Friday, June 09, 2017

Progressive Perspectives on Jeremy Corbyn's Achievement in the UK Election

At the end of an election campaign that was nasty, brutish and short, British voters punished Prime Minister Theresa May [right] at the polls on Thursday, depriving her Conservative Party of its governing majority in Parliament, and forcing her to rely on the support of a small party of extremists from Northern Ireland to stay in office.

Despite a late surge in support for the opposition Labour Party, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn [opening image] offered a more uplifting vision of the future, the Conservatives managed to hold on to most of their seats, but are now the largest party in what’s known as a hung Parliament, where no single party can rule without some form of support from at least one other.

May said on Friday that she would govern with the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party, or D.U.P., social conservatives from the Ulster Protestant community whose main aim is keeping Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.

As several commentators observed on Friday, the British public generally pays no attention to politics in Northern Ireland, and so might be in for a shock to discover just how extreme a party the D.U.P. is.

The party, founded by the virulently anti-Catholic preacher Ian Paisley – so much so that he once denounced Pope John Paul II to his face as “the antichrist” – includes fundamentalist Christians who believe in creationism but not climate science, and have fought to keep U.K. laws permitting both abortion and same-sex marriage from being implemented in the province.

The D.U.P. also has a history of ties to loyalist paramilitary gangs responsible for past terrorist atrocities.

Robert Mackay
Excerpted from "After Election Setback,
Theresa May Clings to Power in U.K.
Thanks to Ulster Extremists
The Intercept
June 9, 2017

To be fair, Theresa May warned of a "coalition of chaos" propped up by extremist terrorist sympathisers.

She just didn't say she'd be leading it.

Liam Young
via Twitter
June 8, 2017

Watching the BBC's coverage of the election, you could be excused for taking away two main impressions of Thursday night's results of the UK election. First, that Theresa May had a terrible, self-sabotaging campaign; and second that, while Jeremy Corbyn may be celebrating, he decisively lost the election.

Those are the conclusions we would expect a pundit class to draw that has spent two years slandering Corbyn, calling him "unelectable," warning that he appealed to little more than a niche group of radical leftists, and claiming that Labour was about to face the worst electoral defeat in living memory – if not ever. Corbyn’s social justice message was supposedly alienating the heartlands of the UK.

Corbyn received 41 per cent of the vote, against May's 44 per cent. Given the UK's inherently flawed, first-past-the-post electoral system, he won some 50 fewer seats than the Conservatives, but that was still a big improvement on Labour's share of seats in the last election, under Ed Miliband. There is now a hung parliament, and to survive May will need to depend on the MPs of a small group of Northern Irish extremist Loyalists, creating a deeply unstable government.

Corbyn has proved himself the most popular Labour leader with the electorate in more than 40 years, apart from Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997. But let's recall the price Blair paid for that very small margin of improvement over Corbyn's vote. Behind the scenes, he sold Labour's soul to the City, the corporations and their lobbyists. That Faustian pact secured Blair the backing of most of the British media, including Rupert Murdoch's stable of papers and TV channels. The corporations mobilized their entire propaganda machine to get Blair into power. And yet he managed it with only 2 percentage points more than Corbyn, who had that same propaganda machine railing against him.

Also, unlike Corbyn, Blair did not have to endure a large section of his own party trying to destroy him from within.

And in addition, Blair was able to rely on a strong Scottish vote for the party that no longer existed by the time Corbyn became leader. Most of that vote now goes to the Scottish National Party (SNP) over the issue of independence for Scotland.

All of this indicates the extent of Corbyn's achievement.

Jonathan Cook
Excerpted from "The Facts Proving Jeremy Corbyn’s Election Triumph"
Common Dreams
June 9, 2017

The British right wing press led a vicious campaign of lies, smears, hatred and bigotry. And millions told them where to stick it.

Owen Jones
via Twitter
June 8, 2017

Any result that isn't a decisive Tory victory will be a failure for May and her minions and send the message that you can't just cut people to the bone, keep on cutting, crash the state into a wall and demand a gold throne to sit on. You can't simply ignore poor and working people forever nor fob them off with empty racist rhetoric. Most important: There is an alternative. There always has been. There's more than one way to turn away from centrist neoliberal stagnation. There's a progressive people's fightback brewing, and it’s closer to victory than anyone dared to hope.

Laurie Penny
Quoted in Jon Queally's article, "Jeremy Corbyn's Bold Vision
Puts UK on Verge of 'Amazing Political Upset'
Common Dreams
June 8, 2017

While Corbyn pulled off unexpected gains in yesterday’s elections, he did it without the assistance of some high-profile liberal voices.

When France stood poised between electing racist populist Marine Le Pen and and neoliberal supply-sider Emmanuel Macron, [former US president Barack] Obama intervened, explicitly endorsing Macron in a seventy-second video, arguing that he “has stood up for liberal values” and “appeals to people’s hopes, and not their fears.” This was on top of the “bromantic” phone call he had with Macron, which many interpreted as a coded message of support in a country where Obama has a 90 percent approval rating.

Macron likely didn’t need the push, as he was already leading against Le Pen. But Obama had told the public he would step into public life when he thought “our core values may be at stake.”

Yet when the contest in the United Kingdom came down to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservatives’ Theresa May, Obama was nowhere to be found.

Of course, the Labour Manifesto was a strong set of social-democratic policies that most Democrats would tell you they would be happy to put forward in the United States (with the caveat of “if only it were politically possible”). Macron, by contrast, believes in GOP-style tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and once told an unemployed protester who said he couldn’t afford a suit that “the best way to pay for a suit is to work for one.”

At the same time Labour was fighting for eleventh-hour votes, Obama found the time to “bring the bromance back” by sitting down for dinner with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, the latest in Trudeau’s series of faux-spontaneous, internet-courting publicity stunts.

Perhaps there’s a simpler explanation: Beyond issues of decorum and precedent, perhaps the reason for the silence is correct: Obama is just not that committed to left-wing political change. After all, he suggested in an interview last year that Labour under Corbyn had lost touch with “fact and reality.”

Branko Marcetic
Excerpted from "Corbyn. Is. Dumbledore"
June 9, 2017

I am delighted to see Labour do so well. All over the world, people are rising up against austerity and massive levels of income and wealth inequality. People in the U.K., the U.S. and elsewhere want governments that represent all the people, not just the 1 percent. I congratulate Jeremy Corbyn for running a very effective campaign.

Bernie Sanders
via Facebook
June 9, 2017

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party in decades, was supposed to crash and burn in Thursday’s general election. He was too radical, too unpolished, too old-fashioned.

In the event, while he didn’t win, Corbyn grew his party’s support and denied Theresa May’s Conservatives the majority they sought. He boosted Labour’s share of the vote by about 10 percent, from just over 30 percent in 2015 to just over 40 percent now. That’s the largest jump in vote share for any party since 1945’s landslide victory for legendary Labour leader Clement Attlee, famous for introducing Britain’s free health care system.

And Corbyn improved on 2015 where it really counts: the number of seats. As I write, not all the results are in, but Labour holds 261 of the U.K.’s 650 parliamentary constituencies, up from 232. The gains decimated the Conservatives’ fragile 12-seat majority.

. . . Corbyn is a lifelong left-winger, pacifist, anti-nuclear campaigner, serial protester and uncontrollable rebel for much of Labour’s last stint in government – and he became the unlikely leader of the party in 2015 when he won a vote among party members and supporters in a surprise landslide. The right wing of Labour, including the bulk of his parliamentary party, have repeatedly sought to oust him as an unsuitable leader.

Occasionally referred to by Americans as a “British Bernie Sanders,” Corbyn does share similarities with the Vermont senator. Both proudly call themselves socialists, both have galvanized grassroots support in left-wing parties, and both look like cranky grandfathers. The difference is in their political history. Although Sanders has regularly aligned himself with the Democratic Party, he is a political independent. Corbyn, on the other hand, is a Labour Party man through and through. He has sat in parliament as an MP for the party since 1983.

Corbyn also doesn’t have much love for the U.S.: Like many on the British left he has been a critic of NATO, of U.S. adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of American policy toward South America. More recently, during the election campaign, he said that as prime minister he would call up Donald Trump to say “sorry mate, you’re wrong,” on climate change.

Had he been the Democratic party’s nominee, Bernie Sanders could have won the presidency. I’ve been waiting more than half a year to say this aloud, and today’s as good a day as any to get it off my chest.

I’m not saying this just because Jeremy Corbyn’s amazing candidacy, inspiring perhaps more than 70% of 18-24 year-old British people to vote, skewered Theresa May’s trash austerity politics and imperiled her prime ministership.

I’m saying this because it’s a good moment to reflect upon how, if the so-called left (especially the Labour party in the UK and the Democratic party in the US) rallied around candidates who supported actual leftist politics – a commitment to strong labor protections, a confidence in creating a robust safety net, an aversion to working for Wall Street, a distaste for fighting to get “centrist” votes, and an unwavering commitment not to back down to intimidation from the right – their candidates could win.

. . . The number of voters who desire conservatism is dying off faster than Theresa May’s credibility. Voters who want centrism are kicking the bucket more quickly than Hillary Clinton can make excuses for why she lost. Young people and non-white voters are the future of electoral politics.

A candidate who can appeal to the majority of young people – who largely reject capitalism, who reject racism, who don’t want to be in debt for life just for getting an education, and who don’t want their society’s resources hoarded by a greedy few – is the kind of candidate who will be on the upswing in the coming years and who can win.

In the UK, that candidate was Jeremy Corbyn. In the US, it was Bernie Sanders.

Steven W. Thrasher
Excerpted from "Bernie Sanders Could Have Won.
That's the Corbyn Lesson for America
The Guardian
June 9, 2017

For better and for worse, politics is based primarily on giving people things – chief among them, hope. Labour delivered.

Democrats, conversely, have spent the last several decades filing egalitarian policies down to means and focus group-tested shells of themselves: Free education – but only to those within certain income brackets. Free healthcare – but only for the elderly, disabled and very poor. Relatedly, the same party has spent the last several decades shedding poor and working class voters while taking voters of color for granted, directing its policies and proposals toward an imaginary center.

It’s been nearly a year since Clinton stalwarts like Carol Browner positioned themselves as the Democrats’ voice of reason when striking down Sanders surrogates’ proposals to ban fracking and embrace single-payer healthcare at the Democratic Party platform drafting committee last summer. In a statement on the meetings, which came on the heels of Brexit, Sanders wrote that, “It is imperative that this platform be not only the most progressive in the history of the Democratic Party, but includes a set of policies that will be fought for and implemented by Democratic elected officials.”

Hillary Clinton’s historic defeat should have been a wake-up call that Sanders was right. Hyper-focusing on smaller and smaller chunks of the electorate, apportioning public goods out to smaller and smaller groups of people, is a losing strategy. If November 8th couldn’t make that case to the Democratic establishment then June 8th should.

Socialist ideas are popular and can win. Policies long considered radical are now popular, and may well be the only chance we have to beat back the Trumpian right. Sixty-six percent of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage to above $10 an hour. Sixty-one believe the rich pay too little come tax season. Fifty-eight percent believe in universal healthcare. Seventy-two percent agree that the United States should take “aggressive” action to curb climate change. That’s why Sanders managed to stir up 13 million votes for democratic socialism and why he – arguably – would have won – and did among the same demographics (millennials, mainly) that helped carry Labour up from expected defeat yesterday.

In 2017, it’s socialism or barbarism and the British people just made their choice. Now the Democrats have to make theirs.

Kate Aronoff
Excerpted from "The UK Elections or: How the Democrats
Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Socialism
In These Times
June 9, 2017

Hope, when given the encouragement and the space, can be a force more potent than despair. The leap of faith that it demands, in imagining a future that does not yet exist, leaves it prone to the disparagement of cynics. To act on that faith, to take that leap, necessitates risk. And inherent in all risk is the possibility of failure.

For far too long, cynicism has been the dominant force in British electoral politics, willing failure at every turn. When they saw large, engaged crowds, the political class and its stenographers in the media dismissed them. They did not appeal to people’s better nature because they assumed people did not have one.

Mistaking morality for naivety, they presumed that people were motivated solely by self-interest – in the narrowest and most venal sense – and could not be moved by principle. When you talked to them of passion, they responded with polls. When you argued for what should happen, they explained why it could not be. Insisting that politics is the art of the possible, they refused to entertain that we could create new possibilities.

On Thursday night, despite the bombing, the smears and the distortions, hope won. The fact that British politics is undergoing a fundamental realignment in which many of the old rules no longer apply should, for now at least, be settled. The electoral coalition that made Thursday night possible must be tended to and engaged if the project is not to atrophy. Having drawn new people to the polls, it must engage them in politics.

That would mean jettisoning what melancholic nostalgia remains for Blairism, and finding a way to reconnect with the movement that made this moment possible. This has been a long time coming.

. . . Jeremy Corbyn sought a mandate for a good idea – the redistribution of wealth and power in the interests of a fairer society and a more balanced economy. We were told he would lead his party to calamitous defeat; he upped the vote share by 10%, and the seat count by 29, and his position as leader seems, for now at least, secured.

Labour’s turn away from neoliberal orthodoxies that have shaped it for the last two decades and towards a more redistributive social democratic agenda has been electorally vindicated. It is primarily here that the hope resides: the reimagining of what politics might be, and whose interests it might serve.

Gary Younge
Excerpted from "Despite All the Smears and Distortions,
This Was a Victory for Hope
The Guardian
June 10, 2017

This was about millions inspired by a radical manifesto that promised to transform Britain, to attack injustices, and challenge the vested interests holding the country back. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. People believe the booming well-off should pay more, that we should invest that money in schools, hospitals, houses, police and public services, that all in work should have a genuine living wage, that young people should not be saddled with debt for aspiring to an education, that our utilities should be under the control of the people of this country. For years, many of us have argued that these policies – shunned, reviled even in the political and media elite – had the genuine support of millions. And today that argument was decisively vindicated and settled.

. . . Social democracy is in crisis across the western world. British Labour is now one of the most successful centre-left parties, many of which have been reduced to pitiful rumps under rightwing leaderships. And indeed, other parties in Europe and the United States should learn lessons from this experience.

. . . No, Labour hasn’t formed a government. But it is far closer than it has been for a very long time. The prospect of a socialist government that can build an economy run in the interests of working people – not the cartel of vested interests who have plunged us into repeated crisis – well, that may have been a prospect many of us thought would never happen in our lifetime. It is now much closer than it has ever been. So yes – to quote a much-ridiculed Jeremy Corbyn tweet: the real fight starts now.

Owen Jones
Excerpted from "Jeremy Corbyn Has Caused a Sensation
– He Would Make a Fine Prime Minister
The Guardian
June 9, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party received more votes than in any election for decades, outperforming expectations in a snap contest that an overly confident Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May herself called. Rather than gaining seats, May’s party lost about a dozen and is now trying to form a coalition government with the Democratic Unionist Party. Although final figures are not yet in, pollsters estimate that this outcome was the result of a surge of youth turnout that reached almost 70 percent.

These results come after years of predictions from both sides of the Atlantic that Corbyn’s leadership of Labour would relegate it to a fringe party and destroy its electoral prospects.

. . . Labour’s stronger-than-predicted performance appears to validate Corbyn’s thesis that a populist platform and an outsider leader would boost voter turnout and make the party more viable, not less. Or it at least proves that his approach is no disaster.

Cathy Newman of the U.K.’s Channel 4 News summarized the feeling among British pundits: "Ok, let's be honest, until the last few weeks many of us under-estimated Jeremy Corbyn."

Zaid Jilani
Excerpted from "Jeremy Corbyn's Critics Predicted
He Would Dstroy Labour. They Were Radically Wrong
The Intercept
June 9, 2017

And finally, here's Jonathan Pie's analysis of the election results . . .

Related Off-site Links:
In UK Upset, Conservatives Lose Majority; Labour Leader Corbyn Rides Progressive Tide in Rebuke of PM MayDemocracy Now! (June 9, 2017).
How Jeremy Corbyn Orchestrated a Seismic Shift in British Politics – Matthew Flinders (The Conversation via Salon, June 9, 2017).
"Absolute Joke": Despite Thrashing, May Forges Far-Right Coalition to Hold Power in UK – Jon Queally (Common Dreams, June 9, 2017).
This Is What a Conservative-DUP Alliance Could Mean for the LGBT Community – Josh Jackman (Pink News, June 9, 2017).
By Staying In Office, UK’s Theresa May Courts Disaster – Peter Apps (Reuters, June 9, 2017).
When Rupert Murdoch Saw the Exit Poll "He Stormed Out of the Room," John Prescott Tweets – Jessica Brown (Indy100, June 9, 2017).
Capital, Crisis, and Corbyn – Michael Roberts (Jacobin, June 9, 2017).
Bernie Sanders Congratulates Jeremy Corbyn, Saying He Is "Delighted" at the Result – Ben Kentish (The Independent, June 9, 2017).
Sanders: Corbyn Surge in UK Shows World Rising Up Against Austerity and Inequality – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, June 9, 2017).
Corbyn and Labour are Fighting for a New Progressive Political Mainstream – Peter Bloom (Common Dreams, June 8, 2017).
The Millennials Are Moving Left – John B. Judis (New Republic, June 9, 2017).
Why Corbyn Won – Bhaskar Sunkara (Jacobin, June 8, 2017).
The UK Elections Show That Bernie Sanders Could Have Defeated Trump, by Mobilizing Young Voters – Jason Le Miere (Newsweek, June 9, 2017).

UPDATES: Tory-DUP Alliance: 500,000 People Sign Petition Against Conservative Deal with the Democrat Unionists in 24 hours – Ben Kentish (The Independent, June 10, 2017).
"'Inspirational" Corbyn Offers Blueprint for Our Party, Say Left-leaning Democrats – Adam Gabbatt (The Guardian, June 10, 2017).
Jeremy Corbyn Changes the Face of British Politics and Proves Socialism Is Appealing to Voters – Larry Gross (TruthDig, June 11, 2017).
Jeremy Corbyn Is Leading the Left Out of the Wilderness and Toward Power – Mehdi Hasan (The Intercept, June 11, 2017).
Total Surprise! People Love the Left's Ideas for Progress – Thomas S. Harrington (Common Dreams, June 11, 2017).
Jeremy Corbyn​ Has Won the First Battle In a Long War​ Against the Ruling Elite – Paul Mason (The Guardian, June 12, 2017).
Goodbye, and Good Riddance, to Centrism – Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone, June 12, 2017).
Naomi Klein on Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, and Youth-Led Grassroots Progressive InsurgenciesDemocracy Now!, June 13, 2017).
A History of Sabotaging Jeremy Corbyn – Branko Marcetic (Jacobin, June 15, 2017).
Grenfell Tower Fire: Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Using Empty Kensington Properties for Victims – Ashley Cowburn (Independent, June 15, 2017).
The British Ruling Class Is in Full Panic Mode – Jon Wiener (The Nation, June 16, 2017).
Sorry, Centrist Liberals, the Politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn Are the Progressive Path Forward – Conor Lynch (Salon, June 17, 2017).
 Why Are Young People Voting for Old Socialists? – Jon Wiener (The Nation, June 27, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – June 8, 2017
Hope, History and Bernie Sanders
Carrying It On
Quote of the Day – August 17, 2011
A Socialist Response to the Financial Crisis
Capitalism on Trial
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics
Glenda Jackson on the Oscars, Acting, and Politics
A Third Oscar for Glenda! – Glenda Jackson on the Legacy of Margaret Thatcher

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