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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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.