Andrew Vine: Instead of disaster, it is a new lease of life for Labour

Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy Corbyn.
0
Have your say

THERE can be no Labour coup against Jeremy Corbyn now. His triumph of hope over pessimism at the polls has seen to that.

Nothing and nobody should detract from the achievement of this seemingly unlikely party leader, for so long mercilessly condemned by the opinion polls and the restive MPs on the benches behind him.

He has not only reinvigorated a Labour Party that had lost its way after the disappointment of being beaten in the 2015 election, but he has also changed British politics.

The old certainty that Governments of the centre-right or centre-left are Britain’s norm has been shaken by millions voting for an unashamedly left-wing, tax-and-spend programme.

Unelectable, the polls said of him. Impossible to win elections from the left.

Well, even though he did not win, Mr Corbyn confounded the dire predictions, and, in doing so, both reinforced the left’s grip on Labour and turned its conventional thinking that it must occupy the centre ground on its head.

Blairism is dead. Long live Corbynism.

The evidence is unquestionable. A gain of 29 seats. A 10-point surge in Labour support to 40 per cent – within an ace of Tony Blair’s 41 per cent in 2001 when he won a second landslide victory.

Such a remarkable result kills the expectation that has held sway in Labour circles – particularly the Parliamentary party – ever since Mr Corbyn was elected leader by grassroots members.

It said that the Corbyn era was an aberration, a moment of madness wrought by a cabal of hard-left activists which would be mercilessly exposed as folly by a savaging at the polls.

Prominent and talented MPs of centrist views resigned from the front bench or refused to serve, retreating to the back benches to await electoral disaster, after which Mr Corbyn would be ousted and Labour returned to its senses.

Poor local election results last month only seemed to confirm this narrative, as did opinion polls that proclaimed Mr Corbyn had a personal approval rating amongst voters of minus 23 per cent, making him even more unpopular than the disastrous Michael Foot in 1983.

The snap election was greeted with a grim sense of relief, only because it would put this misbegotten leadership out if its misery sooner rather than later, and the party could start to rebuild.

How wrong this scenario proved to be was demonstrated by the jubilant cheers at election counts across the country.

Instead of disaster, Labour has been given a new lease of life, and Mr Corbyn is unassailable in his leadership. He has trounced his detractors who have no choice but to fall into line behind him.

The party has moved decisively to the left, and that is where it will stay for the foreseeable future because its electoral success in doing so cannot be gainsaid.

Mr Corbyn can savour the delicious irony of the tables being turned – that it is he who now looks across the dispatch box at a leader lacking the confidence of the MPs on the benches behind and waiting for the stab in the back.

Although Labour has not won power, it won many of the arguments at the election, and that is thanks to Mr Corbyn, a veteran of protest politics who reached if not a silent majority, a substantial minority who decided the Conservative message wasn’t worth listening to.

Unvarnished, unspun and unapologetic about his long-held worldview, Mr Corbyn galvanised voters sick to the back teeth of seven years of austerity who were being offered nothing except more belt-tightening to pay for a crisis not of their making.

Amid Tory jibes about a coalition of chaos, Mr Corbyn reached out instead to a coalition of the disaffected who flocked to Labour.

He caught a mood of protest, the anti-establishment feeling that has simmered for too long, all those people who tweeted and protested when Britain opted for Brexit and have become increasingly uncomfortable with the stridency of the hardline anti-EU brigade.

And most of all he caught the mood of the young, ignored or patronised in successive elections, bringing voters out who do not usually participate in the electoral process – a notable achievement for which he deserves much credit – because at the heart of his message was that precious quality of hope.

Labour’s manifesto was as much idealism as realism because even if the cost of its proposals added up, they would have been ruinously expensive – but it struck a chord with millions because it presented a vision of a fairer, kinder Britain.

So did Mr Corbyn’s style of campaigning. He looked relaxed, assured and spoke his own mind. Voters took to that, especially those suspicious of the political class and frustrated by the empty soundbites of Theresa May.

From being derided as a liability to Labour, Mr Corbyn has turned out to be its greatest asset, a manifesto in his own image giving the party its highest level of success and confidence in a decade.

The resurgent party under his leadership will now harry a lame-duck Prime Minister, vengeful Tory MPs angry at the state to which she has brought them and a shaky coalition with the DUP at every turn.

That is likely to mean another General Election soon, perhaps even in the autumn. And in its current buoyant mood, with newly wholehearted support from the Parliamentary party, Labour will dare to dream that Mr Corbyn can lead them all the way to Downing Street.