The Labour and Corbyn resurgence in the UK

Robert Kuttner looks at the sudden rise in the polls of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party in the run-up to the British elections on June 8. Corbyn has had to endure pretty much universal attacks by the British neoliberal and conservative media because he is an unapologetic, old-fashioned progressive who is not afraid to talk about class, and has made a marked shift away from the neoliberal policies that were adopted by his predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as Labour leaders and by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the US.

First, May’s ploys struck a lot of voters as too clever by half. She seems like an opportunist, first opposing Brexit, then supporting it; first promising not to call a snap election, then changing her mind. Just another scheming politician.

But something more fundamental could at work. When Corbyn made public Labour’s platform, known in the U.K. as its manifesto, (“For the Many, Not the Few,”) the initial commentary from the usual suspects was that the program was hopelessly leftwing – raising taxes on the affluent, increasing public investment, re-nationalizing the national rail grid, capping rents — that sort of outmoded stuff.

Well, it turns out that a lot of ordinary Brits have been hungry for this kind of program. They certainly didn’t get it from the last two Labour governments, under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who joined the globalist, neoliberal parade.

While Corbyn is an old-fashioned class warrior, class in Britain has not gone away; and a lot of the British left-behinds are evidently looking for just that sort of champion. Corbyn is similar to Bernie Sanders, and not just ideologically. A lot of people who may not agree with all of his program have a grudging respect for his honesty.

Corbyn drew barbs from Conservatives when he said that British support for ill-considered Mid-East wars had increased the risk of terrorist attack. But it turned out that most Britons agreed with Corbyn.

And Corbyn may have drawn the perfect opponent in Theresa May, who looks more conniving and opportunist by the day.

Corbyn is similar to Bernie Sanders in being somewhat gruff and unpolished and, like Sanders, is seen as genuine and honest about his views unlike the conniving phonies that normally lead parties in both the UK and the US. This has led to his huge support among the young.

Labour’s lead among voters under 50 is growing, marking an increasing generational divide ahead of June’s election, according to a poll by YouGov.

The party is 57 points ahead of the Conservatives among voters under 25 years old, according to the poll, compared to 28 points shortly after the snap vote was called in April.

It is very unlikely that Labour can win the majority in the election, partly because younger people vote at lower rates than the old. The party also started from too deep a hole and the constant attacks on them by the establishment media did not help. May also refused to agree to a debate with Corbyn. She seems to think that she should talk and act tough like Trump while only allowing loyal party supporters to attend her campaign meetings.

In the British parliamentary system, a party can win an absolute majority of the 650 seats even if they get less than 50% of the vote. In the 2015 election, Conservatives won 331 seats with just 36.9% of the vote, while Labour won 232 seats with 30.4% and the Scottish National Party won 56 seats with 4.7%. The remaining 28% of the vote garnered just 31 seats spread over nine other parties.

I hope that Corbyn and Labour do at least well enough to deny the Conservatives an absolute majority.


  1. Milton says

    When Corbyn made public Labour’s platform, known in the U.K. as its manifesto, (“For the Many, Not the Few,”) the initial commentary from the usual suspects was that the program was hopelessly leftwing – raising taxes on the affluent, increasing public investment, re-nationalizing the national rail grid, capping rents — that sort of outmoded stuff.

    The British railways are a classic case of the triumph of neo-liberal, market-based ideology over rationality and common sense. The infrastructure (all the actual rails, signals, power lines, stations, etc.) are owned by a curiously structured company which is officially not owned by the government, but the government is somehow on the hook for all it’s debts. The trains themselves are owned by about 8/9 different rolling stock leasing companies who lease out their trains to dozens of Train Operating Companies (passenger trains) and Freight Operating Companies (for…well, freight). Passenger services are divvied up into 5-10 year franchises which the Train Operating Companies compete to run.
    And by “compete” I mean they submit bids to the Department for Transport -- not bids like “We’ll pay you £X million pounds over Y years for the privelege of making a profit as a monopoly supplier on routes A, B, and C.” Every franchise since privatisation has received a net government subsidy. In fact subsidies per passenger-mile have consistently increased over that period to the point where we are now paying about twice as much to subsidise private businesses as we were putting into the state-owned and operated British Rail prior to privatisation.
    To rub salt into the wounds, many of those “private” businesses are wholly or partly owned by the state-owned rail operators of other European countries. So a significant portion of the subsidies the British taxpayer pays to keep our railways running is extracted in profits and used to subsidise Dutch, French and German state railways.
    For a few years there was actually one franchise run by a government owned TOC called Directory Operated Railways. That came about because the previous franchisee handed back the keys when it realised it couldn’t make a profit under the contract it had bid for and won. DOR was returning a profit to the government and had the highest punctuality and passenger rating of any franchise…so the government put it out to tender once more and are paying a subsidy to the private operator again.
    It’s little wonder renationalisation is supported by about 70% of the public, including a majority of tory voters. The only surprise is why so few politicians are in favour…until you look at where previous Transport Secretaries are now earning their living.

  2. Dunc says

    To rub salt into the wounds, many of those “private” businesses are wholly or partly owned by the state-owned rail operators of other European countries.

    Yeah. Between this and Hinkley Point, it’s clear that we’re perfectly OK with state ownership, as long as it’s not our state… My favourite argument with people who believe we need to spend more on defence to ensure we aren’t invaded (yeah, there’s still a few of those out there) is to point out that you can buy any bits of Britain you happen to fancy on the open market, without having to take on any of the concomitant liabilities or going to all the trouble and expense of invading us.

  3. KG says

    I thought when May called the election* that it was not likely to be the kind of landslide she was clearly expecting -- polls were showing the Tories 20 points or more ahead of Labour, and near 50%. During an election campaign, the opposition parties inevitably get something nearer equal time and treatment; furthermore, May made it clear from the start she wanted the election to be a quasi-Presidential contest between herself and Corbyn, but no one person or party can limit the campaign to the issues they want. But she has shown surprising clumsiness. Like Trump, she relies on a small coterie of advisors, and the Tory manifesto, produced by them, was poorly received; and her refusal to take part in leaders’ debates on TV, which have become expected, has made her look arrogant (which she is), rather than above the fray, as presumably she expected. TheTories are still highly likely to get an overall majority, and it could still be a big one -- but they could also fall short. And if Labour get a significantly larger vote-share than last time, as the polls suggest (the UKIP vote seems to have collapsed) Corbyn would probably be able to hold on to the leadership. The Labour Party conference in September may change the rules for leadership elections in ways that would make it easier for a left candidate to get through to the final part, in which the entire membership votes. Corbyn (who got through to this in a flukish way when he took the leadership, and was in it automatically when he was subsequently challenged) won a clear majority of members’ votes both times. Assuming (still fairly safely) that he doesn’t win, I’m pretty sure he won’t want to stay until the next scheduled election in 2022, when he’d be 73, but a respectable result would allow him to choose his time to go so as to give the left the best chance of winning.

    In Scotland, Labour has recovered somewhat in the polls, but if anything this may help the SNP fight off the Tories in seats they looked likely to lose (last time, they won an exceptional 50% of the Scottish vote in the aftermath of the independence referendum, and will almost certainly not match that, but will still win most of the seats). My own party, the Scottish Greens, are only putting up 3 candidates this time -- the FPTP system makes it very hard for us to win any Westminster seats, and after three election campaigns (the most recent being local elections at the start of May, in which we increased our number of local councillors from 12 to 19) and two referendums in less than 3 years, we’re low on funds.

    *Because of legislation passed by the Tory-LibDem coalition government that was in power 2010-15, she needed 2/3 of MPs to vote for it. Politically, it was almost impossible for Labour not to vote for an election, although I think they should have insisted on delaying it. This would have given them longer to close the gap, and would have been fully justified, as giving all parties time to write properly researched manifestos, and raise funds (the Tories, of course, can raise as much as the law allows them to spend, instantly).

  4. Mano Singham says


    Thanks for these insights. I had been curious as to how the new law that puts limits on when elections can be called had operated this time but had not got around to researching it.

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