Sorry, Tories: Jeremy Corbyn’s Success Is a Win for the Anti-Austerity Movement

British progressives have a long fight ahead. But for now, we’re breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Jane Miller July 10, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader, grins after taking seats from the Tories in the June election. (Photo by Ben Stevens/PA Images via Getty Images)

Elec­tion night was a sleep­less one for many of us, fol­lowed by a grey morn­ing lit by occa­sion­al shafts of sun­light and by new and glo­ri­ous con­fu­sion. Tory Prime Min­is­ter There­sa May had called the elec­tion on April 18 to increase her major­i­ty, con­sol­i­date her hold on her par­ty and the coun­try, and secure a man­date to nego­ti­ate our depar­ture from the Euro­pean Union as she sees fit. She told us lit­tle dur­ing the cam­paign of her nego­ti­at­ing plans or pri­or­i­ties, refused to debate with her rivals, sneered at Labour and Jere­my Corbyn’s hope­less unre­li­a­bil­i­ty com­pared with her strong and sta­ble” con­trol of Brex­it and every­thing else, and asked us sim­ply to trust” her. She behaved as though she had no par­ty and no col­leagues, offer­ing her­self as our sav­iour, whose main qual­i­fi­ca­tion was that she’d once been called a bloody dif­fi­cult woman.”

Yet despite the dividedness of both the main parties, this has been an election between and about them, rather than the smaller parties.

She has been humil­i­at­ed. Her par­ty won the elec­tion as the par­ty with the most seats, but it has no major­i­ty. Labour won 40 per­cent of the vote and gained 32 seats, most of them from the Tory par­ty. May has formed an alliance with the ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union­ist Par­ty from North­ern Ire­land. Her chances of sur­viv­ing the year as prime min­is­ter and leader of the Tories are slim.

This has been an extra­or­di­nary elec­tion, though extra­or­di­nary elec­tions are by now, of course, the norm almost every­where. May is a unique­ly soli­tary fig­ure with­in her par­ty. Yet despite the divid­ed­ness of both the main par­ties, this has been an elec­tion between and about them, rather than the small­er par­ties. The Scot­tish Nation­al Par­ty and U.K. Inde­pen­dence Par­ty lost votes. The admirable Car­o­line Lucas remains our only Green MP, though she dou­bled her majority.

With excep­tion­al hubris, There­sa May set off on the wrong foot by announc­ing an elec­tion after she had res­olute­ly insist­ed that she wouldn’t, and then shot her­self in the same foot by going back on her platform’s pol­i­cy for fund­ing elder care by get­ting us all to pay for most of it, but then she capped the assets that would be called upon in a way that favoured the rich and the very rich. The con­fu­sion was hard­ly less­ened by her insis­tence that noth­ing has changed.” She is thought to have lost a good many old” votes in the process.

She could hard­ly be blamed for the hideous ter­ror­ist attacks in Man­ches­ter and Lon­don, but some held her respon­si­ble for the author­i­ties’ fail­ure to pur­sue those ter­ror­ists who had been known to the police. As Home Sec­re­tary for six years, she was instru­men­tal in cut­ting the country’s police force by 20,000 as part of the Tory government’s aus­ter­i­ty programme. 

Some of us have bemoaned Jere­my Corbyn’s lack of inter­est in Europe and in pre­vent­ing Brex­it. Many in the par­ty and out­side it wrote off” Labour as mor­tal­ly divid­ed between Tony Blair cen­trists and Jere­my Cor­byn social­ists. But he ran a spir­it­ed cam­paign that excit­ed young vot­ers by focussing on liv­ing stan­dards, a liv­ing wage, fund­ing for schools, the Health Ser­vice and Social Care, and rena­tion­al­is­ing the railways. 

His plat­form bud­get­ed for his pro­pos­als through high­er tax­es for cor­po­ra­tions and peo­ple earn­ing more than 80,000 pounds annu­al­ly, and through being pre­pared to bor­row. Some of us thought his redis­tri­b­u­tions were too uni­ver­sal­ist, such as end­ing uni­ver­si­ty fees for the young and main­tain­ing fuel sub­si­dies for the old — some­thing that a major­i­ty of the recip­i­ents don’t need. Such con­ces­sions would be bet­ter tar­get­ed through reform­ing the tax sys­tem instead. 

I’m still float­ing on a huge, com­mu­nal sigh of relief. May will have to drop sev­er­al of her key promis­es, such as the revival of gram­mar schools, because they won’t get enough votes in the Com­mons, and she will need to keep off sub­jects like abor­tion and gay rights. It is rumoured that the E.U. will start Brex­it by demand­ing bil­lions of euros, which the Tories will refuse to pay, and insist­ing that we keep all Euro­pean cit­i­zens who are already here, whom the Tories would like to get rid of. Talks may be more dif­fi­cult than even a bloody dif­fi­cult woman can man­age. But there’s been a vig­or­ous, enthu­si­as­tic and shared desire to do away with aus­ter­i­ty, pes­simism, chau­vin­ism and gross inequal­i­ty. Let’s have at least two cheers for democracy. 

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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