The Corbyn Earthquake

Crowds of young people at Glastonbury this year have been spontaneously erupting into chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’

Socialist Worker

The Corbyn Earthquake

Nothing so symbolises the political earthquake brought about by Jeremy Corbyn’s dramatic campaign in the recent British general election. Crowds of young people at a music festival chanting the name of a sixty eight year old white male Labour politician! This is unprecedented – more normal would be to be booed or ignored.
Indeed there is no real precedent for the whole Corbyn phenomenon. Systematically despised, denounced and dismissed by the entire political establishment from the right wing of the Tories to the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the entire mainstream media from the Daily Mail to the ‘liberal’ Guardian Corbyn was universally deemed unelectable.
At the start of the election campaign Corbyn was 20 to 25 points behind in the polls. Indeed it was precisely because Theresa May, believing these polls, felt assured of a landslide victory, that she called the election in the first place.
To turn that deficit around and to succeed in denying May and the Tories an overall majority was an extraordinary achievement and inflicted a devastaring defeat on the Tory leader.
Ir is true that Theresa May fought a dreadful campaign, including her refusal to participate in the TV  Leaders Debate,  but the reason it was so bad was not just personal incompetence. It was her fundamental political miscalculation. She thought she was headed for a walk in the park and she found herself facing a people’s revolt.
The turning point was the leaking of the Labour Manifesto three days before ir was due to be published. The leak was probably a Blairite move to undermine Corbyn on the assumption that this radical programme would cause a scandal.
Radical
In fact its radical policies, which the press publicised by attacking them, turned out to be very popular. Large numbers of people actually liked the idea of taxing the rich and the corporations, redistributing wealth and reducing inequality, getting rid of zero contracts and raising low pay. They were inspired by proposals to defend and improve the NHS and other public services,  end benefit cuts and abolish tuition fees.
Labour’s manifesto – its most left wing statement in living memory – tapped into and expressed the pent up anger among millions of people at nearly a decade of neoliberal austerity and cutbacks.
It broke through the barrier of ‘apathy’ and suspicion that had hitherto sealed many people, especially the young, off from politics. One of the reasons many of the polls seriously underestimated Corbyn’s support was that the ‘model’ they used, based on past experience, assumed most young people wouldn’t vote. But it was different this time.
Corbyn’s campaign was also different from business as usual. Whereas Theresa May didn’t go anywhere except to a carefully handpicked small audience, Corbyn went out and met the people and addressed mass rallies.
On one Saturday ten days before polling day he spoke to 5000 in Birmingham, 5000 in West Kirby and then 15,000 at a Libertines concert in the evening- where he was cheered to the echo. No other leading British politician could  have done anything like this or would have dared to try.
This rising mass grassroots support was also reflected in the mass canvassing teams sent to knock on doors – much of it organised by the left-wing Momentum campaign.
Another striking feature of the Corbyn campaign was its extensive and astute use of social media with a stream of powerful videos and memes. The fact that many of these proved very popular, and were taken up and shared on a huge scale by Corbyn’s support base created an ‘alternative public opinion’ and political culture below the radar of the capitalist mainstream media and their hysterical attacks.
In the course of the election campaign there were two dreadful terrorist atrocities, in Manchester and London. It was widely expected that this would help May as she reacted with authoritarianism and barely concealed islamophobia, but the people of Manchester and London responded brilliantly and Corbyn’s campaign seems  not to have been affected.
Indeed his speech pointing to the link between terrorism and British foreign policy with its successive wars and invasions of Muslim countries received widespread support. And racism does not seem to have figured much in the election and the main racist party, UKIP, was wiped out – again confounding many expectations.
There are many lessons for the Irish and international left in this whole development, the most important of which is that radical and socialist policies are popular if they can gain a hearing.
However, one note of caution is also necessary. Had Corbyn actually won and formed a government this would have been only the start of an even more intense battle as all the forces of the 1% , the state and the media would conspired to crush him as they did Syriza in Greece.
In those circumstances the mobilization of people power and revolt from below would have become even more urgent and necessary.

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