So said Jeremy Corbyn. Is he right?
First, things have come to a pretty pass when we’ve come to see a victory in not losing quite as badly as we thought. The Tories have pushed through policies which adversely effect almost anyone who isn’t a millionaire, which have been literally ruinous for many and, in no small number of cases, have resulted in avoidable deaths. They pitched all this on a promise to reduce a deficit they actually increased, so it doesn’t even make sense on their own terms. And they’re still the biggest party. In fact they got a larger number of MPs than they did in 2010. We have snatched defeat from the jaws of even greater defeat. That’s all.
And support from the ultra-right Ulster Unionists is so natural to them that their full name is the Conservative and Unionist Party. Coalition with the Liberals was… well, the way you remember it. But the Liberals buddied up with Cameron’s populist side and got through some socially liberal policies such as gay marriage. The Ulster Unionists will act as a brake on anything further like that. And the Tories were more or less turning in that direction anyway, so it’ll be easy for them. (And, after all that mud slung at Corbyn over meeting Sinn Fein, don’t expect a single word in the popular press about the Tories now being in alliance with a group with a deep terrorist past.)
One thing it definitely means - the very problem May sought to extinguish is now magnified. Face up to it, in recent years the only effective opposition to the Tories has come from the Tories. Outside the heady election campaign, only a backbench rebellion (for example over tax credits) has managed to throw them off track. Now with a smaller majority, backbench revolts can more easily be effective. And with backbenchers themselves in some cases having smaller majorities, they may be more likely to be panicked into revolt by belligerent constituents. And slim majorities by their nature tie governments down in logistics. But… call me a perfectionist, but… couldn’t we hope for more than that?
But Corbyn may yet be proved wrong. Politics could fairly easily go back in the box. The Tories initially did well in polls, suggesting what did it for them was their crap campaign more than their crap policies. In particular, it may be May’s haughty and imperious personality which sunk her. The media did their best to portray Corbyn as a champagne socialist quoffing from Islington. But it was May who visibly considered herself too good for the rest of us. (Calling a snap election after repeatedly promising not to, after voting for a bill supposed to ban them, then saying you’re too busy to meet the electorate... that turns out to not be a good look. Who knew?) But the Tories are now likely to ditch her and go for a more populist figure, possibly Boris Johnson.
And another significant factor was Corbyn rocking the youth vote. Which has a peculiarity. People will often tell pollsters they’ll definitely be voting, but haven’t decided who yet and might even wait until they’re in the voting booth. But there’s a section of the youth vote which does the exact opposite, adamant which way they’d vote but ambivalent about voting in the first place. (This is a large part of the reason why polls can get things wrong, even if it’s fashionable to assume that pollsters are just stupid.) Such a precarious section of the vote could easily sit back down on the couch again, if tuition fees aren’t abolished straight away (which of course they won’t be) or simply when the novelty wears off. (Voting on-line, as some other countries do, would almost certainly strengthen the youth vote. So we can be pretty sure we won’t be seeing that.)
On the other hand, we have got to the point where not losing so badly starts to seem like a victory. New Labour had managed to establish a political consensus around neoliberalism, which pushed questioning austerity off the map. The financial crisis, which some assumed would mark its end, actually cemented it. It became widespread for people to deny the deficit was anything to do with the banking crisis, like one of those ‘Doctor Who’ episodes where everyone forgets what happened five minutes ago.
With the previous election anti-austerity finally came back, but that was a change tied to the rise of smaller parties. (And I remain convinced the Scottish National Party became anti-austerity simply because it saw a market gap.)
But this time the vote swung back from the smaller parties, yet with Labour picking up the anti-austerity mantle. Like it should be concerned about the lot of those who labour after all. (Though, interestingly, it was the UKIP vote which fell the most. Which should really have benefited the Tories more than anyone else.)
The Blairites proved unable to depose Corbyn through their standard dirty tricks. So they figured they’d give him his head, let him lose an election with his loony left rants, then strike. And right now, their gambit’s looking about as smart as May’s. They won’t be able to directly challenge him again for a while.
Of course it’s legitimate to ask – does any of this really matter? Austerity hits us in our workplaces and communities, and so of course that’s precisely where it should be resisted. And ultimately what we’re struggling for is control over our own lives. That’s not something you can vote for by definition. My attitude to political representation is what it’s always been – I’m against it.
And the Left can be worse than irrelevant. Let’s not forget that when austerity first hit, there was a groundswell of public opposition to it. Which was almost entirely successfully channelled by the accursed Trade Union bosses, marching us up to Hyde Park and down again. And Corbyn’s personality or conviction doesn’t matter here. We’re talking about what the Left does institutionally.
But to argue all that now would seem to overlook us being in a place where a lesser defeat looks like a victory. Some folk, it’s true, are doing good groundswell campaigning. But mostly when I read political stuff that should be from my side of the spectrum it seems to have fallen back on abstract calls for revolt. Which don’t seem terribly useful to me. At times they completely mirror the worst kind of mainstream arguments. If someone else is insisting that its your patriotic duty to vote in our great free nation, they’ll be claiming anyone who votes is conforming to the rule of the British state. (Guys, I go to work five days out of every seven. Its a bit late to start arguing that one.)
This is the truth of it. We’re in a situation where most either bought the far-right narrative where asylum seekers are responsible for the crisis in the NHS because they pray funny, or succumbed to heads-down individualism. This is an event which has some potential (I put it no more strongly than that) to turn the tide that’s currently drowning us. It would be absurd to respond by retreating into ideologically pure splendid isolation.
And if the Left inherently tries to scab us out, that doesn’t mean they can automatically succeed. What we need is for this to galvanise a widespread popular movement against austerity. We must march behind them, not out of support but to block out the possibility of their making a U-turn. We may have been finally let out of the box. So let’s make it hard for them to put us back in it again.