Buoyed by more than 20 per cent lead in the opinion polls, British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election on April 18. Thought an unnecessary election by large section of the media, the June 8 general election ended badly for May. Where she was hoping for a massive majority, she lost her wafer-thin majority, putting her prime ministerial future in jeopardy.
Now heading a minority government with the help of a small Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) known for its social conservatism and links to paramilitary outfits, Theresa May seems like “a dead woman walking” as per George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer in David Cameron’s government.
What went wrong for the prime minister? And how her gamble failed?
Theresa May ran a politically passionless and visionless campaign. Her aloofness and disdain for ordinary voters showed up clearly during her election rallies. She shied away from debates with the leader of the Labour party and avoided contact with the media and the ordinary voters during the campaign.
Largely dependent on her out-of-touch advisors, she showed tone-deafness to voters’ concerns, festering social discontent and diminished life chances for the youth.
On the other hand, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, ran a feisty campaign, doing 90 major campaign events up and down the country, mixing with ordinary people and promoting the Labour Manifesto. The Conservative party had no manifesto to speak of. And the one it had was dull and skimpy and fell apart soon after its launch.
The Labour manifesto was socialist in tone and resonated with the larger electorate. In the event, the Labour Party did much better than expected, winning 262 seats, 30 seats up from its 2015 tally. What is most remarkable is that the Labour Party increased its share of the vote to 40 per cent which is the highest since 1945. More remarkably, Labour increased its share of vote to 13 million which is 3 million up from its 2015 vote share.
What was billed as an unmitigated disastrous election for the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn turned it into one of the best elections in Labour Party’s history. May called this election to finish off the Labour Party. Corbyn not only halted Labour’s decline but also restored the party to its earlier glory.
While the Labour party had become a small centralised clique under Tony Blair’s time, Jeremy Corbyn has transformed it into a wider movement drawing in new members from all sections of the society. The newly energised Labour Party under Corbyn, with a massively increased membership of half a million, made a major difference during the election campaign when its enlarged membership fanned out across the country.
I campaigned in the Ealing Central and Acton constituency of London. It was one of the most marginal seats in London with Rupa Huq, the Labour MP, sitting on a slender majority of 274 votes. The constituency saw a massive influx of Labour and Momentum group — the group spawned by Corbyn movement within the Labour Party.
On the campaign trail, there was a huge enthusiasm for the Labour candidates and the manifesto which advocate re-nationalisation of key industries, greater investment in education and health, and enhanced massive new programme for infrastructure development. The Labour canvassers were warmly responded to at the doorstep.
While out canvassing on election day, the local cafés offered free tea — such was the enthusiasm for the historic election. The London-wide and national surge saw our local candidate Rupa Huq winning by a margin of 13,000 votes which was unthinkable given that the constituency was one of the target Tory seats. Prime Minister, Theresa May, herself visited the constituency to shore up her candidate.
Labour’s chances of doing well rested on four electoral demographics: getting out the youth to vote, persuading the disenchanted and non-voting Labour supporters back to the polling booths, luring the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and migrating Labour Party members to the Labour.
In the event, the Labour held up well and improved its performance in all these blocks. The youth vote was the deciding factor in the campaign. The youth turn-out, much higher than expected, boosted Labour’s fortunes. In university towns, Labour did remarkably well by winning seats previously held by other parties. Some chunks of the grey vote also seem to have gone the Labour’s way. From initial results, the same conclusion can be drawn about the UKIP vote block.
The popular manifesto and Corbyn’s energetic and popular campaign created a surge nationally which exerted a ripple effect on key Labour marginals. Corbyn’s predicted 17 per cent surge in London was reflected in huge Labour majorities in London. Where Labour was defending marginal seats with hundreds, it won with more than 10,000. Labour also wrested key Tory marginals where Corbyn made whistle-stop campaign trips.
Labour retook Canterbury and Chelsea and Kensington which have been historically Tory-held seats. The scale of the Labour comeback has put a question mark over the accuracy of the opinion polls. Most of the opinion polls were predicting the Tory majority between 22 to 170 seats. The only exception was the YouGov and Survation polling companies.
YouGov had predicted Labour getting the same number it got while the Conservative losing majority, producing a hung parliament. The Survation poll put Labour one point behind, one day before the poll. This is quite close to actual 2-point margin between the Conservatives at 42 per cent and the Labour at 40 per cent.
What for the Labour from here onwards? The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, stands vindicated and enhanced. The Labour has shifted decisively to its socialist roots in the wake of the election. Corbyn’s internal party critics and media pundits are falling over themselves to acknowledge that they were wrong all along about Corbyn and the Labour’s electoral chances. There is a strong possibility of another election in the coming months as Theresa May’s chances of holding onto the office for long are getting slim by the day. The new opinion poll after the election has put the Labour party six points ahead, the first ever lead in recent years.
The writer has been associated with Labour Party’s campaign