While plenty of positives can come out of this election, such as the youth’s interest in exercising their right to vote, this election has also been characterised by delusion and irony.
I’ll start by reminding you that Labour actually lost this election. Yes, on the face of it, it looks like the Tories have lost, but they lost by coming first with a staggering 42.4% of the votes, similar to Tony Blair’s landslides in 1997 (43.2%) and 2001 (40.7%) and Margaret Thatcher’s before that. Ok, they didn’t win the majority they expected, thanks in large part to a complacent campaign on their part and an accessible one on Jeremy Corbyn’s (not Labour, but Corbyn).
But entering the race knowing that you are way behind boosts your ability to make manifesto promises. That’s what Corbyn used: simple promises that get people excited, like a few more days of holiday or free university tuition. Ironically, we’ve learnt that both these actually help the middle class, not the disadvantaged.
As for the loss, until a few days ago, never in my lifetime had I seen a Labour party or leader celebrate not earning a majority in Parliament as a success. It speaks volumes about the state of the party. In normal circumstances, not winning a majority (let alone coming second) would result in the leader’s resignation. So Labour are in this for the long run and they’re probably right to be. There will likely be another election within less than six months, and they will hope that the tide keeps moving in their direction. That is the ultimate test for Corbyn and one in which, as a left-leaning social liberal, I do wish him success.
Corbyn might be a man of principle, but last week’s election isn’t necessarily good news in the long-term for a country that has begun to show an obsession with quick fixes. This piece isn't praising Corbyn or putting him down (there are way too many of those already). But a little tired of reading how this election is simply a great victory for the young, the disadvantaged, and even the Muslim community of the UK, here are some of the ways in which this result is not quite what it seems.
First, the electoral system in the UK is flawed – it’s that simple. Corbyn’s popularity led to votes for Labour, many by first-time voters who don’t contemplate how the system works. I can actually state that some Muslims in the UK were told to vote for Corbyn ‘because he will free Palestine’ and duly obliged (this is at least a step forward for some who usually had their ballot papers filled for them and posted).
Many people, in ‘voting for Corbyn’, voted for Labour MPs who have relentlessly opposed their leader by signing no-confidence motions in him and even an alternative manifesto. These were chosen at the expense of centre-left candidates (including independents) who work hard for their local communities, might have values closer to Corbyn’s, and who offer a real alternative to the ‘same-old’ mentality.
Second, this hung parliament means we are likely to have a Tory-DUP coalition, which given that the DUP are even more right-wing than the Tories, can’t be good news. It’s frightening that a party with such an anti-European stance might play a part in Brexit negotiations. The other thing is that, yet again, we may end up with a Prime Minister we didn’t choose, because if May is ousted, the Tories will pick their new leader, who will in turn be Prime Minister. That some Labour activists are calling for the Lib Dems to save the day by entering a coalition with the Tories is laughable. If Labour were serious about a progressive alliance they would have made way, like the Greens did, in places like Richmond Park where the Tories won by a handful of votes.
Third, the result has shown that polarisation in the UK is at an all-time high. There is a clear gulf between the classes, the north and south, and most clearly, two generations. But where were the young voters when the narrowly decided EU-referendum was taking place? Why did Labour and (the anti-EU) Corbyn fail to bring them out in their numbers then? After all, Brexit was largely a result of older voters.
That polarisation extends to the right against the left: probably the most dangerous consequence of this election. It has cemented a most binary political system in which there seems to be only two serious players. That system might, unfortunately, reduce conversations about adopting proportional representation in elections. The thing that people might not notice, though, is that our voting habits would also change if there was a proportional system, so more people would vote for progressive parties instead of feeling obliged to choose between one of the main two.
This is also another moment in which thin (and non-existent) mandates are being used as absolute mandates, like the 52% Brexit vote. If we are in agreement that May’s mandate has been damaged, then even contemplating that Corbyn should form a government without another election is simply bewildering.
Indeed, this election has reignited a polarised political spectrum rather than seeking to build on the sensible concept of collaboration. Re-elected Lib Dem MP Sir Vince Cable summarised how there is no room for cooperation ‘in our tribally and socially divided country, with our winner-takes-all, adversarial, voting system’. He adds, crucially, that ‘the idea of working together in the national interest is quickly dismissed as betrayal of the tribe or a prelude to a coalition of chaos’.
Now, it’s important to get both sides of the story rather than continuing to indulge in online echo chambers that dismiss the possibility of a progressive, centre ground. We might have to head to the polls again very soon and it’s important that we consider the long-term impact of our decisions.
Young idealists following the Corbyn cult and Tory voters most interested in so-called strength of leadership both risk advocating politics as a means of pushing uncompromised values, which if we were to mirror in our daily lives, would be a dangerous development in an already fragile climate.