The bright, otherworldly hours of the morning after a sensational night for British democracy have been met, necessarily, by a sober tempering of jubilation; though critically wounded, the Conservatives look set to remain in government still. As the votes poured in, the exit poll looked blindingly accurate in its prediction – shock loss of seats for the Tories and an emphatic series of gains from Labour, even as they fell short of the possibility of forming a minority government. But it is no mean feat that this election has unleashed a raw, spirited appetite for emphatic change, and given voice to the new progressive left-behinds who feared a long stint under the shadow of the looming Tory Brexit. Though this is emphatically on the cards still, the political foundations on which it stands have violently quaked once again.
“Rise like Lions after slumber:
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew:
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.”
Of the numerous, dizzying, and occasionally nauseating twists and turns of this election, one of the more subtle and quizzical moments for me had to be hearing Percy Shelley quoted from Steve Coogan at a Labour rally in Birmingham. Yet even after our initial optimisms look set to be swept away once more by a tide of Tories, the man who brought you Alan Partridge had set the mood music for what was predicted by the sensational exit poll; a radical, communal spirit that so many had felt on the ground these past few weeks, long thought to be another one of the left’s advantages consigned to the dustbin of electoral irrelevance.
Make no mistake – this is no victory for Labour. We may perhaps call it outright defeat for them, if it weren’t brazely clear who has suffered the most damage. It is, however, undoubtedly a victory for progressive politics in Britain, and one in which the entire political establishment seems to have taken another punch to the gut. The Brits have delivered another stunning upset that may well draw a clearer line around the dramatic political upheavals that have left progressives bruised and helpless for the past two years.
This dramatic shift may not bear the momentous, juggernaut face of Brexit, but its delivery had the tremors of another volcanic turnaround for conventional wisdom. Considering the death knells that were forecast when Mrs. May (the Iron-turned-Jelly lady) strode out on the steps of Downing Street six weeks ago, in all her vainglorious bluster, to announce another general election. The right-wing press bellowed behind her, “CRUSH THE SABOTEURS”, but it seems their war-like confidence turned their sights too far onto Westminster. The usually considered, patient and insightful analysts at the Daily Mail daren’t imagine they may have misplaced their reading of the national mood.
Labour may well have failed to scrape together a governing minority or coalition. However, while their electoral success has hit clearly definable buffers, it is by no means modest. An energised youth turnout, a swathe of sweeping gains from the Tories, a perhaps fatally maimed Tory leader, and an increase in Labour’s vote share not seen since Clement Attlee’s premiership. Sweeter still, perhaps most surprising, is the dramatic confounding of expectations surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. I can joyously admit to having gone from being an enthusiastic Corbynite to being reluctantly but deeply sceptical about his ability to lead Labour to success.
If there is one convincing loser of this election, other than Theresa May, it is the press; the constant, neurotic, microscopic focus on the petty minutiae of nods and suits, and their embarrassing failure to countenance any hint of nuance surrounding foreign policy or armed forces, appears to have contributed far less material damage to Corbyn’s image than previously thought. Instead, it has only assured a collective scepticism surrounding the man based on the conventional wisdom of pundits who have had their credibility undermined thoroughly by the past few years, perhaps disregarded altogether by this result.
Corbyn has been vilified, scorned and ridiculed at every turn since his election as Labour leader, and as such there is a convincing weight of cynicism and opportunism hanging round the necks of those Labour MPs who not only were determined he would lose, were determined for that to be the result. One clear trend, as Jonathan Pie so eloquently and swearily pointed out, of the past few years points to the conclusion that New Labour is finished. The nihilistic careerism of New Labour, while undoubtedly keeping Labour in government for 13 years, has had its day.
For the time being, though Corbyn has failed to match Blair’s legacy of votes, he has given the public something less concrete, but delightfully rarer and impenetrable: hope. The space afforded to Corbyn’s refreshing authenticity and moral authority by this incredible election campaign has restored Labour’s leftward shift with an enhanced credibility that the political pundits were convinced was impossible. The sheer number of feet in mouths and hats being prepped for delicious consumption is enough to temporarily buoy the apprehensive spirits of the party faithful this weekend. The lions may have woken, but those rusty chains will need unvanquishable determination to shake off. The big question is whether Labour can maintain this momentum. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it was a challenge, but I am also proud to admit I have a lot of faith.
The consequences of this hung parliament will do nothing to assure stability or ‘certainty’ as seems to be the new mint word from Mrs. Jelly. We may see another election this autumn, if Theresa May’s tenuous agreement with the frightful DUP (or as Owen Jones has dubbed them, the political wing of the 17th century) cannot sustain itself, or the ruthless sharks of the Tory backbenches decide to follow their noses and throw another leadership election.
If we can, in fact, draw any certainty from this result, it is the following: Jeremy Corbyn has unprecedented authority within the Labour Party, Theresa May’s credibility is shattered, and the country many of us woke up to on June 24th last year feels decisively more familiar, more excitable, and – dare I say – hopeful. Perhaps most certainly of all, the EU must think we are fucking insane.