What a change to the political landscape! This was the second time in a year that the Tories had called a public vote to overcome an internal party division. This time, however, they were really punished.
Never in living memory did an election campaign have such an impact on how people voted, as Labour overcame a 25 point deficit in the opinion polls. Three days after the actual result, they took a six point lead and gained a further 35,000 members.
Labour got 40% share of the vote, 10% up on Miliband in 2015, higher than any in the last 40 years except Blair’s two landslide victories. We amassed over 12 million votes, more than Neil Kinnock in 1987 - who was allowed to stay as Party leader, only to lose again five years later.
These results were a testament to Jeremy Corbyn’s campaigning skills, a very active membership, which had trebled in size since he became leader, the work of Momentum in organising thousands of volunteers and a popular manifesto that prioritised social equality and broke with the neoliberal consensus of the past. The campaign successfully challenged both the media line that this was a re-run of 1983 and a Conservative narrative based on personality and Brexit. It was Labour’s policies that set the agenda and will continue to dominate it.
While the Tories’ efforts were stilted, incompetent and downright nasty, Labour’s campaign showed that principled, radical policies can win popular support if championed with conviction. It so successfully exploded the myth that austerity is inescapable that even the Tories now look set to abandon the policy.
If the Brexit referendum a year ago divided people on urban-rural, generational and ethnic lines, allowing May to pitch for the ‘patriotic working class’, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign this time was unifying. Just a year ago, Owen Smith, challenging Corbyn for the leadership, called for a second Brexit referendum - a totally unelectable position as the derisory vote for the Lib Dems showed.
Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are temporarily silenced. But just two days before polling day, some were anonymously briefing the media that if he didn’t win then he had to go, and if he refused, they would force through a rule change to alter how the leader is chosen. Some now admit they got it wrong; others, like Chris Leslie, maintain Labour could have done better under a different leader. Really?
There will be more of this. Some candidates deliberately kept any mention of Corbyn and the manifesto off their campaign literature, the better to claim they won despite him. In Scotland, the Tories’ unexpected gains are partly explained by opposition to a second indyref and the SNP’s poor record in office - but also calls from leading Labour figures to vote Tory to keep the SNP out! Within days of the election, Lord Mandelson was calling on people to back Theresa May in the ‘national interest’, if she shows flexibility.
May herself is fatally weakened. Many Tories do not want a deal with the extremist DUP, association with whom will undo a dozen years of trying to detoxify the Conservatives - not to mention result in a raft of policy concessions and destabilise the northern Ireland peace process. May’s authority is so diminished she had to sack her chiefs of staff, bring her enemies back into Cabinet and grovel before her backbenchers. Her manifesto is in tatters - much of her social policy will probably be abandoned and even the character of Brexit is up for debate. If her opponents plan to force her out, they are also aware that options for replacement are limited, with most of her close colleagues looking increasingly discredited.
Minority governments don’t last long. Our Party needs to remain on an election footing and its frontbench needs to act like a government in waiting. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are absolutely right to say we are ready to form a government - on our programme, without deals or concessions.
There has been a sea change in politics. We are beginning to win over the country, but we still have a lot to do to win over the Party. The timid strategy pursued by Party HQ in this election held us back from winning many more Tory marginals. The imposition of weak candidates, lacking local support, by an NEC-dominated panel, sometimes for factional reasons, undermined our effectiveness in many areas. For the next election, we need open selections in all CLPs. This needs to start urgently.
Above all, the influx of new, radical, younger members must make itself felt at all levels in the Party, from the constituencies to the NEC structures. The next election could be very soon. Our campaign continues.