Corbyn confounds critics by mopping up the youth vote
Labour leader came across much better than his many detractors thought possible
Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters and detractors agree that he ran an outstanding campaign. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga
If Theresa May must bear the blame for the loss of the Conservative majority, Jeremy Corbyn can claim the credit for a remarkable result for Labour, which confounded expectations by gaining seats and vote share. Derided by most of his own MPs, Corbyn campaigned on a left-wing manifesto, promising more money for public services, higher taxes for the rich and the renationalisation of water and the railways.
He inspired young voters to turn out in greater numbers than in any recent election, partly on account of his promise to abolish third-level tuition fees, which run at £9,000 (€10,200) a year. The surge in young voters helped to reshape the electoral map, turning Labour marginals into safe seats and safe Conservative seats into marginals.
Labour now has more seats than at any time since 2005, its share of the vote is up 10 per cent to 40 per cent and the 9 per cent swing from the Conservatives to Labour was the biggest in any election since 1945.
Jeremy Corbyn is still Marmite with a lot of my voters. We need to come together
Corbyn’s success in motivating young voters helped to save the seats and boost the majorities of some of his harshest critics in the Labour parliamentary party. Wes Streeting, a youthful darling of the Blairite remnant in Labour, who has been a relentless scourge of his leader, saw his majority surge from 589 to 9,639.
“We’ve seen Jeremy Corbyn at his best during this election and Theresa May at her worst. There’s a lot of cause for optimism for the party. Jeremy Corbyn is still Marmite with a lot of my voters. We need to come together,” Streeting said on Friday.
Leadership shored up
Corbyn fell short of the numbers to form a government in alliance with other opposition parties, but his position as leader is now more secure than at any time since he was first elected two years ago. Before the election, Labour MPs were braced for the loss of dozens of seats and had already agreed on a strategy for dislodging Corbyn. After last year’s failed insurgency behind the banner of Owen Smith, the MPs agreed to do nothing in the days after the election but to wait for the unions to make a move.
Their hope was that the leaders of Unite, Unison and the GMB would ask Corbyn to announce that he would step down as leader at the party conference in September, allowing for a leadership contest in the meantime. Leadership hopefuls Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna already had the beginnings of a campaign structure in place before the election.
Cooper, who was associated with Gordon Brown’s faction in the party and is married to former chancellor Ed Balls, was to be the traditionalist candidate, adopting a tough policy on immigration to appeal to the white working class. Umunna would be the standard-bearer for the metropolitan, anti-Brexit, Blairite tendency, backed by many of those who were involved in last year’s Remain campaign.
On Friday Umunna said he would be willing to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and he paid tribute to the Labour leader in a speech in his constituency. “He has run an energetic and engaging campaign. This result has derailed the Tories’ plans to slash school budgets, cut the NHS, and pursue an extreme Brexit that would make Britain poorer,” Umunna said.
Calls to unite
Peter Mandelson on Friday urged Corbyn and his former adversaries in the parliamentary party to work together in a spirit of mutual respect. Some of those around Corbyn want to broaden the talent pool in the shadow cabinet by restoring some MPs who left the frontbench last year and introducing some who have never served under Corbyn.
Others in the Labour leader’s tight circle of advisers will view the relative success of the election campaign as an opportunity to increase the influence of the left in Labour’s decision-making bodies. His supporters and detractors agree that Corbyn ran an outstanding campaign and came across to voters as a more attractive figure than expected.
Corbyn believes the turning point in the campaign came with the publication of the party’s manifesto, an unapologetic blueprint for redistributing wealth from rich to poor and returning some major utilities to public ownership. No alternative Labour leader would have endorsed such a manifesto and none would have sold it so successfully to a new generation of voters who are yearning for a more authentic politics.