The earth just moved…
In the wake of the election results, Chris Brazier reflects on a momentous night in British politics.
A couple of weeks ago I was at the London School of Economics as Danny Dorling launched his book The Equality Effect, on which I have been working with him over the past few months. He gave a stunning presentation of the evidence that the more equal countries are, the better, healthier and happier they are in every way. But he was also relentlessly optimistic, trying to persuade the audience that the tide is already starting to turn.
He pointed to the way progressive people tend to focus on the bad news rather than to celebrate and draw sustenance from positive developments, from the electoral defeat of far-right figures in Austria, France and the Netherlands to the near-unanimity of the key international organizations that inequality has to be turned back.
Like many in the audience, I was much easier to persuade about the benefits of greater equality than about the grounds for optimism. I am all too conscious that – after a lifetime spent campaigning through my journalism for greater equality and social justice – I have seen things in my own country, Britain, become more socially unequal with every passing year since the 1970s.
But after an election night such as we have just experienced, Danny looks rather like a prophet. As in many recent polls, the mainstream press and the commentariat read this election completely wrong – and really can no longer be trusted.
From the moment Jeremy Corbyn first became leader of the Labour Party – to his own and everyone else’s great surprise – he was ridiculed and vilified not just by the rightwing media but also by the vast majority of commentators on progressive newspapers and, indeed, on the BBC. Commentators on The Guardian and The Observer seemingly failed to realize that they were part of the problem, with their everyday dismissal of Corbyn as ‘unelectable’ apparently functioning as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The damning ‘unelectable’ tag survived despite the influx of hundreds of thousands of new Labour Party members, many of them from a new generation of activists, and Corbyn’s resounding victory in a second leadership campaign.
The routine assumption was effectively Blairite – that the Labour Party’s only path to power was via playing it safe and tacking to the centre, buttering up the financial markets and the Tory media moguls rather than tackling the problem of inequality head-on. And the opinion polls seemed to bear this out, with damagingly low approval ratings for Corbyn leading the majority of Labour MPs to fear for their own seats.
Yet last night has proved all of those commentators wrong – and the political ground may just have shifted generationally, with young people inspired by the idea of greater public ownership, a more caring society and renewed investment in our common resources. The more the public was exposed on television to Corbyn and the Labour manifesto, the more it became evident that they were responding positively and, as people made up their own minds rather than just reflected back what they were told, the polls started to shift.
The election result is not immediately transformational given that the Conservatives are still the largest party and will presumably still try to form a government by relying on the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland. But the extreme rightwing version of Brexit that was to be negotiated by dyed-in-the-wool xenophobes such as David Davis and Liam Fox is now surely dead in the water. So too are the austerity policies that have been pursued with such relish over the past seven years.
Arguably the most heartening thing of all, though, is the sense of the young turning out in unprecedentedly large numbers to vote for a new conception of politics and a more inclusive, nourishing vision of society. This could be the start of something big.