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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Opinion 'The British General Election changed everything'
The astonishing performance of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has far reaching implications, not just within Britain but beyond, writes Owen Worth.

AT FIRST GLANCE the British General Election result might not appear that significant. A strategic error by the ruling party backfired, leaving them requiring support from the nearest ideological party to them in parliament in order to survive in office.

Yet, the astonishing performance of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has far reaching implications, not just within Britain but beyond.

Since the end of the Cold War we have witnessed a significant increase in what can be termed “radical civil society”. Movements and groups that are transnational in objective and have looked to challenge the fabric of “globalisation” and the nature of “corporate” or “neoliberal” capitalism.

Yet, whilst this new left has flourished in terms of its protest politics, it has not managed to convert this mobilisation at the political level, particularly within big influential core states.

Jeremy Corbyn represents the very heart of this new left

The fact that his campaign drew so much attention from all corners of the world is testament to that.

As many opponents have been quick to argue, Corbyn did not “win” this election. Labour’s resurgence might equally be down to May’s dreadful campaign as much as the Corbyn factor, but two significant aspects occurred that suggest something more profound. They are also inter-related.

The mobilisation of the young vote that overwhelmingly backed Corbyn was a significant development of the election. The increase of up to 30% of turnout for the age groups of 18-30 has shown that this new left has gained significant traction.

The second was that Corbyn managed to make gains despite the huge onslaught levelled against him by Fleet Street. The printed press has long played a pivotal role in British elections. The Sun for example has backed every “winner” since 1974.

The ferocity of the attacks of Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Neil Kinnock were such that New Labour prioritised the backing of owner Rupert Murdoch in order to gain power.

Re-engaging with progressive politics

shutterstock_636731410 Shutterstock / Victoria M Gardner Shutterstock / Victoria M Gardner / Victoria M Gardner

Corbyn’s re-engagement with socialism and new with progressive politics saw the Sun, Mail, Express et al unleash succession after succession of smear attacks that would have derailed preceding campaigns.

Yet, the decline of print circulation and growth of new media has seen new avenues where the narratives from Fleet Street can be challenged and contested. The long Murdoch/Rothermere influence might just – it seems – be slipping.

The other factor for the Corbyn team has to be their position within the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) itself. The refusal to serve in the shadow cabinet by many members of the PLP, combined with the vote of no confidence that led to his second election last summer, left Corbyn with a very difficult job in parliament. However, it also has to be said that he did not help himself in this regard.

His inability to offer a coherent response to Brexit in parliament threatened to derail his support base. The multicultural, internationalist stance taken by a large bulk of his support were disappointed in the weak approach taken over Article 50.

Needs to build on the euphoria

Yet, the open, inclusive alternative approach to Brexit outlined in the manifesto contrasted with to the narrow jingoist “hard Brexit” of the Conservatives seemed to pacify these concerns. What the Corbyn team needs to do now is to build on this moment of euphoria and on the successful manifesto put forward in order to consolidate its position.

Another concern with Corbyn is that whilst there has been no end of advice and suggestions from the field of economic, politics and social policy he has not acted on them. Now he is in a more secure position, it is time that these are engaged with in far greater depth.

The vultures will continued to circle to condemn him and there are several that will continue to see this as a flash in the pan and of no lasting significance. For those that are serious about building a challenge to the dynamics of neoliberal capitalism this moment must be seen as a change to act.

Owen Worth is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Limerick and a Co-Director of the Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE).

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