Two years ago the Fabians set out the mountain that Labour had to climb after that years’ election defeat. That peak has now been greatly reduced and victory is now more a very plausible outcome given the weakness of the government’s position. But given the fluid nature of British politics at the moment it’s a high stakes bet.
When Jeremy Corbyn strode onto the stage of the BBC’s Question Time election special I got the sense that something was amiss.
I had just seen Theresa May’s evasive and staid performance and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Two years ago, Cameron delivered a spirited if disingenuous performance that at last his messages forward. But from May I got the sense she was unsure of her own mind, and she struggled with simple answers on the issue the social care screw-up and even on why she was holding the election in the first place. The audience response (despite notionally having a third support for both the main parties) reflected a very shaky and unmemorable performance as she walked off to respectful but muted applause.
While I’d seen Corbyn give some good speeches here and there, I never quite got what it was others saw in him. To me, here was an affable man Saying what he thought in simple language but with cadences not fit for clear sound bites and without the natural sense of urgency I’d become accustomed to expect in political leaders.
But here though in this format I thought he was truly in his element. His applause lines hit perfectly, his messages were clear and resonant, and his use of a manifesto as a prop was effective, and his statement at the start castigating May for refusing to debate him directly really hammered him after such a bad performance by her. In retrospect, with May refusing direct debates and then performing badly in the interviews she did, on top of all the positive coverage of Corbyn on broadcast and social media, her campaign messages seemed to be not breaking through the expected degree.
I’m not going to pretend that I anticipated last Thursday’s result on the back of this, because I didn’t. But after this performance I started to get flashbacks of the final weeks of the US Presidential election last year: the bland, traditional command-and-control campaign of Hillary Clinton, and the chaotic if vibrant campaign of Donald Trump which (while in my view fake populism appealing to people’s worst prejudices) effected an anti-establishment message, and used social media to a degree never before seen to disseminate and bypass traditional structures of communication.
I’ll admit to being someone who was sceptical of this approach initially, but Labour’s shock victories in places like Canterbury, and the surge in turnout of young people voting in this election appears to have reaped electoral dividends that few people predicted.
What does this mean for Labour’s future? It’s hard to say for certain at this point. Theresa’s May’s government is on the rocks, however Labour is still out of office, albeit after making its first clear advance in votes and seats since 1997. Two years ago the Fabians set out the mountain that Labour had to climb after that years’ election defeat. That peak has now been greatly reduced and victory is now more a very plausible outcome given the weakness of the government’s position. But given the fluid nature of British politics at the moment it’s a high stakes bet.
Nathaneal is a Young Fabians Member, and Membership Officer on the Executive.