Four years ago today, 8 June 2017, it was the day of the General Election. I had spent the night before at Jeremy Corbyn’s final Election rally. After trailing around the country speaking to a few indoor and many outdoor rallies, some of them really huge, he was back on home turf in the jam-packed and beautiful setting of Union Chapel in Islington, speaking to several hundred enthusiastic supporters. It was an electrifying evening. But the scene that greeted us as we emerged from the rally was even more extraordinary. Hundreds more supporters and campaigners, especially young people, who had booked too late to get a place inside the event, had gathered and stayed nearby through the 2-hours of the rally, and were continuing to party outside.
For most of the last two weeks of the 2017 campaign, the mainstream media and seasoned pundits were united that the Tories were heading for a landslide victory. They were only just starting to edge back cautiously from that utter certainty in the last two or three days before the election. Clearly most of the revellers outside Union Chapel were oblivious, or chose to ignore the msm.
I had been taking soundings from knowledgeable friends and contacts around the country and recognised a deliberate attempt to demoralise Labour’s supporters and potential voters, that was conflicting with the reality I was consistently told about and was experiencing on the doorstep. It was on that basis, not blind faith, that two weeks before the election, I popped into the bookmakers round the corner (on the site of what had once been a Maoist bookshop) and put a £40 bet on a Hung Parliament, for which I got generous odds of 11/1, and a very decent payout that more than compensated for all my wasted bets on years of Grand National races.
On that morning of 8 June 2017, I wrote a post on Facebook, illustrated with a photo from back in the day, of Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn together:
“Woke up thinking of the late great Tony Benn, and how proud he would have been of the astonishing uncompromisingly socialist campaign that Jeremy Corbyn has led in these past weeks. Benn always said that the ingredients for social change were hope and anger, and Jeremy has provided huge dollops of both of these across the country, plus a third element that shines through in every speech he makes – compassion. Let’s keep our hopes high and, whatever happens, let’s see this as a new beginning.”
Just two years after Ed Miliband had failed miserably in 2015, scraping barely 30% of the vote, winning just 9.3m votes, Labour had a mountain to climb, but its bold manifesto, For the Many Not the Few, recaptured the imagination of those who had been deserting Labour because it had seemingly abandoned any radical transformative programme in the New Labour period, and had backed horrific and devastating unjust wars. That manifesto was unashamed to say it was going to begin a process of dramatically redistributing economic and political power in favour of working class people. It tapped into people’s anger that the Tories had protected the bankers over the crisis they created and hit the living standards of ordinary people though callous austerity measures, and particularly hit already mariginalised communities.
The manifesto and Jeremy’s commitment to change that shone through his speeches, gave genuine hope to a new generation of first time voters, a significant number of whom were becoming party members after Jeremy won the leadership, by a mile, despite a barely concealed effort from within Labour’s bureaucracy to remove thousands of Corbyn voters from the register on the flimsiest of pretexts. It was no surprise to me that in 2017 the election turnout was greater in 2017 than either 2015 or 2010.
Of course Jeremy was helped by a very wooden, lacklustre campaign by the Tories which included the laughable “Strong and Stable” mantra, repeated ad nauseam, by every Tory spokesperson, and the wonderful interview of May in which Julia Etchingham asked her about the naughtiest thing she had ever done her life and she replied: “I have to confess… me and my friend, sort of, used to run through the fields of wheat – the farmers weren’t too pleased about that.”
A relentlessly negative press campaign against Corbyn from the day he was elected leader, aided and abetted by his opponents within Labour’s PLP, who were regularly tweeting against Corbyn to the right wing press during Shadow Cabinet meetings; the wasted months through 2016 when the PLP tried but failed to mount a coup against a leader elected with a huge mandate (a coup in which the current Labour leader was implicated); the cynical and largely evidence-free campaign by a clutch of right wing, mainly Tory-supporting, very pro-Zionist Jewish organisations, to ludicrously claim that there was a “crisis of antisemitism” in the Labour Party – a campaign amplified even more cynically by the mainstream press – all contrived to give the Tories a huge opinion poll lead at the onset of the 2017 campaign.
But once the actual campaign started and media agencies were obliged to give more (but in practice never equal) coverage to Labour, it was Labour that hit the ground running. its manifesto was “leaked” a few days early, clearly wrong-footing the bitterest and most scheming of Corbyn’s opponents within. That leak generated a huge buzz of excitement on the weekend before the actual launch.
Every week of the campaign saw Labour drawing closer and gaining in confidence. And we know now from the Leaked Report, how much ground they recovered and how near they got to the possibility of a minority Labour government: a matter of less than 2,500 votes spread over several constituencies. We know from that Report that key elements of Labour’s bureaucracy were diverting resources to safe Labour seats of right wingers at the expense of winnable ones. it would be nice to see that further confirmed if the Forde Report ever gets published, but I doubt we will ever see it.
Despite the sabotage, Labour won 3.5m voters more than it achieved in 2015 and won 40% of the vote against the Tories 42%. Remember Labour was barely on 30% in 2015 (2% and 1m votes lower than the 2019 result, branded with the big lie that it was “Labour’s worse result since the 1930s” ). If the 2017 campaign had lasted another few days, they would have been level pegging with the Tories or may have overtaken them. As it was, the Tories could only continue to govern with a huge bribe to the Ulster Unionists.
Corbyn had successfully channeled the hope and anger that his mentor Tony Benn had identified as the key to the left’s success. The Tories, and the whole establishment were truly shaken by that election, though the real devastation was on the ashen-faces of Labour right wingers who were willing Labour and Corbyn to lose heavily. They had to wait until 2019 to get what they and the Tories wanted, and we have all paid a terrible price for it, and will continue to do so.
The anger within the country among the most exploited, the most in need, the most oppressed, is still there but the hope has gone. Almost completely. And the demoralisation of the generation that were radicalised by Corbyn is painful to watch. Labour is now led by, as one tweeter put it, paraphrasing a Beatles song, ” a real nowhere man, living in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody”. Starmer doesn’t want to fight the Tories, but fight the left, while pathetically pleading with the Tories to be a little bit gentler, a bit less unkind. Sir Oswald Mosley once dreamed of “a Government unencumbered by a daily opposition”. Starmer has made Mosley’s dream come true for the travesty of a human being that is the current Tory Prime Minister
And despite the attempts of some of the worst, most sanctimonious, most cynical, immoral people on the planet to put the knife into Jeremy, he is still standing strong, still a powerful voice for the oppressed and exploited on street and online local and international platforms. Though on the petulant whim of Labour’s struggling current leader, Jeremy remains cast out from the Parliamentary Labour Party, for revealing a truth, in his calm assessment of the EHRC Report on Antisemitism and the Labour Party, a truth which he was entirely within his rights to state, and one on which many of his Jewish constituents fully concur with him.
I hope Jeremy Corbyn is able to look back with real pride on that remarkable campaign in 2017 when he and us – the movement he engendered – scared the hell out of the British establishment.