Jeremy Corbyn finds himself this weekend in a position he never expected…and how many times over the past two years have we said that? Nobody (including those at the head of the Labour party) expected to be in this position after the election.
With Labour’s massively increased share of the vote and (more importantly) a respectable increase in Parliamentary seats, Jeremy Corbyn now finds himself in a commanding position. It is truly his Labour party now.
A new consensus
Post-war Britain was governed under the Attlee consensus until that began to be broken apart by Thatcher, around whom formed a new political consensus which remained more-or-less steady through austerity Britain until last week.
There are early signs now that a new post-Thatcher consensus is beginning to emerge around a rejection of the austerity lie and ever-smaller-state politics. The current disarray in the Conservative party is a window into their struggle to come to terms with that shift.
Nevertheless there are some important truths which the Labour leadership would might do well to remember as they seek to move closer to power in the weeks and months ahead.
Weak and wobbly Theresa May
First, they are unlikely ever again to come up against a Conservative leader as weak and ineffective as Theresa May. The Conservatives are unlikely ever again to fight an election campaign as poor as this one has been. They grew fat on their own hubris and, for pragmatic reasons if nothing else, they will learn from how that meant they were perceived over the past eight weeks. Tories are nothing if not pragmatic.
The shortest suicide note in history
Second, and linked to that first point, everyone should remember that the turning point in this election occurred when the Conservative party launched the most disastrous manifesto since Labour’s suicide note of 1983. It was then that the polls turned, not in response to a positive Labour proposal. While it is to Labour’s enormous credit that they were in a position to capitalise on that, and then to maintain the momentum despite the terror attacks in Manchester and London, it’s important that we all learn the correct lessons from this election, not just the ones we want to learn.
Swinging both ways
Third, and most important, despite the glaring weaknesses of the Tories, Labour still fell more than 60 seats short of achieving their own majority. The British people felt unable to support an awful Conservative offer. Yet collectively we still did not feel able to endorse Labour despite the most generous offer made by a major political party in Britain for more than a generation.
What Labour achieved was remarkable. That is clear and should of course be celebrated. They’ve turned upside down many accepted wisdoms of politics and clawed back an unprecedented gap in the polls to achieve a result that was at the very top end of what was possible from their starting point.
But that starting point was woefully low and while Labour is now a small swing away from a majority at the next election, it is at the same time an even smaller swing away from being on the wrong end of a significant Tory majority next time. Remember that not only was Labour’s vote share massively increased, but the Conservatives also achieved their largest vote since 1992. There is in fact no definitive single direction of travel that can be discerned among an unprecedentedly volatile electorate.
Depending on how skilfully each of the main parties manages the coming weeks, anything is still possible when we next go to the polls. And when we do, there will be a whole new aspect at play: Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn is no longer an unlikely prospect, and that is something which could play both ways.
To assume that a single strand of Labour’s broad internal coalition has already won the argument, therefore, would be a monumental mistake.
There are those within the Labour movement who even now, with the Tories flailing on the ropes, would prefer that Labour punches itself in the face rather than deliver the knockout blow.
And what would that knockout blow be? It would be the incredibly powerful show of Labour unity and stability that would be demonstrated by unveiling a new Shadow Cabinet of all the talents. That does not mean wholesale tearing apart of the Shadow Cabinet which so positively fought the election just gone. But it does mean the re-introduction to the top team of some of those who have been won round by Corbyn’s campaign, ready to fight the next election.
People like Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Clive Lewis, Caroline Flint and yes, even Chuka Umuna, who have been gracious and graceful in how they’ve managed their responses since Thursday night. There is a new landscape now, and Labour should beware of preparing to fight the last election again, as comfortable as that might feel right now.
Labour, like all political parties, is a grand coalition of views. It is right of course that the existing top team including the likes of John McDonnell, Angela Rayner, Barry Gardiner, Emily Thornberry, Nia Griffith, Keir Starmer and others should continue to make up the majority of the Shadow Cabinet. But room should be made for the undoubted and valuable talents of the sort of people mentioned above, whose absence from front-line politics is a loss to the entire country at a time like this, not just to the Labour party.
Power, not plaudits
It’s time to pull together, stand united in contrast to the incredible disarray of the Tories, and offer an altogether better alternative ready for when the inevitable next election takes place.
Because it is only by doing so that Labour can make the leap that’s still required to win power, not just plaudits.