Corbyn’s socialist message surges; British Conservatives barely hold on
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to vote at a polling station in London, Thursday, June 8. | Frank Augstein / AP

In what is being seen by all as a disaster for the British Conservative Party, Prime Minister Theresa May’s gamble to call an early election has failed. Rather then reaping an increased majority as she hoped, May has instead seen the Conservative seat count sink across the country.

With voters returning a hung parliament that leaves no individual party holding an outright majority, a last-minute scramble for support from a minor party has May barely clinging onto power and observers predicting a new election soon.

The flip-side of May’s embarrassing result is the socialist surge that has pushed the opposition Labour Party to the threshold of government. For Labour, the story of this election is one of unprecedented turnaround.

The principled anti-austerity message of its left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, appears to have taken hold of the electorate, resulting in approximately 30+ new seats for Labour.

A failed gamble

Majority party status, and thus the right to form government, in the British Parliament requires 326 out of 650 seats. Before the election was called, May’s Conservatives already held a slight majority – 330 seats. With Brexit negotiations looming, however, the PM sought to increase her margin of power by taking advantage of opinion polls showing her party was likely to win big if an election were held now. Despite a prior promise not to do so, she called for a vote three years early.

Throughout the campaign, polling indicated May had calculated correctly, as the Conservatives consistently outpaced Labour and looked set to win a victory possibly of landslide proportions.

Her program of cuts to the National Health Service (NHS) and other social services, her approach of so-called ‘hard Brexit’, and the exposure of her previous failings on security policy in the aftermath of the Manchester and London terrorist attacks, however, undermined May’s standing in the eyes of many voters as election day neared.

By the time a song branding her a “Liar, Liar” soared to the top of the pop music charts, May’s odds of victory were already beginning to turn. On the night before voters cast their ballots, polls showed Labour overtaking the Conservatives for the first time. It was a harbinger of the result to come.

Socialist surge

For Corbyn, the fortunes of his campaign went in only one direction since the day the election was called – up. His platform, carrying the slogan “For the Many, Not the Few,” was explicitly left-wing and directly challenged May’s program of cuts. He pledged the creation of a national investment bank to jumpstart infrastructure development and a guaranteed living wage for all workers.

In an interview just days before polls opened, Corbyn said, “The choice at this election couldn’t be clearer. Continuing low wages, under-funding of the NHS, the horrors of unfunded social care, and a growing housing crisis under the Tories. Or a Labour government that will invest in the future to build a high-wage, high-skill, high-growth economy that works for the many, not the few.”

Corbyn’s resounding success at the polls – which saw Labour overcome a 24-point deficit and increase its seat count for the first time in twenty years – was a rebuke to not only May and her Conservative brand of austerity. It was also a strong repudiation of the centrist ‘third way’-type of politics which had dominated the Labour Party from the time of Tony Blair in the 1990s up to Corbyn’s own election as party leader in late 2015.

Recent People’s World coverage of Jeremy Corbyn and Britain’s socialist surge:

Corbyn poised to shift UK’s Labour Party to the left

Interview with Jeremy Corbyn: Britain’s next socialist prime minister?

British union leaders: Corbyn’s the one we’ve been waiting for

Corbyn and Sanders: Socialists surge on both sides of the Atlantic

Before Corbyn came along, Labour was burdened by its reputation of welfare reform and support for Bush’s war in Iraq. Under Blair and Brown, the party had gone out of its way to jettison its long history as a labor-based and social democratic party.

Right up to electoral finish line, the heirs of Blair’s New Labour worked to discredit Corbyn in the hopes that his campaign would flop and they could re-seize control of the party, or failing that, found a new one.

The left can win

Though he did not secure an outright victory in the election last night, Corbyn’s stunning success has proven that a strong, dedicated left campaign can win with voters. With the backing of organized labor, the support of social justice movements whose causes he has championed for decades, and a platform devoted to the interests of the vast majority – the 99 percent – Corbyn’s Labour Party has shown that the united front politics of the left are far from dead.

The Labour Party ran an explicitly left-wing campaign, proving that socialism is no longer taboo. | Labour Party

As Corbyn himself said last night, Labour’s campaign “changed the face of British politics forever.” But there is reason to celebrate Labour’s strong showing even for those far beyond British shores.

Much like Bernie Sanders did in the Democratic primaries in the U.S. last year, the Corbyn coalition has demonstrated that the old scare tactics against left-wingers no longer work with voters. Words like socialism don’t scare people away.

A principled, honest, and clear message that stands up for the needs and interests of working people – for the many, not the few – has the potential to transform politics and society. Ours is an era of change – an unstable time in which development could go a number of different ways. Though the advances of Trump and the reactionary, racist right around the world are a warning call to build the broadest possible unity with all democratic forces, Sanders and Corbyn have shown that the left does not have to shelve its own aspirations for a better society in order to do so.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.