The UK Labour party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, won a resounding victory in last month's UK General Election. Of course, this is hyperbole; Tories still hold the most number of seats and will do everything in their power to generate and propose policies detrimental to the UK working class. More recently, there is talk of a coalition between Conservatives and the arch-reactionary Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. And of course the City of London remains a major hub of international finance capital.
But before the election, and ever since the rise of Corbyn to a leadership position, the media, Tories, fanatically out-of-touch celebrities and political consultants, and other critics (including President Obama) all counted on Labour to fall into obscurity. Their surge is a victory that provides a guiding light for others to follow, especially for an America under the darkness of Trump. By cataloguing Labour's successes under Corbyn, we can come to terms with where our movement for social justice and social democracy falls short and how to form an unapologetically left opposition to fear and low expectations proffered by the Republicans.
Corbyn is one of the most progressive leaders of Labour in decades, coming out of a tradition of activism and protest on issues of war, apartheid, and labor rights. This puts him in direct opposition to the Blair-Brown tradition of New Labour which entailed international policies of Middle Eastern conflict and domestic policies that sided with the business class, offering only austerity and declining living conditions for the working class (Gordon Brown even notoriously became the perhaps first Labour leader to invent not a working class background, but a business class one).
Corbyn's departure from the neoliberal norm made him a target of the liberal establishment on both sides of the Atlantic. He was subjected to vicious smear campaigns by the media, faced coup attempts and warrantless criticisms from within his own party. Nevertheless, he persisted. When Theresa May first called the snap elections in April of this year, Labour was down between 20-25%. Rather than take the suggestion of their critics and move to the center, Labour went further left and closed the gap to 8% in fifty days, winning 31 seats while the Conservatives lost 12 in an election originally intended to bolster the Tory mandate for Brexit.
The election saw one of the highest turnouts in 25 years and a sharp increase of youth turnout. Almost 70% of young voters between 18-24 years old turned out for Labour, and the party got the largest increase in its share of the vote since 1945. It was also the first time they gained seats since Blair's first election in 1997. If that weren't enough, they even ousted Conservatives from places they'd held for over 100 years.
What prompted this unexpected surge? One possibility is the pollsters and media, not entering 2017 with the greatest of track records when it comes to predicting election outcomes, once again took the numbers as inevitable and unquestionable. The people didn't think the numbers condemned them, and if they did, they chose not to care. Plagued by neoliberal austerity, suffering decades of class war perpetrated by the rich onto everyone else, voters sought retaliation through Labourâ€™s policies and Corbyn's class-antagonistic rhetoric.
In speeches, Corbyn challenged the notion that the people must suffer for the sake of the rich and that the rules of political commenters or horse-race pollsters decide who should win and not the people organized together. Labour's entire slogan, "For the Many, Not the Few," echoes Occupy Wall Street's "99%" rhetoric.
But it wasn't just Corbyn's words that developed Labour. The manifesto of the party is a return to a socialist tendency that was absent during the Blair-Brown years. The manifesto outlined a number of goals; some notable ones are detailed below:
This manifesto goes on to include changes to foreign policy, includes protections and new programs for women, LGBTQ, and disabled peoples, revitalize communities and re-nationalize the railroads. It puts forward a radical proposal to allow workers to buy and own the company they work for with state assistance, essentially state-supported worker cooperatives. In short, it is a resounding rejection of austerity, bigotry, xenophobia, liberal meritocracy, and acceptance of the public good, housing, the environment and material improvements to people'™s lives.
And finally there were the people themselves. People who gathered for perhaps the largest rallies in recent UK history, broadcasted simultaneously across multiple cities. Kids took to the Internet and Corbyn memes proliferated. Veteran campaigners for Labour saw an enormous growth in people willing to volunteer. And in the places like Canterbury, where no Labour MP had ever won, greenhorn campaigners like Hana Joy brought a message of hope:
The Labour Party that surged in the general election is not the social-democratic party of post-war Europe, a party that seeks to mitigate the worst of capitalist exploitation by triangulating between labor, business and the state. This new Labour party is a social democratic party that believes in something beyond the dreary inevitability of fear and despair proposed by Tories. They see people mobilized from the bottom as the beginning of a left vision. While there is a coalition being cobbled together by the Conservatives and DUP, their position of power has never been more precarious and Labour has never been more prepared to be the opposition.
In the country where neoliberalism found its most outspoken proponent, where Margaret Thatcher once proclaimed that, "there is no alternative," Jeremy Corbyn has shown another world is possible, a world for the many, not the few.
With the examples of the Sanders and Corbyn campaigns plainly demonstrating the value of a pro-people, pro-worker model of governance, we shouldn't hold back from demanding that world they pictured for us.