knows the unspun self; the “me” plagued by doubt and an honest appraisal of one’s own limitations. Corbyn, by contrast, expected to lose but dared himself to win. His impetus? Not a belief in himself but in the message he carried; an unapologetically left wing programme based on the wholesale repudiation of Thatcherism and its attendant assumptions about markets, public services and the role of the state.

It wasn’t a hard sell for the Labour leader, he’d never wavered on the fundamentals, so already knew his lines backwards. His manifesto, only slightly watered down by the party machine, had existed in his head for 30 years, a copy and paste of Tony Benn’s speeches. Transposing it to paper was a mere formality. There’s an advantage to being the enemy of a tired consensus – everything you say reads as radical and fresh.

The problem with being the Tories is that a stupid amount of electoral success means the country runs and works according to your design; you’ve achieved everything you wanted, for the people you care about, and have disadvantaged the rest as planned. Consequently, all that’s left to do is undo any socially progressive measure that slipped onto the statute book during freak periods of Labour government. Corbyn’s switchbacks were plenty, but after 30 years of reversals there was more than enough to fill a manifesto – one no Labour leader had dared propose in modern times from fear of alienating the beneficiaries of Tory policies.

So-called moderate Labour MPs, “moderate” really being a euphemism for conditioned by Thatcherism, withdrew from the campaign completely, intent that Corbyn should own the disaster to come. The leader’s strategy was entirely predicated on galvanising millions of people to embrace an alternative to the politics of the past 30 years. As there was no proof enough sympathetic voters existed, this was a leap of faith – a mark of how socialism, at its most pure, functions like religion. Corbyn’s millions didn’t register in local elections, didn’t answer the phone to pollsters, and never appeared on television. They were, quite understandably, thought by political scientists to be fictitious. But Jeremy’s brain, covered in a thick membrane constituted from utopian (but most definitely not terrorist) cells, didn’t worry.

In parliament, in opposition, Corbyn had been mostly dreadful – a dispirited and miserable beta male flanked by two hundred bitter colleagues. By the time it came to fight the election, abysmal opinion polls reflected accurate reports of disunity and intellectual incoherence. Labour’s talent pool was so dry that only loyal lieutenants like Diane Abbot and Emily Thornberry could be ultilised in the campaign, spokespeople who despite John McDonnell’s post-election label of a constituting “a winning team”, were box office disasters – charmless, badly prepared, sanctimonious in the extreme and dogged by a long record of bare-faced hypocrisy. In short, they were the kind of social democrats Conservatives studied to feel good about themselves.

Corbyn, with extensive media training to smooth down any rough edges, had better human credentials and could simulate speaking from the heart. He single-handedly won over those who couldn’t cope with the spectre of a landslide Tory victory, giving them a positive reason to vote for something else. May lost the election but Corbyn lost it better. Climbing 12 points to cut a Tory poll lead of 20 to just 2 on the final count, was exclusively the achievement of him and his cabal. May launched the election hoping to build a nationwide personality cult. It was her only success.

So what next for Jeremy Corbyn? Is he really modest and unassuming as his spin doctors tell us, or, like most intellectually insecure men held together by an idealised sense of self, likely to be monstered by adulation? Assuming they’re amenable, will he now invite Labour’s old guard to professionalise the operation on the strict understanding that the core tenets of the programme aren’t up for negotiation? And can he win an election without first finding a way to convert soft Tories whose self-interest makes winning the 65 seats that separate him from the winning post a potential bridge too far?

There, Corbyn may finally have found an answer to a hitherto unanswerable question: what are moderate Labour voices for? But the 2017 campaign was based on the idea of no compromise and courting new voters. Doubling down next time against a better Tory leader, disinclined to repeat the party’s mistakes, will make the fight that much tougher. Voters, taking the prospect of a Corbyn government seriously, will expect a much stronger front bench. Jeremy knows how to galvanise the public but he’s never reached out to a single Labour MP. If he can do it and acknowledge there’s only so far you can travel without your parliamentary party, then the 2017 result may yet be a staging post rather than a peak.

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Late Election Special: Theresa May

Between you and I, I’m very worried about Theresa May. The Prime Minister’s election campaign, that resulted in the legacy annulling, reputation destroying constitutional calamity of a hung parliament, might be the greatest act of political self-harm in decades. Not since Ted Heath dared the nation to match his sense of self-importance and gift him more seats, despite already having a working majority, has an incumbent Premier murdered their party’s prospects with such abandon. Wasteful? Disgraceful? John Rentoul? You better believe it. The 2017 election was worse than a defeat for the Tories; they now face the prospect of having to navigate the most turbulent political waters since the Second World War with no majority, no authority and no idea what to do next.

The conscious part of May’s mind might have hoped for a landslide but it’s now clear that her unconscious badly wanted to lose the election. One can imagine her having dreams in which Tory bodies were loaded onto carts and dumped on kindling, the ashen faced PM watching quietly as the thick plume from consumed futures billowed toward Brussels. This was a death drive election; the kind of campaign someone fronts when they’ve lost all connection with the human race and hope for deliverance. Desolate Tories will ask why their copper, verdigris-tinged talisman didn’t just go on a stabbing spree and wait for armed police.

May spent the campaign aloof and miserable, vexed by its absurd demands, namely that she interact with samples of those she presumed to represent, and sell them some sort of coherent vision for the future, consisting of more than long pauses, sharp intakes of breath and stolid phrase making. Brexit, she thought, would absent her from those outmoded expectations. What did the people need to know, other than she’d be fighting the good fight, the proxy for formally disenfranchised working class voters with whom she had nothing in common? She’d pre-fought the campaign she believed, circumventing its tricky complications. And a good job too – she hated people. Can you imagine having to justify yourself to such an ignorant bunch of bastards for seven weeks? Seven weeks?! That’s nearly a gutful.

Calls for the PM to explain herself to the man and the woman in the street (“cunts”, lest me forget, according to Sid Vicious), must have fed Theresa’s sub-conscious realisation that she was the wrong person, in the wrong party, vying for the wrong job. A prisoner of childhood indoctrination and social background – the Vicar’s daughter, a provincial non-entity, she naturally gravitated toward the Conservatives, a party that vouchsafed her aspic frozen, closed worldview. But interaction with its grass roots and election to its parliamentary ranks, lead to the accruing of doubt. This was mind sediment. And as it built, layer on layer, May started to feel its weight in her skull. One could see the tension in her face and neck muscles.

When she famously warned the Conservative conference they were thought of as “the nasty party”, something that had never seriously occurred to any ideological Tory, she inadvertently gifted a soundbite to the party’s enemies, the stock of which rose year on year. Many Tories never forgave the slight, nor the imposition of reality, but this bold observation was the first sign of May’s self-loathing and closet desire to have that hatred validated and reinforced by her colleagues.

Despite this, May’s burning ambition, tethered to fragile self-worth, the thread no more than a hair’s width, compelled her to rise in the ranks and in the early months of the year, seek a personal mandate. Her majority belonged to David Cameron after all, and she owed her crown to his mistakes. The public would have to be involved, worst luck, because without them she’d be an accidental Prime Minister in the eyes of her elected European counterparts, and a fraud when pitted against insufferable opposition like the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Salmond or something – a sanctimonious browbeater with nation leading pretensions.

As ever in politics, it’s not the cynicism that kills you, it’s your inability to hide it. Opposition parties dutifully, strategically, pointed out that May had timed the triggering of Article 50 to lock in Leave voters and boost her personal standing. Had May called the election in the national interest as she claimed, she’d surely have done it before we were tied to Brexit, thereby gifting us the chance to get out of it. But to do that would throw away the opportunity to consolidate the Tory vote – realigning the right, as well as the chance to command a reluctant consensus. No party with ambitions to govern dared run on a remain ticket, and Tory commitment to seeing separation through to the bitter end, staying in the car until it filled with carbon monoxide, seemed the most robust.

If May had been a consummate media performer, exuding a warmth and wit that cut across all groups, she might easily have convinced people that conferring greater power on her was a strong and stable idea. Unfortunately, when charged with wasting voters’ time and attempting to gerrymander the House of Commons in her favour, striking while Labour doddered and stuttered under a bewildered looking Jeremy Corbyn, she chose to hide from her accusers, instead opting to talk to handfuls of handpicked ballot botherers, rather than directly to unfiltered millions on television and radio.

When her manifesto was published, highly anticipated by hopeful right-wing hacks who dared to dream of its riches, the suspicions of many voters, that she’d gone to the country with no fucking idea what to do when re-elected, perhaps because part of her dared not contemplate victory, was confirmed. The wretched document, rather than reading like a great work of economics and philosophy, proved empty, bar a bold commitment to force the grieving families of recently deceased parents to sell the family home to pay the old man or woman’s social care bill.

Forcing asset rich clans to stump up, challenging the inviolability of inherited wealth – the idea that you should get a free house because a relative worked and paid for it, was a work of agitation worthy of an original thinker. Naturally, the public hated it. There aren’t many legitimate get rich quick schemes out there.

So May’s calculations were scrawled on a giant white board and displayed for all the nation to see. And let’s be clear – a part of her, the dominant part, wanted us to see them. Unable to communicate and incapable of selling herself as a visionary, Theresa fulfilled her destiny, a path she’d forged in dreams, off-the-cuff asides and rhetoric belying actions. She went to the country asking for its verdict and sure enough it came, as clear and brutal as feared.

Self-harmers know they’ll be pain. You can’t cut into your own flesh and not suffer. But what they’re really doing is asking for delivery from torment – help from their better adjusted, happier peers. The public have told Theresa what to do. Leave politics and be happy. The only question that remains is whether she has the strength to take their advice.

Yes, I’m worried about Theresa May and I hope she finds peace very soon.

Tomorrow: Jeremy Corbyn

Published in: on June 10, 2017 at 13:33  Leave a Comment  
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