While chaos unfolds in Westminster, on social media there has been merry carnival of mea culping, told-you-soing and book-eating in the wake of the sensational general election result last week. No, Labour did not win a majority or become largest party, but they did effectively bring down a government, leave an apparently unassailable Prime Minister utterly toothless and quite possibly revolutionised British politics for a generation to come.
Central to this there has been a lot of talk about who has been proven right or wrong. Someone kindly intervened in one of my own mini Twitter spats to describe me as “someone who was right all along.”
It’s never my style to wave away a compliment, so I let it ride, but it didn’t feel true. I’m not someone who was right all along, at least not in the most basic sense. Over recent months there were literally a few handfuls of furiously loyal Corbyn supporters who insisted that the polls were wrong, that Corbyn would storm an election campaign, and if the Tories called an election they would get stuffed. Those people were very few in number and I was not among them. Most of Corbyn’s people were not among them, truth be told. If I’m honest, when the election was called my best guess was that Labour would get trounced and the best foreseeable outcome would be if Jeremy Corbyn put up a good enough showing to survive and fight another day. So simply on cold hard numbers psephology, I was just as wrong as the most ardent Corbyn critic.
However, there is another reading of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on which I am proud to have landed jammy-side up, while Corbyn’s critics have faceplanted into the proverbial from a grand height. It is about the very rules of the game that I’m describing – the psephology, the electoral calculation, the punditry, the prediction, the polls-chasing.
Here is a grand truth which lies at the heart of Corbyn’s success, which the mainstream political media class entirely failed to understand and – based on the comment pieces and social media mutterings of the weekend – still entirely fails to understand. It comes down to a dictum which in my view could reasonably be called the central premise of Corbynism:
We do not say what we say because it plays well in the polls and we do not cynically advocate policies for electoral advantage. We do what do because we believe it is the right thing to do.
I remember that during the Labour leadership election and failed coup attempts, I made a lot of jokes about the Labour centrist / Blairite rump candidates staring in bewilderment at Corbyn’s success and demanding someone tell them what they needed to say to convey some of that authenticity and sincerity stuff.
We are now seeing the same mistake being made as pundits try to crunch the numbers to work out just how Corbyn confounded them. Young voters seem to be taking most of the credit or the blame, with policies like scrapping tuition fees being described as ‘a bribe’ which won their enthusiasm and support. The purveyors of these takes are so immersed in cynicism they are utterly incapable of seeing it, like fish being oblivious to the water they swim in. Voters did not flock to Corbyn because they were cynical or selfish or responding to bribes. They flocked to Corbyn because they saw a politician who had sincere beliefs and stuck to them regardless of whether they looked popular, convenient and regardless of how much flak and abuse was thrown his way as a consequence – not over the weeks of an election campaign or the months of a leadership, but over the decades of a life and a career.
This is why I will now proudly say I was right about Corbyn. It’s not that we did the calculations and triangulations and brilliantly worked out a policy platform that could sway the day. It’s not even that we defied the critics and pulled off a sensational win in a major battle (if not yet the final war.) It is simply that we have proven that in politics it is still possible to believe, it is still possible to dream, it is still possible have ideals, to do something simply because you believe it is the right thing to do and be rewarded for that. Labour’s success last week was not built on a promise over tuition fees or the collapse of Theresa May’s social care policy. Labour’s success was built on what Barack Obama called the Audacity of Hope.
Those of us who backed Corbyn, at the beginning, through the rough times and then came out in our hundreds of thousands to canvass, campaign, fundraise and argue for Labour over the election campaign, we have been proved right. Not because we secured a concentrated percentage swing from incumbent to challenger in key marginal blah-de-blahs. Not because we increased vote shares and slashed majorities, not even because we damn near toppled a dangerously incompetent government.
We have been proven right because we dared to dream. It has been said that nobody won this election and nobody really lost. It is not true. There was one huge loser, and that was cynicism.