Jeremy Corbyn’s Judgment Day

The June 8 election is critical for Labour’s future.

Jane Miller May 29, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn's support is bravely pretending his party is ready for June 8's election. (Photo by Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

As Prime Min­is­ter There­sa May toured Wales on hol­i­day with her hus­band in ear­ly April, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s upcom­ing ref­er­en­dum — his bid to increase his pow­ers and stay in office for­ev­er — must have been on her mind. May, whose rat­ings are far high­er than Erdoğan’s, must have wished she hadn’t insist­ed so force­ful­ly that Brex­it is too seri­ous a mat­ter to allow time for an elec­tion cam­paign, nor promised us so often that there would be no gen­er­al elec­tion until 2020. In her speech to the coun­try, deliv­ered out­side Num­ber 10 Down­ing Street, she for­bore to announce that this elec­tion is thought entire­ly unnec­es­sary by a good many peo­ple. There are those who believe that as a vicar’s daugh­ter, May is a safe pair of hands.” But no one’s much sur­prised that she mis­led us and lied.

The most likely explanation for May’s decision is that there are differences in her own party and that strengthening her own mandate seems the only solution.

Indeed, we have a new media hero­ine in Bren­da from Bris­tol,” who react­ed in a BBC inter­view with the words: You’re jok­ing, not anoth­er one. Why does she need to do it?” 

May’s own expla­na­tion is nei­ther con­vinc­ing nor rea­son­able. At this moment of enor­mous nation­al sig­nif­i­cance,” she intoned, there should be uni­ty here in West­min­ster, but instead there is divi­sion. The coun­try is com­ing togeth­er, but West­min­ster is not.” 

Of course there is divi­sion in West­min­ster. Before the ref­er­en­dum, a major­i­ty of MPs sup­port­ed our remain­ing in the Euro­pean Union, though a major­i­ty also, and supine­ly, vot­ed to sup­port the gov­ern­ment in its open­ing of nego­ti­a­tions with Europe. Her com­plaint that West­min­ster is mak­ing Brex­it dif­fi­cult for her is absurd. We are not yet, after all, a dic­ta­tor­ship. Nor is it the case that there is no divi­sion in the coun­try, as the Brex­it ref­er­en­dum showed with its 52 to 48 result. 

There is great uncer­tain­ty and con­fu­sion. The most like­ly expla­na­tion for May’s deci­sion is that there are dif­fer­ences in her own par­ty and that strength­en­ing her own man­date seems the only solu­tion. Per­haps she could pick off the least mal­leable of her cab­i­net. She’s got rid of her old bêtes noire, George Osborne and David Cameron. What about Boris John­son? It is all too prob­a­ble that May will win this elec­tion with a much big­ger Con­ser­v­a­tive major­i­ty than she has at the moment, pick­ing up vot­ers from UKIP and Labour. 

Two-thirds of all MPs must vote in favour of an elec­tion tak­ing place after two years (rather than the statu­to­ry five), and they have. Jere­my Cor­byn, the Labour Par­ty leader, is brave­ly pre­tend­ing that his par­ty is ready for it. At least Labour hasn’t had time to embark on the de-selec­tion of anti-Cor­byn can­di­dates, as had been pro­posed, which would have fur­ther wors­ened Labour’s prospects. The Lib­er­al Democ­rats, who were dec­i­mat­ed at the last elec­tion, believe they’ll pick up dis­il­lu­sioned Remain­ers from Labour and Con­ser­v­a­tives and do bet­ter this time, and I expect they will. Only Nico­la Stur­geon, Scotland’s first min­is­ter and leader of the Scot­tish Nation­al Par­ty, which has 54 MPs at West­min­ster at the moment, was ready to crit­i­cise May open­ly and at once, say­ing that this was May’s chance to move the U.K. to the right and to force through deep­er spend­ing cuts. 

For many the real hor­ror of this elec­tion is that the Labour Par­ty faces dis­in­te­gra­tion, even pos­si­ble extinc­tion. Cor­byn will be blamed, and those of us who have sup­port­ed him will be blamed, too. Blame should also be direct­ed at the sulk­ing MPs who have refused to work with Cor­byn and his rather few back­ers in parliament. 

Cor­byn had been los­ing sup­port, and he has final­ly lost mine: first for his luke­warm and inef­fec­tive inter­ven­tions dur­ing the E.U. ref­er­en­dum cam­paign; sec­ond, for his inabil­i­ty to oppose this very right-wing gov­ern­ment. He is right to focus on cuts to social ser­vices, par­tic­u­lar­ly to the Nation­al Health Ser­vice and to edu­ca­tion, and to pro­pose high­er tax­es for high­er earn­ers and a high­er min­i­mum wage. These poli­cies have encour­aged a slight shift in the polls towards Labour. How­ev­er, the trou­ble is that Labour’s silence on Brex­it will be read as sup­port for a Con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment to nego­ti­ate our exit from Europe behind closed doors, deny­ing scruti­ny of the nego­ti­at­ed con­di­tions that will affect us all for a generation.

Jane Miller lives in Lon­don, and is the author, most recent­ly, of In My Own Time: Thoughts and After­thoughts (2016), a col­lec­tion of her In These Times columns and interviews.
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