Outperforming all of the pundits, Labour still did not do quite well enough to get a majority. But next time they could. As we gear up for another election that could possibly start before the end of the year, here’s a quick summary of why Labour should go in as the favourite.
Turnout at this election was its highest since 1997 as many previous non-voters contributed to Labour’s resurgence.
There are a number of possible factors behind this. Labour had the right set of policies to create a clear alternative and inspire the British public that they could govern differently. Labour also used an ambitious, engaging communications strategy as #Grime4Corbyn and other movements reached out to previously underserved communities, and mass rallies, written off by critics as meaningless, showed it was acceptable to support an underdog.
Labour worked hard to engage young voters with a big registration drive and it paid off. In comparison, the Conservatives’ social media channels did not push out one single advert reminding people to register to vote.
While we await exact figures on how young people voted, the trauma of Brexit could have been the turning point that drove higher engagement amongst the young this time around. The EU referendum showed a huge split between the political views of the young and old – with over 65s twice as likely to vote as under 25s. With low youth turnout last summer allowing older generations to swing the vote for Leave, young people understood what was at stake if they continued to stay at home.
Whatever the reasons, if young people continue to show up at the ballot box and Labour continues to demonstrate a clear alternative, politics will look very different from now on.
With modern politics often overshadowed by personality, it was policy that made a surprise impact on this election. Capitalising on May’s then-high popularity, the Tories ran a presidential campaign based squarely on her leadership. But it was the humble manifestos that broke the campaign wide open.
With over a twenty-point lead poll lead, the Tories assumed they could slot whatever they wanted into their manifesto. What they didn’t consider was that voters would actually read it. As plans to bring back fox-hunting seemed out of touch, cuts to winter fuel allowance aggravated older voters, and changes to social care with a new ‘dementia tax’ forced an embarrassing U-Turn that brought May’s authority into disrepute.
In comparison, Labour’s manifesto proved immensely popular with the electorate, adding much-needed substance to the Marmite-esque qualities of Jeremy Corbyn himself. Voters initially put off by Corbyn were won round on the doorstep by his policies as they helped breathe new life into Labour’s campaign. The launch also benefited hugely from a leak that, deliberate or not, ensured it received a wealth of extra coverage.If young people continue to show up at the ballot box and Labour continues to demonstrate a clear alternative, politics will look very different from now on
Not only did the manifestos help Labour do better than expected by widening the debate, they also highlighted the hubris of the Conservative government.
Reportedly, as the exit poll was announced at a Times election party, Rupert Murdoch stormed out of the room. While they have taken credit for victory in many elections before, this time the right wing press like the Sun, Express and Mail could not deliver a Tory majority.
The day before the election, the Mail featured over 13 pages of pure anti-Corbyn ranting and the Sun ran the headline ‘Jezza’s jihadi comrades’. But large sections of the electorate showed they were immune to manipulation of the Murdoch press.
Accustomed to swinging elections, this time the ammo the press used against Corbyn for the last two years could not deliver a knockout blow. Instead many voters simply laughed in response to the Sun’s polling day headline ‘Don’t put Britain in the Cor-bin’ – ridiculing it on social media.
Tying this to point number one, much of it could be down to a new generation of voters who firstly don’t buy newspapers and secondly don’t take them at face value. Brought up to use multiple sources of digital news and social media, the Google generation is able to use to internet to think critically, check facts and make up their own mind. For the modern voter, the ring-wing tabloid press is beginning to show its age and lose its relevance.
While the Tories rely on money from a small set of wealthy donors, Labour mobilised its grassroots to raise small donations and run an effective ground campaign on the cheap.
Nationally, as the Conservative war chest was spent on hyper-targeted online adverts, Labour took their campaign to the streets, making the face-to-face contact necessary to win hearts and minds.
The marginal seat of Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, for example, was a tale of two campaigns. As the Conservatives used their funds to buy the cover sheet of the local Evening Herald, Labour volunteers pounded the streets for weeks encouraging their supporters to come out and vote. On the day, Labour took this seat with a 16 per cent increase in its vote.
It is estimated the Tories spent twice as much as Labour over the campaign and raised ten times as much in the last stages.
To compete, Labour and Momentum were tutored in the art of small donations by members of the Bernie Sanders team from the US, pulling in thousands of donations with an average value of £22. Labour also used new app technology, allowing volunteers from around the country to contact voters and volunteers in marginal seats. While they didn’t work perfectly, these methods will be essential for the campaigns to come.
Since Corbyn became leader, Labour’s membership has grown to over half a million, making it easily the largest democratic socialist party in Europe. Turning members into party funders and activists provides real hope for the left.
Theresa May was not the only party leader to make a big miscalculation in this election. Nicola’s Sturgeon’s call for a second Scottish independence referendum following Brexit seemed a stroke of genius only for it to horribly backfire.
With problems from health to education in Scotland, Sturgeon’s insistence on independence caused voters to lose trust in their once-mighty leader and unmasked the SNP as a single-issue party. Far from the perfect opportunity, calls for an Indyref2 only served to galvanise pro-unionists to vote Tory and Labour in protest, even booting the SNP’s leader in the House of Commons, Angus Robertson, out of his seat.
Given their poor polling at the start of this election, the national Labour party was running a ‘Hold and Retain’ strategy – therefore not providing much financial support to many of the seats in Scotland. Next time around, a confident Labour (ahead now in the post-election polls by 5 per cent) will position itself to win back the former Labour heartlands.
As Labour and the Conservatives stepped to the left and right respectively, Green, UKIP and Lib Dem votes were mopped up, seeing the return of two party politics in the UK.
No longer seen as ‘Tory lite’, Labour now attracts voters from other left-wing parties. While calls for a ‘progressive alliance’ were never officially realised, this election saw a surge of tactical voting against the Conservatives from other parties that mainly helped Labour.
On the right, it’s crucial to note the Tories benefited from some but not all of UKIP’s collapse, as many at the last minute swung home to Labour. This vindicated Labour’s stance on voting to trigger Article 50, which was much criticised earlier in the year. For those (myself included) who argued that Labour should represent the 48 per cent who voted Remain, the Lib Dems used this strategy and failed to make considerable gains, even in previously strong Remain areas.
That said this election continues to demonstrate the serious flaws with the First Past the Post system. Labour received 2.4 per cent less of the vote share and 56 fewer seats, while the Green Party’s vote share should have equated to around 11 seats in a fairer system.
In a campaign that saw one cyberattack and two terror attacks in the UK, you might have forgiven the British public for staying at home or simply opting for the status-quo, but they voted for change and hope.
For all Corbyn’s baggage, smeared by opponents with accusations of having links to Hamas and the IRA, the UK failed to give into the politics of fear.
Following the Manchester attack, Corbyn’s thoughtful speech on the future of British foreign policy struck a chord with the electorate, and following London Bridge the party’s acute messaging around police cuts demonstrated tangibly the impact austerity is having on our security at home. Labour’s image on security was not one of weakness but that of a government in waiting.
So instead of the Labour wipeout we were expecting to wake up to, the UK voted for a man who has opposed war his entire life. They voted for a tolerant and open, over a divided and closed society.
While it did not do enough to win, Labour’s turnaround is one of the most remarkable achievements for the left in recent times. If Labour MPs now can put their troubled past behind them, unite and build on these achievements, there is no reason they should not end up in government.
#229 No Return to ‘Normal’ ● Sir David King blasts the government ● State power, policing and civil rights under Covid-19 ● Hope and determination in grassroots resistance ● Black liberation and Palestine ● The future of ‘live’ ● Pubs, patriotism and precarity ● Latest book reviews ● And much more!
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
Following major defeats, the left on both sides of the Atlantic must urgently get stuck into community organising, movement building and political education, argues Joe Guinan
The sale of Robin Hood Energy doesn’t mean public ownership doesn’t work, but that we need to be more ambitious, argues Edward Dingwall
The role Labour plays in maintaining the capitalist state makes it a crucial site for socialists to organise within, argues Luke Evans
Sabrina Huck kicks off the debate on Labour and the left with a re-reading of Dutschke, with an introduction by Hilary Wainwright
Democracy isn’t a distraction, says Deborah Hermanns - it’s the only way to transform Momentum and the Labour Party and effectively build power in our communities.
Aisling Gallagher explains why Liz Truss’ recent rhetoric on proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act signals a worrying shift.