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.