This was Corbyn’s campaign. He led from the front. He deserves the credit

by Trevor Fisher

The 2017 election rewrote the rules, and though the opinion polls did well in tracking the Corbyn rise and the stagnant Tory vote, the experts largely missed the increasing popularity of Corbyn though by the time Paul Mason wrote in the FT on June 3rd that “the UK is not a left wing country, but it is a fair one that has had enough of austerity” – he captured something of the shifts taking place, and the shifts are not all to Labour. Working class areas were particularly vulnerable and there is a need to analyse almost on a seat by seat basis – especially with small majorities like the Labour gain in Crewe by 48, and holding on to Newcastle Under  Lyme by 30 and Dudley North by 23. In Stoke Central, where Labour was in a minority, the UKIP vote collapsed but Labour increased, no doubt a result of the by-election where at the peak three months ago 500 Labour canvassers were out. Unlike Stoke South, which the Tories gained. Local campaigns played an important part, especially in Wales.

Nevertheless though May had achieved her target of hoovering up the UKIP vote most of us – me included – once the campaign started failed to understand the Corbyn phenomenon. By the last week of the campaign it was clear that a hung parliament was possible and I wrote this on 4th June, though Labour did not achieve largest party status. But it gained votes and support. The question we all have to answer is why. Starting with Corbyn’s remarkable personal success.

The ability of Jeremy Corbyn to appeal to a popular audience was clear from the start of his leadership campaign in 2015 and no one has begun to understand it, though the attraction has more to do with personality than policies, though the manifesto was supremely important. But Corbyn first. Though telephone canvassers reported that voters were turned off by Corbyn, the crowds at his rallies were and are impressive and as Jackie Lukes reported from Hull, this visibly gave Corbyn confidence and improved his credibility.

Not I think in reaction to what he was saying. At Stoke in September I could not hear his speech as the public address was abysmal – and when he spoke at a Libertines concert just before the Manchester bombings, reports say the crowd cheered so you could not hear him speak. It was not important – but the lack of impact of the tabloid smear campaign linking him with terrorists had something to do with his personal image, like Mandela after Robbins Island he was simply a grandfather figure.

He also played the immediate issues very well, so an apology is due for thinking he was wrong to accept the Brexit vote and to vote for Article 50. These moves defused Brexit and May should have realised this was not going to be a crucial issue in a general election, which will  always be about many issues. While I still think Labour was wrong to vote for the election, that is what the Fixed Term Parliament Act forces the opposition parties to do as rejecting the challenge invites the charge of cowardice, but that was not a charge that could be levelled against Labour. The avoidance of Brexit was tactically sound, but strategically stores up a battle yet to be fought.

The manifesto was a model centre ground document, even on Trident, and placed Labour in a very good position to attack the disastrous Tory document. On the day before the election, the local paper had a front page Labour ad attacking police cuts, and inside were ads from Labour highlighting five popular pledges and four devastating attacks on the Tories – axing fuel winter payments, the dementia tax, cutting public services and…. ‘threatening tax rises’. The latter may be a problem in the long term, but the others hit the Tories where it hurt. The paper carried whole page Labour ads attacking the Tories on police cuts and Tory threats to pensioners. There is no doubt that Labour had the Tories on the run, winning over centre support if not eating into the Tory overall vote. Except in Wales, which needs separate analysis. The Tory upsurge in Wales never happened.

The opposite is the case for the Tories, on nearly every front save Scotland. In Scotland, the local leadership of Ruth Davidson won back support for the Tories just as they were losing it south of the border. The Tory manifesto was a disaster, and May made this clear by not turning up on TV to defend it. I rarely feel sorry for Tories, but Amber Rudd on TV stonewalling for her leader against the other party leaders was a moment to savour.  From the continuance of austerity with more cuts – in the context of not being able to balance the budget till 2025, for a supporter of the People’s Assembly like myself clear proof the cuts have no economic rationale – to hitting specific groups of people normally wooed by the Tories, notably pensioners, the Tory campaign was almost designed to drive undecided voters into Labour’s arms.

The Tories did succeed in capturing many Brexit voters, and many of these are working class voters from Labour via UKIP. Contrary-wise, many middle class voters plumped for Labour including students and swing voters in seats like Canterbury and remarkably Kensington, admittedly with the help of the Lib Dems taking votes off the Tories,. Indeed, analysis has everywhere to look at the results in particular seats, and the way local campaigns and factors made a difference. There is no national swingometer anymore. Paul Mason is wrong to argue the UK is “a divided country looking for a story it can unify around”. It is certainly a divided country. The divisions after the election look more than ever like a two party split, with trimmings.

But while the analysis will be complicated two things stand out without question. Corbyn did well and appealed to the centre ground and youth, with the Tory smear campaign failing to dent the man’s image of decency and willingness to help the disadvantaged.

And the Tory campaign was stunningly inept once the contrast between the claimed appeal to the centre was matched against right wing policies. Was there ever an election like this? Perhaps 1945, where Churchill thought he would win by 80 seats after winning the war, and the Tory manifesto refused to back social reform, while Labour did. The comparison can be taken too far. Modest and uncharismatic Clem Attlee had been deputy PM during the war, while Corbyn has never occupied a cabinet position. And the opinion polls were consistently pro Labour from 1942 onward.

But if Theresa May is not Churchill, Corbyn has some elements of Attlee in his approach. Above all, Labour won in 1945 with solid working class support and that picture is different today. But Corbyn deserves the comparison, for this was his campaign, he led from the front, and like Attlee the gains were down to his leadership. Whatever happened in the election, this was his triumph and he deserves to be recognised as having come through with honours.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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25 Responses to “This was Corbyn’s campaign. He led from the front. He deserves the credit”

  1. anosrep says:

    I mostly agree with this post, but I take issue with one bit: “The manifesto was a model centre ground document”.

    We should be very careful with notions like that. In historical terms it may well be true – as someone (I forget who) wrote a few weeks ago, if the manifesto harked back to 1983 then it was to that year’s SDP manifesto, not its Labour one. It may also be true in terms of the breadth of political belief held by individuals throughout the Labour Party and indeed the country.

    But by the standards of the discourse that has dominated politics in this country since the mid-1990s, both within Labour and between the parties, it was a radical shift to the left. And it was popular because of, not despite, the policies in it that were (by those recent standards) so radically left-wing. As we prepare to win the next election, be it in five years or five months, we mustn’t forget that.

  2. John Wall says:

    I’ve written for this site – and I think it’s a great tribute to Atul, et al that they’ll publish the views of someone who would never vote Corbyn/Labour. I used to be a member of the Conservatives – I didn’t leave for policy reasons – and my sympathies are still in that area.

    There have been a number of, self-congratulatory, articles like this recently and not many (on the left) have been prepared to take the vitriol by calling for a reality check.

    The result was not what many – on the left or right – anticipated and, although starting from a very low base – assuming you believe the opinion polls!, Corbyn did better than expected. He gained 30 seats resulting in 262, 56 less than May and 60+ short of an overall majority. In 1992 Kinnock got 271 seats and in 1979 Callaghan got 269.

    May got several million more votes and a larger percentage share than Cameron in 2015. Whilst there was some switching of voters this was clearly a two-way process – remember that Labour lost some seats. Overall there was no mass rejection of May’s policy platform. Corbyn clearly succeeded in mobilising traditionally low voting groups such as the young (it seems that there are about 40,000 students in Canterbury) and with the share of the vote taken by the two main parties at its lowest since 1970 the minor parties were squeezed.

    It’s sometimes said that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them – and the Conservative campaign was poor; complacent and arrogant. You only have to look at what senior people have subsequently said, Grant Shapps came close to saying “Fox hunting, wtf!”

    There were so many things that were wrong – starting with a SEVEN week “short” campaign – look back at, for instance, 1983 and 1987. I was not the only one bored out of my tiny mind with SEVEN weeks of “strong and stable”. Theresa May is, basically, quite a shy and introverted person – she’s never really had to “campaign” – and wasn’t up to it for SEVEN weeks.

    Then there was a manifesto that suffered from “too few cooks” syndrome and – arrogantly – assumed that it wouldn’t get much scrutiny.

    Going from a triple-lock to a double-lock on pensions only, potentially, saves money if inflation is low. With the fall in the Pound since the referendum there is now inflation in the economy – and this is likely to continue. There was absolutely nothing to gain, and everything to lose, from getting rid of the triple-lock, so why bother? Arrogance! Then there was the “rethink” – that’s the technical term for a U-turn! – on capping social costs, something that a bit of consultation, and thought, would have flagged up. The £100k “floor” was good news for those having to go into a care home, a “ceiling” in at the start would have largely dealt with objections. All that would have been left in this area would have been means testing the Winter Fuel Allowance.

    To those of us in the real world the Labour manifesto was little more than a leftie wish list. It’s unlikely that, considering what’s going to be required for Brexit, there would be sufficient parliamentary time to enact it and the tax raising proposals were just wishful thinking. However, there wasn’t very much Conservative criticism of it – largely, I suspect, because a “coronation” was expected. It would, however, have quickly collapsed under scrutiny.

    If there was another election tomorrow Corbyn would probably end up in No. 10 because of the bandwagon effect. However, next time it’s unlikely that the Conservatives will have such a poor campaign, there will almost certainly be a new leader, and there will be concerted attacks on Corbyn’s fantasy economics.

    To get an overall majority significant numbers of voters have to be persuaded to switch from the Conservatives – as Blair achieved.

  3. Delta says:

    He certainly does doesn’t he……
    OK finally! Got to the truth. The newly elected Labour MP Emma Dent Coad was on the company board that managed the Grenfell building she was ALSO on the scrutiny committee that was meant to find and address faults with the building and with her expertise on the board she would have been fully aware of the issues. So on the night of the fire Corbyn rushed to her rescue and the logic of the Left is to blame your opponents for that which you plan or intend to do…so they blamed May for being absentee while the Labour MP mysteriously vanished from the scene. All this was done to protect the real coward who did not wish to look the locals in the eye!

  4. Delta says:

    So for all their “empathy” Momentums Labour made the victims of the fire, people who were grieving, shocked and vulnerable tools for their cover up to cover for their cowardly MP who would not look them in the eye she was on the company board, she sat in the Local Authority and scrutinised these matters and when the event occurred she vanished from the scene.
    Not only did Corbyn and his people attempt a clumsy cover up they even turned these people against the Local Authority and created more problems for the beleaguered emergency services.
    All that for a cover up.

  5. johnP Reid says:

    I agree with anosrep and John wall

    but as I said 6 days ago, people use to vote Lib DEM or UKIP as a protest knowing they weren’t going to win ,and Portillo repeated this about labour on this week last night, people voted labour thinking we weren’t going to win,just didn’t like the Toreis, they didn’t expect the result,yes the tories are imploding, but if they pull tehmselves together, get a decent leader ,have a election and it looks like Corbyn can win, people will hold their nose vote tory, like they did in 1992, through fear of labour winning

  6. Delta says:

    So why go to such gruesome lengths to cover this up and divert attention away?

    1 – the block of flats was run not by any council but by KCTMO. This body
    is made up of 8 TENANTS, 4 councillors and 3 independent members.
    2 – Labour hold the seat that the block is situated in.
    3 – Labour run the London Council who manage the under funded London Fire Service
    4 – incidentally Emma Coad the sitting Labour MP for that ward also sat on the KCTMO.
    5 – the advice to stay put which Sadiq Khan has been so vocal about was given by the London Fire Service.
    6 – the decision to change contractors during the refurb was made by KCTMO.
    7 – the decision not to spend a paltry £138k on fitting sprinklers again KCTMO.
    8 – the decision to create ALMO organisation such as the KCTMO was made under the Right To Manage legislation passed in 2002
    as part of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act.
    9 – this was put in place to give leasehold tenants a greater say and the ability to self manage, which has clearly proven to be a disaster.
    10 – and which Govt was in charge when this law was passed? Yup you guessed it Labour.
    11 – Sadiq Khan as mayor of London Produced a report to say that the fire service did not need further funding.
    12 -Emma Coad elected Labour MP was on the board of the Tenant Management group who are being accused of not listening to tenants.

    Now the question for Labour moderates is this…..would you have done what Corbyn did? Would you have exploited the victims as he has?

  7. Livingston says:

    I would not like Labour to go back to just being Tory-lite.

  8. John Wall says:

    Finger pointing, particularly when information is limited, is dangerous as you can easily find yourself being pointed at.

    I think that some of the Corbynistas see 2015, when their bearded messiah became leader, as some sort of “year zero” and that, in particular, the period between 1997 and 2010 never existed.

  9. Landless Peasant says:

    It’s not just the tabloid gutter press who attempted to smear Corbyn with allegations of supporting terrorism, some of the contributors on here are trying to do the same thing.

  10. Vern says:

    Hats off to Corby he did as well as May did badly. You can only beat what’s in front of you as they say. It shows that behind these 2 it’s a bit thin on the ground in terms of talent though. Where was Tom Watson, JC’s deputy? However, if what Delta says is true these are the very reasons we need to ensure Corbyn never reaches no 10! He is not genuine. He is manipulative and has hate coursing through him. Hates aspiration and with McDonell has created politics of hate and divide.

  11. John Wall says:

    @Landless Peasant – Corbyn’s support for terrorism is not allegations, it’s extensively documented, as is his support for repressive regimes such as Iran where he was paid £20k to appear on TV.

    @Vern – I agreee. McDonnell, etc are not, fundamentally, democrats.

  12. Landless Peasant says:

    Vern – it is theTories who have created politics& division, by way of their policies delberately designed to attack the poor & vulnerable, to create havoc in our society, to wreck the welfare state, dismantle the State, bring Councils to their knees, make people homeless, push people into utter destition with sanctions & foodbanks & universal bloody Credit, the bedroom tax etc. Whilst the rich get richer. Evil Tory scum. Get rid of them ASAP.

  13. John P Reid says:

    Landless peasant, if the Tories got more votes than labour, then, they will have divided less the country, than labour with fewer votes,

    Livungatonbi wouldn’t like labour to destroy itself for ever, by winning,by default,once with Jez, or ,vstill lowungand just being a protest movement, we’re ok, it’s those who aren’t who need a long time labour government,and not let a farvrught Tories win, because we’re unelectable for 18 years,and then saying it’s ok we’ve lost again it’s a moral victory,tell the homeless, that it’s better for labour to lose in a far left manifesto,as it’s a moral ,victory, but sorry,the homeless,we can’t get you off the streets,

  14. Andy Foster says:

    Trevor Fisher, I suspect, won’t want praise from me. But he will get it, because this is a good and frank and humble piece. Pity about everyone else. This was Theresa May’s election. She chose to call it, at her time, in her way, at an unusual political moment, when she knew that many UKIP voters, some of them formerly Labour, had moved to support her. In those unpropitious circumstances, Corbyn cut her lead from 22% to 2%, deprived her of an overall majority, and got a better percentage of Labour votes than Tony Blair. It was a moral victory of a stunning kind. The nearest parallel is February 1974.

    Yet Labour Uncut’s reaction is miserable and ungrateful. “The big existential threat may still be in front of Labour.” (Kevin Meagher) “As good as our result was last week, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we did not win.” (sounds like Chris Leslie, but actually Tom Clement) ” Reality check: a winning party needs to win, you know, seats… in fact, very little has changed at all.” (Rob Marchant) “despite the claims of the Corbynistas, Project Corbyn has reached its limit.” (John Wall)

    And we haven’t heard from editor Atul Hatwal, who started off predicting huge losses for Labour and was still suggesting a “nuclear winter for Labour” days before the poll. Perhaps he thinks a period of silence would now be appropriate. I think a few apologies and thanks might be in order.

  15. john P Reid says:

    andy foster,it was a moral victory

    i saw a homeless person on the street the other day,i’m not in a position to help, financially
    because we didn’t win the election, and if we had done with a sensible manifesto and leader we could have, I explained that the left of the party felt it was better to have a far left leader and lose than a moderate and win

    so after i told the homeless person, that despite us losing the election and not being able to help him ,from the position of power, that it didn’t matter about not winning and being in a position of power to help him, at least it was a moral victory

    at least I could go on about my way ,thinking to myself, it wasn’t that bad there were homless on the streets under the tories, as at least us losing was a moral victory

    I personally think May cut her own lead for 22% to 2.4% and half of that was due to Jeremy’s one good achievement, supporting article 50 despite Diane abbott abstaining and calling brexiters racist

    why would a period of silence be in order ,unless not being able to help the homeless ,form opposition, means it’s ok we pat ourselves on the back for losing

  16. John Wall says:

    @Andy Foster – I’m a bit of an interloper here but find that some agree with some of what I say. It’s no secret that I was a member of the Conservatives and my sympathies are still in that area.

    My view, and I’m not unique, is that the Conservative campaign was poor; complacent and arrogant. I’ve outlined elsewhere on this site some of the things that were wrong, some easily correctable, and there are reports elsewhere of the problems within the campaign.

    FOX HUNTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Notwithstanding all of that, May and the Conservatives almost got away with it. It seems that less than 400 people voting Conservative instead of Labour would have given 326 seats. Although there was some switching from Conservative to Labour and vice versa, I’ve previously contended that as May got several million more votes and a larger percentage share than Cameron there was no mass rejection of her policy platform.

    To some extent Corbyn did what he said he would – he mobilised non voters and also attracted votes from elsewhere on the left.

    The Green vote dropped – presumably transferring to Labour.

    Although they gained seats the Lib Dem vote dropped – presumably transferring to Labour.

    UKIP was – note the past tense ! – a curious beast. It was frequently seen, incorrectly, as a largely right wing party – having attracted some of the “stiff upper lip” vote from the Conservatives. But they also got some of the “cloth cap” vote – unhappy with Blair’s open door immigration policy – from Labour together with some of the protest vote from the Lib Dems after 2010. Yes, some switched from a europhile to a europhobe party. Some of that clearly transferred to Labour.

    The percentage share of the two main parties is now at its highest percentage since 1970 – so how many more from the rest can be attracted to Labour?

    It appears that Corbyn/Labour did very well with the “young” – a previously low turn out demographic – which clearly worked in a university town like Canterbury with 40,000 students.

    But this, again, is a finite area for increasing the vote.

    The fundamental question that hasn’t been generally asked – except by sad, bitter, lonely types like Chris Leslie – is what Is the strategy for attracting large numbers of Conservative voters, who count double, to gain the 60+ seats needed for an overall majority?

  17. john P Reid says:

    according to electoral calculus we need a6% swing to wards us to get a mority of 1,and a 7% if the boundary changes go through

    so that’s we either get 7% of the vote off the tories or 7% of the tories go to Ukip and we get 7% of libdem votes to win!

    we just had a 2% swing towards us

    as they use to say the 4 more shoves to win approach

  18. John Wall says:

    @John P Reid – it’s harder to do well when the minor parties are squeezed. Theresa May got the same percentage share as Margaret Thatcher did in 1987; the former ended up with a hung parliament whereas the latter had a majority of 102.

  19. Landless Peasant says:

    I’ve never heard as much shite in my life as what I read on this site. The only way to get rid of the Tory menace (and get rid of them we MUST) is to stop all the in-fighting, the back-stabbing, and the bitching, and for all our sakes get behind Corbyn. Also joina Trade Union, get out on Strike, take to the streets in protest and bring down this shower of shit who laughingly call themselves a government. Bollocks to Austerity. Enough of this Tory nightmare. Get the bastards OUT!

  20. In reply to Andy Foster, Andy I welcome contributions and agreement and if the soft left and the hard left can agree on the facts that is well and good, I don’t see my piece as ‘humble’ because objective analysis has no moral baggage. I didn’t see the surge coming and no one else did, and it doesn’t change my overall assessment that Corbyn is not prime minister material, but accepting that he won a personal battle is simply hard fact,

    No one else could speak at a libertine’s concert, and the poll data on the leader ratings were so clearly in his favour that its foolish to pretend that this was not a personal victory,

    But so was John Major over NEIL Kinnock in 1992, and it is often forgotten that Major still has the record for the largest actual vote in a UK election – 14m plus. It didn’t change my view that Neil was the better leader, and what happened after 1992 showed that Major could not control his extremists, which Neil had done with Militant. So what comes now will be decisive. Elections are a snapshot.

    But nothing can take away Corbyn’s personal triumph. Yes governments lose elections, and the TOries were running a master class in how to alienate the centre ground and that is the key issue for Englandand Wales. But Jezza did not put a foot wrong so why not accept that was the story?

    Trevor Fisher

  21. Henrik says:

    As an occasional commenter, but frequent visitor, to this site, I find it hugely heartening that @Landless Peasant is still around and helping convince me that, even with the most inept Tory election campaign ever and, undeniably, a superb campaign by the Blessed Jeremy, Labour still *lost*.

    This was the big chance for you guys, the absolute high-water-mark of popular support, all those wonderful young people, enthused and motivated and…. you blew it. Insufficient grown-ups drank the Kool-Aid and now that normal service is being resumed – Days of Rage and the like – and in the foreseeable future a more sensible Prime Minister, whoever it’s going to be, succeeding to the post – and Brexit – that’s it, now, for Labour, until probably 2027.

    Bad luck.

    Now get on with the civil war as you decide, once and for all, whether you’re going to be party of government or a party of insurgency. I don’t much mind which option you select, provided the result is clear and we can have a proper Opposition again.

  22. Andy Foster says:

    john P Reid, I don’t want to help the homeless, I want to change society so they aren’t homeless any more. Otherwise we just go round in a circle again. When I heard Corbyn speak in 2015 I thought he was the only candidate offering a way of the mess, and I still do.

    John Wall (and others) I don’t think this is any kind of limit of Labour’s performance. The election was fought at an unusual moment, with the Government exploiting, it thought, anti-EU sentiment to gain working class former Labour votes. It did succeed to some extent: the towns where we lost, Stoke, Mansfield, were full of Leave supporters. Leaving the EU is going to be a mess and while I think a deal may reinvigorate UKIP I equally think it may start bringing more thoughtful Leave voters back to Labour as other traditional issues gain traction. Traditional working class areas are experiencing immigration for the first time, just as big cities did years ago, and that wave of racism passed. I think a traditional Labour programme – and we had a lot of that this time – will increasingly appeal to people like that. Also Corbyn’s unpopularity with some of those people – and I experienced that a bit on the step – is disappearing as people see more of him. Successful leaders almost always go through an early phase of intense unpopularity, it’s a precondition of trust: Thatcher, Livingstone. I think Corbyn is emerging from his.

  23. John P Reid says:

    Landless peasant join a union, -aren’t there self employed ,or no strike people here, also going on strike would bring down a Tory govt, like wrapping or the miners strike, the only thing striking brought down,was Callaghans govt,

    The street protest of 250 people yesterday, was called peaceful, hardly peaceful 3 arrests ,two people put on the floor after threatening cops,out of 250 people there

  24. John Wall says:

    @Andy Foster – every student in Canterbury voting Labour wouldn’t bring No. 10 closer. The way forward for both parties is to take votes off the other – but that’s easier said than done !

  25. john P Reid says:

    andy foster ,how do you change society, without being in power ,unless you feel everyone’s good nature means they’d give more to charity, if so that’s not the point of politics

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