‘It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest’.
The late Harold Pinter uttered the above words in his video-taped 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, apropos of the non-reporting of US war crimes. You could say they apply too to the 2017 General Election in Britain and the terrific performance of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Despite being under relentless attack from pro-war ‘Bitterites’ within the PLP and their allies in the media since the day he became leader in September 2015, Corbyn came close to pulling off a famous victory in June 2017. Labour’s share of the vote increased from 30.4% under Ed Miliband in 2015, to 40%, representing its biggest increase in vote share since 1945. It was calculated that Corbyn was just 2,227 votes away from a chance of becoming Prime Minister.
How embarrassing it all was those who predicted an electoral Armageddon for Labour- as nearly all ‘centrist’ pundits did.
In the months that followed Labour’s popularity increased still further. Exactly two years ago this month, it was reported that their lead over the Conservatives had risen to EIGHT points.
In December 2017 they were polling 45%, easily enough to give them a Parliamentary majority.
Yet reading the Establishment pundits and Blairite commentators tweeting away since last Friday, it’s as if 2017 never happened. Like US war crimes, Labour’s strong showing under Corbyn only two years ago has been airbrushed out of history. Many were cheerfully retweeting a prediction made in 2015 by the right-wing former Labour MP, now the Tory government’s new Anti-Semitism ‘Tsar’, Lord John Mann, that Corbyn’s candidacy showed Labour’s desire never to win again.. Others, including a presenter of BBC’s Newsnight, were hailing Maurice Glasman, a ‘Blue Labour’ peer, as some kind of Nostradamus for writing in 2016 that "In three or four years time we are likely to be faced with a defeat comparable to 1931. Labour is no longer an object of affection for the working-class... The scale of loss (will be) colossal."
Yet just a year later Labour experienced it’s best result- in terms of an increase in the share of the vote- since 1945! 2017 shows us that the ‘Labour’s heavy defeat under Corbyn was inevitable’ line is baloney- which is why what happened that year is now being expunged from the record.
Since last Friday we have been gas-lighted by those who want us to believe that the public will never vote for policies to the left of Blairism. Yet polls show that the policies put forward by Labour on re-nationalisation were popular. A You Gov poll earlier this month showed that support for renationalising the railways and the water companies had actually risen by six percent since 2017, to 64% and 63% respectively.
The number one reason Corbyn and his party lost the 2019 general election was not the ‘unelectability’ of the leader himself or the advocacy of a genuinely mixed economy, such as the type which operated perfectly well in the UK from the 1940s to the 1970s, but because of the shift on Brexit. In 2017 Labour made a net gain of 30 seats. Its manifesto expressly stated: ‘Labour accepts the referendum result’.
In 2019, Labour promised to rerun the 2016 referendum, with an option to ‘Remain’. They lost 54 seats in England, 51 of which were pro-Leave.
It was Labour’s pivot towards a 2nd referendum policy- pushed on the leadership by ‘centrists’ who had predicted a disaster in 2017-which unquestionably did the damage. Just two years ago this Christmas Labour were perfectly poised to win the next election, whenever it came. But fatally, they allowed themselves to be seen as Brexit blockers- and new kid on the block Boris Johnson was able to present himself as the candidate who would ‘Get Brexit Done’.
It’s true too that the smear campaigns against Labour were ratcheted up still further in the period 2018-19 and Corbyn failed to push back against them. But Corbyn gave his enemies the greatest Christmas gift of all by agreeing, albeit reluctantly, to a second referendum.
It was that which enabled those who called 2017 so wrong to pose in December 2019 as great sages. ‘The public will never vote for left-wing polices. They’ll never vote for ‘anti-war’ leaders’, they tell us now. What humbug.
The tragedy of Corbyn is that he lost not by being too socialist, but by moving towards the elite Blairite ‘centre’ on Europe. The populist antiestablishment radical of 2017 became the pro-status quo, let’s give ‘Remain and staying in the neoliberal EU another chance’ candidate of 2019. His unique selling-point was gone and he paid the electoral penalty in Labour‘s working-class heartlands. And the pro-war Establishment now is confining 2017 to the dustbin of history, in case anyone considers just how close Labour and Corbyn came to upsetting the apple cart.
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