Within moments of Theresa May’s call for snap parliamentary elections last week, the crap takes began dribbling in, hot and steaming. Naturally, not a single mainstream outlet in the United Kingdom believes that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn can do anything except crash and burn.
Dan Hodges, political commentator for the Mail on Sunday, posted a strong contender for worst tweet of the election season just twenty minutes after May’s announcement, quipping “Dear Corbynites, what happens next, and what happens to the country over the following 5 years. You did that.”
Perhaps it’s modesty, but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Hodges that his own sterling work in the Mail, whose sister paper is affectionately known as The Daily Heil — or indeed his repeated and definitive insistence that he will vote Conservative in any election in which Jeremy Corbyn appears on the ballot — might actually have done more to help the Tories win.
Stupid as it is, Hodges’s self-effacing turn gives us a good idea of the opposition Corbyn faces. The polls are dreadful — Labour is routinely 15-20 percent behind the Conservatives — and the mainstream media is printing increasingly farcical attacks: did he bow low enough for the Queen? Does he love ISIS? Who can tell? Corbyn is experiencing firsthand what happens when you push back against the ruling class, and this whirlwind will likely continue all the way to the ballot box on June 8.
There’s no point for the Left to pretend that this isn’t the case — it would be positively dangerous for us to do so. Mass movements live or die by a sense of their own momentum; any stutter or stop can beat the wind out of a nascent mobilization, particularly one as fragile and inexperienced as Corbyn’s.
The Right knows this. They have a unbroken history, ranging from the aging cold warriors to today’s Brexiteers. The Left has a dead generation and a sizeable skills gap. The Corbynites’ missteps made it obvious that the Right remembers the lessons of the past far better. To paraphrase Churchill, the Tories know that “the foul baboonery of Corbynism ought to be strangled in the crib.”
Hodges dropped his steamer at the perfect time. In that exact moment, less than half an hour after Theresa May called one of the most opportunist elections in living memory — out of the blue, with mere weeks until the vote, while her party undergoes criminal investigation for fraud from the last election — Hodges crystallized a narrative that has been a year and a half in the making. Corbyn, the bumbling socialist dinosaur, could never win; Britain is a nation of shopkeepers and ever shall it be. Indeed, the last election contested by an out-and-out pinko, when Margaret Thatcher crushed Labour’s Michael Foot in 1983, proved this.
So goes Britain’s official narrative: the United Kingdom hates socialism, and its working classes should feel grateful if they get any scraps. It doesn’t matter that once you move beyond Corbyn’s personal polling, you find that the electorate consistently likes his policies.
It also doesn’t matter that the narrative about Thatcher’s 1983 landslide has been assembled from a patchwork of conveniently forgotten truths, omitted context, and exaggerated mythmaking. Foot was never the left candidate — he was Labour’s soft unity candidate, selected to appease a right wing that was then, just as now, in open revolt. Neither side of the party liked him, but they hated him in equal measure, which was enough to see him into leadership.
Of course, some right-wingers rejected this gesture and broke away to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. Their new formation not only split the Labour vote, but also sowed confusion and discord among the electorate and the party ranks. Now merged with the Liberals, they have eight MPs and a leader who thinks toxins in water cause homosexuality.
Class war raged in Britain in the 1980s. The Left lost, decisively, and saw the social-democratic settlement gutted as a result. It’s tempting to compare today to that time, and there are worthwhile comparisons. Nonetheless, you’d have to be as dumb as Hodges to imagine a one-to-one correlation.
While Corbyn’s entire tenure as leader has been beset by problems, those problems do not indicate a nationwide hostility to the Left. This is not to discount the very real hostility that has been carefully cultivated thanks to mass depoliticization and a mainstream media that exaggerates every minuscule deviation from the accepted norms — see another inappropriate bow.
But policy-by-policy polling shows that the British public quite likes left proposals. The Tories know this, by the way, and it explains why they’ve chosen to hold elections now. There were numerous earlier opportunities for a snap election, but this timing pushes the next election back to 2022, giving them enough time to fix the Brexit shitshow. They hope.
The Left must fight this mythmaking with every ounce of its strength. The Right cannot be allowed to control the narrative indefinitely. This has been the Corbyn team’s real failure: it has yet to recognize the role this struggle plays in the wider fight for socialism.
At every turn, Corbyn has trusted his instincts, misplacing a faith in people (good) with a faith in people constitutionally opposed to his aims (not good). It has left him isolated, surrounded by a party elite hostile to him despite his popularity with members, and weighed down with an infrastructure starved to half-strength and staffed by unrepentant holdovers from the Blair years.
And although defeat seems likely in the United Kingdom, the fact that the British left is not struggling alone should buoy us up. The Left is resurging in the United States and the rest of Europe. Corbyn is but one element in a wider historic moment, a moment that tilts in our favor. Even if Corbyn falls, he will have already made a significant contribution by creating a new base for radical left politics in Britain.
In fact, the bullshit narrative that will be repeated ad nauseam in the coming months has already been struck a potentially fatal blow: the number of people backing an avowedly socialist candidate is only growing, even if it cannot yet tip the election. Jeremy Corbyn, contextually speaking Labour’s most left-wing leader, won his position with the greatest mandate in party history over the largest membership in decades.
The leader of the official opposition talks about nationalization and opposes means testing; when he’s allowed, he stands against nuclear armaments and NATO membership. This is significant and potentially paradigm-shifting, and we mustn’t allow ourselves to forget it.