What turned the tide for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour

What turned the tide for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour

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The much-criticised Labour leader made a surprisingly strong showing in the general election, and not just among the young. Sarah Ebner asks why

On May 28 this year, I tweeted: “If Tories want to actually win election need to stop offering “fear of other” as main reason to vote for them Didn’t work w/ Brexit.”

This was at a time when everyone still seemed to think Theresa May would achieve a huge victory. Recalling how badly the negative campaigns had gone for Remain in the EU referendum and for Zac Goldsmith in the London mayoral election, I felt they had picked the wrong battle lines. The problem with running a campaign that is all about fear of the opposition is that, if the opposition suddenly seems less terrible, you are left in deep, deep trouble.

Yet when I spoke to committed Tory voters, it was almost as if they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see any possibility other than a May victory. Even though their campaign was negative, listless, and all about the fear of what the alternative might bring, they couldn’t see an alternative. They just didn’t think people would vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Well, they were as wrong as the advisers surrounding the Prime Minister. They treated the electorate as if it was stupid; as if people would vote only out of fear of what they didn’t know. They didn’t think it was possible – even after Brexit, and to a lesser extent Trump – that people might choose to jump into the unknown.

My feeling is that the British public rarely does something stupid – unless given a very, very good reason. This holds for all sorts of things, from voting for the winners of televised talent shows (a poor, talentless candidate may have a good run, but never actually wins) to mayoral elections. Brits don’t like being taken for granted or told what to do.

Brits also like to give people a chance, particularly an underdog. So, if you call a seven-week election campaign, then that’s more than enough time for someone to be given that chance. And for them to take it and run.

There are so many reasons why Labour outperformed predictions in this election – some due to Corbyn and many due to May’s own mistakes. But some of Corbyn’s success was undoubtedly in energising younger voters. I’m delighted that the young finally made their voices heard – they matter as much as everyone else and in the last few years they have suffered Brexit (which they didn’t want), higher tuition fees and a sense that they will never get on the housing ladder. The Conservatives offered them nothing.

The Labour Party offered them, yes, a bribe (getting rid of tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants). More broadly than that it offered hope, while Conservatives talked of things that seemed entirely irrelevant to their lives – not least the IRA. And finally in Corbyn the young saw a politician who appeared to “get” them, to like young people and be able to talk to them. (Although I have been pondering, as my own daughter said to me, why the young seem to like old, white men such as Corbyn and Bernie Sanders so much.)

Whatever drove so many of them to register and turn out to vote in this election, the young seem to have made a big difference in seats such as Reading and Bristol West. But the upturn in Labour’s vote was not entirely due to them.

It was about two weeks into the campaign when I saw the tide begin to turn. Many of my friends had complained about Jeremy Corbyn for some time – in particular, they disliked the people he was surrounded by and were concerned about some of the aggression that his leadership seemed to have unearthed, including misogyny and anti-Semitism.

But when the election began in earnest, when Theresa May offered nothing but negativity – not just in her speeches, but in her manifesto – those fears, at least for many, seemed to ebb away. Suddenly the “nasty” party was back.

People suggested, passionately (as they always have done), that if you voted Tory, then you were voting against a fairer society. Those who had been anti-Corbyn talked of voting for the party, not the leader, and persuaded themselves that he wasn’t “that bad”, and that the worrisome things about him were in the past. His success seems due to a mixture of those who voted for Labour despite him, and those who voted specifically for him.

Pundits laugh at the idea that well-off Londoners in boroughs like Kensington or Battersea would vote for a leftwing party, but many people really do care about fairness. They are willing to pay higher taxes so that schools can be better funded and people better cared for. Older people may not be full of idealism any more, but it’s not just the young who would like a society that seems more equitable.

We live in a more diverse society and Mrs May did not seem to be able to reflect that (fields of wheat? Really?). Londoners – like many others – do not want a political party which thinks that bringing back fox hunting could be a priority, or sees them as “citizens of nowhere”. And they certainly did not like their mayor being criticised by the US President. If the PM had slapped him down, it would have helped.

It was also fascinating to realise that, when it comes to elections, foreign affairs just don’t matter that much. No one seemed too concerned that Corbyn and those closest to him are pro Putin; that the shadow chancellor John McDonnell paraded under an Assad flag, or that Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications, thinks Stalin and the Stasi have been mistreated by history (yes, really).

Labour did not win the election, but they could have done. Since the Brexit vote politics have been turned upside down: Britain seems to be split, and the future is unpredictable. But whatever happens next, politicians need to take note of all the electorate – the many, not just the few.

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Where it all went wrong for Theresa May

Where it all went wrong for Theresa May

VOTESBYWOMEN_V35The PM never really showed up for her campaign, says Emma Bartley. Let’s not make the same mistake as her

“Who the actual f&%* are we supposed to vote for?” was the title of the first post on this blog, the day after the election was announced. When the results came in this morning, the question was more: “Who the actual f^&% is in power?”

Perhaps there’s a line to be drawn between the two. For centrists like me – nervous of hard Brexits and hardcore Socialists – it was hard to back either of the two biggest parties. Theresa May might argue that she tried to talk to the centre… but unfortunately she forgot to show up for her own campaign.

Lots of people are talking about how Jeremy Corbyn has confounded his critics by coming in a strong second place to the Conservatives. There’s some truth in this, in that he’s energised and excited many Labour voters, and brought more young people to the polls. I like him more than I did at the start of the campaign, because he’s stood up for unpopular ideas like immigration, and his snarling, angry side seems to have gone.

Really, though, this was May’s election to lose, and everybody knows it. The great irony is that she and her team seemed to feel that by playing a defensive game, she could hold on to her huge 15-point lead from the start of the campaign. And so she’s spent the past five weeks at stage-managed events, avoiding hostile interviews and – perhaps fatally – dodging the TV debates.

Perhaps she thought that the support of the rightwing press would guarantee her victory, but in practice it turned out to be an own goal. Attacks on Corbyn allowed him to claim (like Trump before him) that he was the victim of a hostile media. Meanwhile, their overblown praise left her struggling to meet expectations – “At last, a PM who’s not afraid to be honest with you!” breathed the Mail, just a day or two before May backed away from the dementia tax in an attack of nerves.

The British don’t like being told what to do, and we don’t like being taken for granted. Just 12 months after they accused the “liberal elite” of doing both these things, Theresa May and the Tories have fallen victim to the same rebellious sentiment that is dragging us out of the EU.

Today, I expected to be winding this blog up. I started it in part to overcome my own shyness in talking about political issues, because I’d realised that in failing to challenge the surest, angriest people, I’d allowed my country to be taken over by beliefs and assumptions that I found abhorrent. I didn’t expect to rebalance the national conversation by adding more female voices, but I had to try.

What’s next for Britain? What the f^&% is going on with us? Honestly, I’m not sure anybody knows. But given that Theresa May has finally shown up to form a government, the rest of us had better stay engaged with what’s going on. Because it we’ve learnt anything from the past year of massive political upheaval, it’s that if you don’t speak up for what you believe in, you’ll be crushed.

What I’ve learnt on the doorstep in London

What I’ve learnt on the doorstep in London

Ella Garai-Ebner is too young to vote in the general election, so she decided to have her say by knocking on doors as a canvasser for her local Labour Party

Being 17 in the run up to a General Election is excruciatingly painful. Of course, it is inevitable that there will always be people who are slightly too young to vote, but for me, 17 has been the age of really learning about politics and developing my own opinions. It therefore hit me hard that, in this crucial election, I would not be getting a say in my own future.

After the initial “this is so unfair, so typical that is has to be NOW” annoyance, I decided that I would not sit back, dwell on my irritation, and swear at the TV during every debate. I wanted to take action and show my support for the Labour Party, so I took a look at the Labour website to find campaigning events near me and decided to go canvassing.

Getting off the bus that morning, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Who would I meet? Would they be friendly? Would they tell me what to do? What to say? I’m an introvert, prone to freezing and awkward silences – this felt far out of my comfort zone.

When I arrived at the meeting place, I loitered self-consciously, trying to work out whom to approach. Luckily, the awkwardness was spotted, introductions were quickly made and I proudly stuck on “I’m voting Jeremy Newmark” stickers.

The process was very well explained to us, and it was clear that we would not be thrown into the deep end – first-time canvassers like me would be paired with an experienced canvasser, at least until we felt comfortable enough to knock on doors by ourselves.

The group I was in consisted of six people, plus the Labour candidate for our North London constituency – Jeremy Newmark, a friendly, interested, and approachable person. The idea is to “leapfrog” between houses, spotting where another person has knocked, and moving on to the next house.

When the door opens (which isn’t as often as I would have thought), the leading line is along the lines of: “Hello, I’m here on behalf of your local Labour party, please can I ask who you’re voting for in the upcoming General Election?”

The responses go from the disheartening “None of your business”, the slightly politer “Sorry, I don’t want to share that”, ranging all the way to “Labour! I’m voting for you guys!”. Some people said that they just can’t vote Labour, because of Jeremy Corbyn, and are resorting to Lib Dem, but others told me that they finally have some hope for the party’s future. I had one lady tell me: “I really hope Labour win, but I’m not going to vote for them”, which is a difficult one to respond to.

Where the person answering the door is uncertain, the next question to ask is what the person would prefer, a Tory or Labour government. This makes the point that, in our constituency, if you are opposed to a Tory government, Labour is the way to vote – a Lib Dem vote would have little impact. It also useful in gaining insight into where the person is at and how much persuading they’re going to need.

That said, I didn’t have to engage in as many long political conversations as I might have thought. Tuition fees has been a recurring topic, with one young man considering whether Corbyn would follow through with his promise to get rid of them and restore maintenance grants, and concluding he is more honest than May has proved to be. Nobody talked about Brexit on the doorstep, perhaps because the candidate’s policy on it was clearly explained on a leaflet I handed over.

I found it to be very useful having Jeremy Newmark hovering behind us while canvassing, as when the people start asking tricky questions, and you start doubting if you actually have any political knowledge at all, you can ask them if they’d prefer to speak to the candidate. This was a key difference to when I tried phone canvassing and had to answer every question promptly and confidently myself (albeit with a suggested script and “crib sheet” in front of me).

Since my first experience canvassing, I’ve realised I love it increasingly, every time I go. There’s a real thrill to be gained from hearing that someone is voting Labour, or just knowing you’ve got them thinking, and considering perhaps previously unexplored options.

In the end, that’s what got me out of my comfort zone, knocking on doors: I want to ensure people are thinking. I want to start conversations, and get people to engage and talk about the issues. I also think it’s very important for people to see that young people do care, and want to actively engage in their own futures.

I have met like-minded people and learnt so much about the wide variety of opinions that are held, even within one party. Most importantly, I am happy to say that I don’t feel I have been powerless or voiceless in this election.

 

 

 

 

First, the Kelly. Then, the Birkin. Now, the Corbyn

First, the Kelly. Then, the Birkin. Now, the Corbyn

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This election season, there’s only one bag to be seen carrying: the Labour Party’s iconic canvas tote bag

The Votes By Women fashion team could barely contain our excitement when this iconic tote from the Labour Party “dropped” online late last night.

Adorned with a picture of a 67-year-old white middle-class man, the canvas tote bears the legend: “FOR THE MANY”. Which we totally get, because old white middle-class men have been talking for everyone else for, like, ever so who needs Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Maria Grazia Chiuri?

The simple line drawing of Jeremy Corbyn shows off the Labour leader’s furrowed brow – he’s so worried about the cost of hospital parking! – and his award-winning beard. “This image is every bit as inspiring as Shepherd Fairey’s HOPE poster of Obama,” said Alexandra Schulman, outgoing editor of British Vogue, or she definitely would have if we’d been able to reach her when we called this morning.

The bag will need careful styling, of course. You’ll want to avoid wearing s/s 2017’s statement sleeves with it in case your voluminous cuffs cover up the Labour Party logo. And the red would make an unfortunate clash with the latest shades of pink.

However, like Miuccia Prada before him, Jeremy Corbyn is not here to follow trends: he’s here to set trends. In this case a trend for voting Conservative even if it makes absolutely no sense for you to do so. We’ll be teaming the Corbyn bag with timeless black, to communicate our sorrow at the likely future of the NHS, and a pair of trainers so that we are ready to run away if any angry Corbynistas should realise that we’re carrying it ironically.

Priced at just £17 (suggested donation) or £25 if you take two, it’s significantly cheaper than you’ll pay at Hermès. Snap one up now, before the Tories drag us all into a hard Brexit and you can no longer afford to buy food.

12 things we’ve learnt so far from the snap election

12 things we’ve learnt so far from the snap election

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Iain Duncan Smith likes a bit of Eminem, Tories shop at Sainsbury’s and working-class people are allowed into Costa coffee: here’s what the campaign has told us three weeks in

1 Tim Farron had a poster of Margaret Thatcher on his wall as a teenager
“I had all kinds of weird icons I was into,” he told ITV. And we thought our dog-eared Smash Hits! Posters of Jason Donovan were embarrassing.

2 Iain Duncan Smith is the Conservatives’ answer to Eminem
“You’re choking now / Everybody’s joking now / And the clock’s run out,” he rapped on the sofa of Good Morning Britain, quoting the lyrics to Lose Yourself to a bemused Piers Morgan, Susanna Reid and Chuka Umunna.

3 Sainsbury’s were really on to something with their Bag for Life messaging

 

4 Diane Abbott + maths = *explosion*
Anyone who’s ever spent their maths lesson staring out of the window and then been called on by the teacher for an answer can surely empathise with how Diane Abbott felt when she had to explain Labour’s weird promise for 10,000 new police officers. Or discuss the party’s losses in the local elections:

Abbott: “I think the net losses are about 50.”
Interviewer: “They’re 125.”
Abbott: “Well the last time I looked we had net losses of 100.”

5 Tories are still promising to reduce net immigration to the tens of thousands
Despite hints they might drop the target, which has so far proved unworkable. The most recent figure is 273,000 and in case you thought Brexit would make an impact, around 164,000 of those people came from outside the EU.

6 Working-class people are allowed into Costa coffee
(Maybe they prefer it to Starbucks because, unlike Labour’s Dawn Butler, they know it pays its taxes.)

7 Ed Miliband is quite funny when he’s not in charge of anything

 

8 Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell still think people just need to get to know them
Meanwhile people who do know them, such as the new Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, hide when they see them coming.

9 UKIP have got some kind of issue with bee keepers. 

10 Ruth Davidson is #goals
Nicola Sturgeon, unruly dogs, crap policies like the rape clause… nothing fazes the Scottish Conservative leader (although she really doesn’t seem keen on this big fish).

11 The Lib Dems are committed to a second referendum on Brexit
Also called for by the Green Party and the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon.

12 Progressives are working together… haphazardly
The Lib Dems giving the Greens’ co-leader Caroline Lucas a clear run in Brighton Pavilion, while the Greens are standing aside in various seats for Labour and the Women’s Equality Party leaders Sophie Walker. And Labour has expelled three members for a “plot” with the Lib Dems and Greens to allow the National Health Action Party candidate, Dr Louise Irvine, the best chance of defeating Jeremy Hunt in South West Surrey. The Progressive Alliance has advice on who to vote for to unseat “the regressive right” near you.

Can we stop doing politics by numbers, please?

Can we stop doing politics by numbers, please?

VOTESBYWOMEN_V13From 10,000 new police to £350 million for the NHS, the random figures that politicians dream up aren’t helping anybody

Diane Abbott was criticised this morning for fumbling her figures on Labour’s promise of 10,000 new police officers. And rightly so – that number is ridiculous. How did the party decide that 10,000 were needed, rather than 9,999 – or 232.5? What will happen if they only find 8,012 viable candidates – will they have to import some from abroad?

The party can’t seem to stop pulling random round numbers out of its arse – just look at Jeremy Corbyn’s 10 Pledges to Transform Britain on the Labour website. First off, Jez is going to create a million good-quality jobs by investing £500 billion in infrastructure. Then he’ll build a million new homes, including half a million council homes. And now 10,000 more five-oh.

These arbitrary figures are a particularly bad look for Labour in its hard-left phase, with echoes of Stalin and his five-year plans. Or Dr Evil in blackmail mode. But they’re far from the only ones at it. Just think of the £350 million promised to the NHS by Brexiteers who said this was what EU membership cost us. Then denied it, in spite of the fact THEY WROTE IT ON A MASSIVE BUS AND DROVE IT AROUND THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.

And let’s not forget it was David Cameron’s Tories who promised to cap net migration at tens of thousands, because: well, probably because it sounded good. Now the Conservatives are having to distance themselves from the pledge, realising they might need immigrants to pay inflated university fees, work in the NHS, and generally do stuff Brits can’t be bothered with.

Meanwhile the Lib Dems have found 3 million people who will be £2,500 a year worse off after Brexit. Wasn’t it going to be £4,300 according to George Osborne? And wasn’t that kind of “scaremongering” said to have been a vote-loser ahead of the referendum?

This is not to disagree that Brexit is likely to leave ordinary people worse off financially, or that we need more jobs, or new homes. The point is that when you try to get people on board with those issues, it’s not a great starting point to assume the electorate is too thick to find a decimal place.

Let’s raise the bar a little higher, dear leaders, and use figures that relate to our actual needs. Otherwise, as Diane Abbott found, it’s only you who will end up looking stupid.

I’m a voter, not a fighter

I’m a voter, not a fighter

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Why do we talk about “fighting” elections, “striking blows” for our beliefs and “crushing” opponents – and what effect does it have?

CRUSH THE SABOTEURS. I don’t know if any of you have ever been in a newsroom when the front-page headline – in tabloids it’s called the “splash” – was being written, but it’s magical. That might be nostalgia talking because I have kids now, a second job that doesn’t work so well around daily newspaper deadlines, and at the time I just wanted to get home for my tea, but what it usually looks like is somebody sitting in front of a computer and three or four people standing around behind them chatting. I can almost hear the conversation going on in the Daily Mail offices when they came up with this gem.

– NOW GET BEHIND HER?
– No.
– SILENCE THE OPPOSITION?
– Better.
– SILENCE THE SABOTEURS?
– Doesn’t fit.
– Can’t we just use the Daily Mail headline generator again and go to the pub?
– Course not, there’s an election on.
– OK, well how about: CRUSH THE SABOTEURS.
– Boss! We’ve got it!

In truth that conversation probably didn’t happen, because Paul Dacre probably writes his headlines by himself, in a fountain pen filled with the blood of the person who wrote the first one. Which is probably how he manages to convey so much menace in them. But the Mail’s editorial process isn’t the point here, it’s just a topical example. The point is how aggressive the language of politics can be.

On Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn emailed Labour Party members to invite them to an event in London “as we start the fight for a Labour government”. Earlier this month he wanted money “to continue our fight against Tory failure” and “combat the housing crisis”. And on March 29 he told us that while the Brexit vote was “not the outcome Labour fought for”, vowing to “fight for real protection for the economy” and sharing a video titled LABOUR WILL FIGHT FOR A DEAL THAT DEFENDS AND PROTECTS OUR SHARED VALUES.

Why do we speak about “fighting” elections anyway? It’s a contest, of course, with competing sides. There are winners and losers, and people care deeply about what happens. But it’s not like the end result is going to be settled with fisticuffs. (Unless UKIP are involved.)

Perhaps that’s namby-pamby liberalism talking, but all this fighting talk in the campaign sets the tone. Then when the victorious take their seats in Parliament, they’re expected to start jeering at one another. Can you even try to summon one of those jeers that you hear alongside Prime Minister’s Question Time? I try, and find my face retreating into my throat, aping the sound of the portly old men I’ve seen on TV. It’s been well documented by the relatively few women who make it into the chamber that they find it all a bit much.

Mhairi Black, the youngest MP, even cast doubt last week on whether she would run again, having previously complained that her parliamentary colleagues “actually sound like a drunken mob”. And she’s not wrong that the whole banging on the table thing is weird, either. (There’s a longstanding rule that MPs mustn’t clap.)

On the sidelines we have the mob, the reporters and editors using all the same terminology – perhaps because of excessive testosterone, perhaps because it sounds more exciting, perhaps because that’s just how we think of it all now. Just think how many combative terms we see regularly in news reports: “Strike a blow”, “crush the rebels”, “hit back at critics”, “embattled leader”, “forced out”, “sparring”, “locking horns”, “facing the axe”. And don’t forget the imagery. The night of the long knives, say, or the Iron Lady.

Finding a different way to talk about these things is a challenge, but what might happen if we tried? Maybe, just maybe the content as well as the tone of our debate would change; it might be easier to reach a compromise if politicians weren’t worried about looking weak. Maybe it would help to bring the number of women MPs up from 29% to 50%. Maybe it’d even make MPs seem more representative of voters who grew up in neither boarding school, nor a zoo.

It’d be bad news for tabloid headline writers, of course. But given how much fun they have with our bad news, that only seems fair.