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Sticking Your Neck-and-Neck Out

by W Stephen Gilbert

Now we dare to hope. If the rain isn’t too relentless on Thursday…If the Momentum activists do their stuff and all those who’ve volunteered to phone voters with the free-to-use app do so…If whatever low stunts have been pulled by The Sun, the Daily Mail, The Times and The Daily Telegraph on Thursday morning can be laughed off…If nobody has a seriously damaging last-minute gaffe…And if the ever-unreliable opinion polls are a day or two behind the trend…

Who imagined that this was possible seven weeks ago? Well, I did. Jeremy Corbyn’s galvanising candour and cool have worked miracles before. We saw it last year and the year before. Alone among Tories, Ken Clarke warned of its power two years ago. But a sense of righteous entitlement has misled smarter people than Theresa May. She never credited the possibility of failure.

If he becomes Prime Minister on Friday or after a week or two of haggling or after a second election in the autumn, it will be Corbyn’s triumph way beyond anyone else’s. He would never claim it like that but we may do so on his behalf. He has shown that speaking truth to power and sticking to your principles – and, in some cases, making a shrewd choice between conflicting principles (say, backing Trident for now because Labour’s policies are decided democratically) – resonates with voters, especially those too young to acquire thick layers of cynicism.

It’s hard to see that May can survive. Even if she manages to push up the Tory majority by a few seats, it’s not what she called the election for. Her credibility has fallen substantially and those with whom she would be negotiating in Brussels have seen how unsteady under fire she is. The Conservative Party is too ruthless and professional an outfit to neglect clearing up the mess that the campaign has made and the sacrifice of May would be the very least gesture towards a beginning.

In the Labour Party, there will be calls for Corbyn’s head in any circumstance short of a decisive victory. Even with a hung parliament, the nay-sayers will grumble that the party would have done better with another leader. This is idle, of course. The argument that another leader would have been more popular means that the massive opinion poll lead that May enjoyed when she called the election would not have obtained. In that case, she would not have risked the election and she would still be in power. Corbyn has – uniquely in political history – parlayed a huge media-created under-estimation into a potentially winning hand. He’s done it by sheer force of personality. If there were another fortnight to go, we might well be confidently anticipating a Labour landslide.

Think how extraordinary this turn-around has been. Changes of government almost always come about because the governing party is widely seen to be exhausted, corrupt, bereft of ideas or a combination thereof. Think of 1951, 1964, 1979, 1997, 2010. It’s rare for opposition parties to scale the ramparts and displace a settled administration; 1945 may be the only precedent in living memory. The curious passage of the 1970s is sui generis. Wilson unexpectedly lost the 1970 election. Heath was doomed from the start and called the 1974 election on an issue he was never going to win. Wilson sought an improved majority in the October but he and then Jim Callaghan were kept on a very tight leash (a majority of three, then the Lib-Lab pact) for the remainder of the term. Otherwise, oppositions that seem vaguely competent are only preferred over governments that have lost the plot. It would be too partisan to suggest that the Tories’ time was undeniably up, despite the sorry record of May’s tenure. But the negotiations with the EU might well have damaged May rather more than anything hitherto. Her hubris in contemplating her supposedly unique ability to emerge triumphant from those negotiations has certainly tempted the electorate to view her with scorn and doubt.

But Corbyn was battling an extraordinary wall of contempt and suspicion. The Tory press is remorseless in its unscrupulous blackguarding of Labour leaders – it’s hard to imagine that Owen Smith would now be leading his troops up the hill to a potential victory if he had prevailed in the leadership contest only last September; he would have been destroyed by the press. Tony Blair is unique in the friendly coverage he received and that was because he was imagined (wrongly as it turned out) to be less EU-enthusiastic than John Major and because he constantly assured the press barons that his government would do nothing to lessen their favourable tax positions. Don’t imagine that Rupert Murdoch invites a Labour man to be his child’s godfather if he suspects that man may not be in his pocket.

Besides the press, the BBC has had to be shamed into covering all parties with more objectivity. Fortunately, as the ‘story’ that the BBC reporters perceived has shifted from a coronation to a comedy of errors, so May’s vulnerability has been not only impossible to disguise but a self-selecting series of headlines. When the BBC’s completed coverage comes to be studied, though, there will surely be questions about the amount of time given to UKIP and its noisy leader, compared to that afforded to the Greens (who after all have a re-contesting MP) or indeed the Liberal Democrats.

And then there was the nature of the support given to Corbyn by his party. No democratically elected party leader has ever been so systematically undermined by his own parliamentarians, let alone one whose (reiterated) mandate was the most emphatic any party leader has ever enjoyed. All those Labour members elected on Thursday should get down on their knees and thank Corbyn for saving their jobs. It would be reassuring to feel able to expect that what may be the government backbenches will both begin and remain supportive and generous. I shan’t hold my breath, though. As is always observed about changes of government, the real hard battles start now.

W Stephen Gilbert is the author of Jeremy Corbyn – Accidental Hero and wrote the chapter on Labour in Tactical Reading – A Snappy Guide to the Snap General Election, both published by Eyewear


  1. TechinBris says

    Seems May may have forgotten a very wise rule, not to believe your own propaganda.
    How pyrrhic a victory she has won from falling for the very same propaganda that has been holding her political career up.
    May May fall on her carefully crafted, by her own hand, gilded wooden stake, for she is one hell of a Leuser! LOL
    Another one bites the dust.

  2. Sarah Walker says

    Great article.

    I have never seen this before: a party turning around such a low point in the polls to come so close to an outright majority – and with so many factors (the Blair rump, the media bias, the suspensions of canvassing…) against us.

    I predict another election within a year. We need to be ready.

  3. BigBG says

    Ha Ha! “Sticking your neck and neck out” turned out to be more accurate than the ‘official’ polls – bang on the money! OK, so the Tories are still the largest party, but for them – what a sh*tshow! :-))

  4. michaelk says

    I think it’s worth understanding and remembering, that Labour and Corbyn not being totally destroyed by the Tories is an important ‘victory’ in itself. It’s also a stunning defeat for the assembled mass, corporate, media, including the BBC and the Guardian too. The Guardian’s line on Corbyn, so vicious and nasty, will be shown to have completely failed and misread their readers and public opinion by a country mile. Increasingly people will, I believe, understand the Guardian’s true role and position, far to the right of their readership. What then, is the Guardian for? How can so many highly paid and once influential writers, get so much so wrong for so long? Doesn’t it have any consequences at all? Are they wrong on Corbyn ‘accidentally’, because they’re simply out-of-touch, or plain stupid, or do they have a clear ideological agenda that taints their journalism. I’m not sure which is worse.

    • Frank says

      The liberal classes are still way behind the political curve; they still inhabit the high neoliberal epoch initiated by Thatcher and Reagan which in fact hit the buffers with the big economic downturn of 2008 and the gathering rebellion – a rebellion still in its formless and nascent stage – against the New World Order which began at about the same time. These opinion formers and pundits cannot actually see beyond their own second-rate bullshit. The liberal class as a whole, the avant-garde who lead from the rear, are the modern Bourbons, who in Talleyrand’s words, ”had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

  5. michaelk says

    I think Corbyn’s done an outstanding job during this long and bizarre election campaign. In contrast to May he’s grown into the role and become a far bigger and formidable figure than he was at the beginning. As he was expected to be an absolute disaster and Labour was projected to lose dozens of seats and be almost destroyed by the Tories in a blue landslide wiping Labour off the political map, smashing the party and the rejuvenation of socialism; this is a triumph of sorts for Corbyn and his brand of inclusive social democracy. I think it’s a moral victory for Corbyn and Labour even if they don’t beat the Tories. May thought she was heading for a landslide and the total defeat of Corbyn and all he stood for, in that sense she’s lost the election if everything remains pretty much the same, only with Labour’s morale boosted massively and Corbyn’s position even stronger, waiting and ready for the next election in a couple of years where Labour should crush the Tories decisively.

  6. BigB says

    I’m not the Labour parties biggest fan, and JC for all his merit, is not the Labour party. That said, I still hope they win. Treason May (or those that back her, she may well find herself redundant soon) is just itching to suspend habeas corpus and introduce indefinite detention without trial for “terrorists.” In case that is not clear, that means you and me.

  7. michaelk says

    It’s strange. Where I live turnouts in excess of 80% are considered the norm at general elections, whilst in the UK hugely lower participation passes for ‘democracy’ and a ‘landslide’ can be founded on a fraction of the total electorate support. The Conservatives are massively rejected at election after election with huge majorities not voting for them or their policies, but, by the constitutional ‘magic’ of the UK electoral system, they emerge as the most powerful party and with majorities despite them losing the popular vote time after time, after time.

    One’s deliberately created a system that discourages people from voting because so many votes don’t really count and are ‘weighted’ differently in different parts of the country. Sure, there’s one man one vote, only they’re not the same votes, they don’t have equal value, and this is before one even gets to mentioning the unelected, yet powerful, House of Lords! What a system to brag about as a paragon of democracy!

    The system is specifically weighted against minorities, smaller parties and the young; yet the fundamentally corrupt and undemocratic nature and structure of the electoral system and UK political culture, is rarely addressed or challenged seriously. When I explain the UK electoral system to friends and colleagues overseas, they are amazed that the British accept such an offensive system that, in reality, was tailor-made for the Tories and puts the opposition at a disadvantage and artificially reduces their representation.

    • Trying to describe the British democratic process to a foreigner is rather like trying to explaining cricket.

    • BigB says

      We had our once in a lifetime chance to change the voting system back in 2011. The Alternative Vote (AV) was no better than FPTP, but it could have been a start. After a lackluster Pro campaign, and a vehement Anti campaign, the minority that voted, voted overwhelmingly to reject AV. This included a fair few of Milliband’s Labour party. So, we the People ‘elected’ to retain the Tyranny of the Minority, possibly in perpetuity. For that, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

  8. Birdbrain says

    The old saying ” if you are not a Socialist at twenty you have no Heart but if you’re still Socialist at fourty you have no Brain ” might account for Jeremy Corbyn’s many youthful followers and indeed his policies, as a perennially adolescent Idealist. We’ve seen his ” Robin Hood ” theories in action before. Soaking the rich discourages investment, leading to rising unemployment and increased government borrowing ( which the taxpayers have to repay ) and ultimately bankrupts the country. I’ve never understood the Left’s loathing for the Wealthy, think of all our stinking rich Footballer and our new MultiMillionaires created each week through the Lottery. Never mind, vote Labour and feel virtuous, join the dole queue with our very welcome and ever increasing refugees, ( or is that financial immigrants ) and sing The Red Flag while chatting to your Terrorist neighbour. Roll on Polling Day

    • Enyalion says

      Well, at least you have the right moniker.

      • Anna Zimmerman says

        Is that pigeon English he speaks?

    • Frank says

      How do you reply to what is essentially a string of cliches which are the usual fare of the tabloid press. The piece is so much hot air being completely devoid of any factual content, reason, or researched analysis. It is the type of patter one hears in the saloon bar. Not worth taking seriously.

    • CF says

      I am in my sixties and for my sins still a socialist. I am amazed that anyone looking at today’s capitalism still believes that the wealthy invest in industries that employ people. They don’t. They invest in markets; stock, housing, money markets, futures, hedge funds and the like. Some, mainly retail, do invest and employ people but that market is now contracting and, if the troubles at Tesco are anything to go buy, possibly at an end. The newest con is investing in rent and debt, the higher the rent or the larger the debt the better.

      If you read Michael Hudson, possibly the worlds leading economist, you will discover that rent and debt are parasitic, whereas a supermarket shelf stacker adds value to a product and thereby contributes to the economy.

      Let me explain. For 25 years I worked in a factory making stailifts: my job was to assemble the seats. In 2003 I asked my buyer how much the company paid for all the bits and pieces I needed to assemble a seat; £125 she said. Add to that my, and the inspectors, wages plus the box it was packed in and the production costs of one seat was approximately £150. The cost to the customer was £450. In other words I had added £300 of value to each unit I made and someones life was better for my work.

      If you inherit a property portfolio from your dad and extract rent from those who do contribute, you extract you wealth from the hard work of others; in other words you are an economic parasite and have done nothing to deserve you bounty and not added to the value of anything.

      No one needs more than £10 million, wisely invested, to live a rich and varied life. Added to which great wealth can make you stupid: like those who pay £100,000 for a handbag.

      Jeremy Corbyn won the international Ghandi peace prize, those who call him a terrorist are either lying or ignorant!

      • CF says

        Sorry! That should have read “Stairlifts”.

    • Geoff d'Arcy says

      So strange all the Nordic countries manage so well on it. this place is nothing but a shithole if you are lucky to have a job you have no rights, the second from the bottom for employment protection, while the rich get even richer, take the hs2 the billions that’s going to cost so business men can get from London to Manchester a couple of minutes quicker, and then pass the fare on to the tax payer so we get done twice, yes roll on thursday and gice Corbyn the votes he rightly deserves.

    • flybow says

      It seems satire is not dead after all.

    • Sarah Walker says

      If I could work out what you meant to say I might even laugh.

      I take it you will swallow May’s shabby deal with actual terrorist sympathisers (and science deniers, reproductive rights and gay rights refusers) the DUP?

  9. Dave Hansell says

    Here for the record are some exacts from a letter which has gone out to some voters who are recorded as Lib-Dem voters from within the PLP opposed to the leadership policy platform represented by Corbyn in the last week or two:

    “In the last few weeks I have met many previous Labour voters who, this time round, are giving serious thought to voting for another party or not voting at all.

    Many of them think we need a strong government at this time of change and uncertainty. I understand that, and I agree.”……..

    ………”it is clear the Conservatives are going to win a big majority – perhaps with more MPs than ever before.”…..

    ……….Theresa May is certain to be re-elected as Prime Minister”………

    ……..”When you come to vote on 8th June I hope you will give me your support as a strong and independent member of parliament.”…….

    …….In this seat it really is neck and neck now: just a handful of votes could make all the difference. If you support me I promise not to let you down.”


    Where the campaign at local level is all about the local candidate, rather than the Labour Party, promising to hold the Tories to account as though a by election rather than a General Election were being held. Quite what would happen if Corbyn actually won and formed a Government would be interesting to witness. The sight of certain individuals reporting back to their Constituencies that as Government back benchers they were holding the Opposition to account could well generate a lot of ticket sales for any enterprising local Party Member.

    The same Blair cargo cult followers in that section of the PLP seem to be putting out the message that “Jeremy Corbyn will not Prime Minister” (note the “will not,” rather than the “cannot” there) and that “Theresa May will be reelected.” Whilst that is a valid view to take it is an equally valid view to take that having already signalled via the Daily Telegraph the intention to resign the Labour whip and sit Independent of the Party when, in their view, Labour loses and Corbyn stays on, one would not put it past such people to jump ship even if Corbyn gets a working majority in some way. Any pathetic excuse to justify their own hubris.

  10. Dead World Walking says

    Jeremy Corbyn has given millions of people around the world a glimmer of hope.
    Greed MUST NOT be allowed to prevail.

  11. Thanks for this concise and encouraging overview WSG. It may now be June but we are witnessing the last days of May.

    • summitflyer says

      So witty and I do hope you are correct .Watching from beyond the pond.

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