Once Unthinkable, Prime Minister Corbyn No Longer Seems Impossible

Theresa May had been assumed to win her snap general election with a landslide that would crush Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, like Margaret Thatcher did to Michael Foot in 1983. At one point in April the opinion polls saw the Conservatives on 50% with Labour 25 points behind.

But as the election has progressed, the Tory campaign has unravelled. A core policy in the Tory manifesto, the “dementia tax” on homes to fund social care, proved deeply unpopular forcing May into an embarrassing u-turn.

To her credit May performed as competently as any PM should in her response to the Manchester terrorist attack. But outside of this her political performance has been an embarrassment to her party. David Cameron might be regretting not staying on.

May was supposed to be the new Iron Lady. But chickening out of televised debates and parroting “strong and stable” soundbites to hand-picked campaign audiences, she exhibits an ineffectiveness and vapidity that makes Gordon Brown look like Winston Churchill.

Voters from all parties trust May more to lead the country, but in contrast to her they are seeing Corbyn is a personally likeable and confident leader as the media gives him a national platform. Unsurprisingly he’s become more popular.

The Labour leader articulates an economically-costed manifesto containing popular policies on key issues like the NHS, taxes and education, and a sensible approach to Brexit negotiations. He is unapologetically socialist but promises tax freezes for the many. Corbyn has been mistrusted on national security but his party is committed to NATO, Trident and increasing police numbers.

The once-unthinkable idea of a Labour victory at this election is now a real prospect

A shocking YouGov poll commissioned by The Times forecasted a hung parliament with Labour only three points behind the Tories. Labour has also polled far ahead in London and Wales, and is restoring its fortunes in Scotland to tie for second place with the Tories.

The once-unthinkable idea of a Labour victory at this election is now a real prospect. But as polls are only a forecast, we have to consider the factors that will influence the actual vote on June 8.

Labour seeks the youth vote. Over 2 million new voters aged between 18 and 35 have registered to vote, with this demographic overwhelmingly supporting Labour.

However, over 65s who are most likely to vote are overwhelmingly Tories despite Labour’s commitment to protecting spending on pensions and elderly benefits. The young might be enthusiastic but they cannot be complacent about turning out. Otherwise the grey vote will win the day.

Though May’s lead has dissipated, she has kept her party’s support in the low-to-mid forties through an alliance of committed Tories and siphoning support away from the irrelevant UKIP.

Labour’s appeal to non-voters who abstained in 2015 is being reflected in poll trends, but their reliability is uncertain. Like young voters these voters are less likely to show up than loyal Tories, and could always float elsewhere in the polling booth.

Along with Tories and former Ukippers, Corbyn now needs to solidify enough of their support in the last few days of campaigning: he should also hammer home a message to young voters that their previous underperformance contributed to Ed Miliband’s defeat and Vote Leave’s victory.

Remain winning the EU referendum was the best bet and Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in

The risk of a hung parliament throws up a lot of possibilities. Realistically a more likely avenue for Prime Minister Corbyn than a Labour majority win could be a Labour-led coalition or minority government.

Even if the Tories won the most seats in a hung parliament, they might not have the numbers to form a coalition. May’s warns against Corbyn’s “coalition of chaos”, but the alternative could be no government.

The Liberal Democrats will not collaborate with a Hard Brexit and would be unlikely to have enough seats to make a difference as they did in 2010 - nor would the pro-Tory Ulster unionist parties with their handful.

Nicola Sturgeon, however, has suggested her Scottish National Party MPs could strike a deal with Labour in the event of a hung parliament. As the SNP share most of their ideals and policies with Labour outside of Scottish independence, a “progressive alliance” would be feasible - if not a coalition government then easily a confidence-and-supply arrangement. Corbyn has signalled that he is open to the idea.

Let’s face it: Remain winning the EU referendum was the best bet and Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in. The opposite happened.

May being replaced as PM by Corbyn would be just as strange an outcome, but consistent with the trend of anti-establishment upsets.

If Corbyn at least manages to increase Labour’s popular vote, or even share of seats, it would hardly be a loss for him after rising from such low expectations. Due to the Fixed-term Parliament Act, if May loses seats he could even form a government after a technical defeat.

If May reduced her majority, increased it unimpressively or had to cobble together a coalition, it would practically be a defeat for her - a humiliation that would leave her authority in tatters. And even if May is re-elected, after such a calamitous campaign her victory will be hollow. She, not Corbyn, now looks like the hapless one.

More about the author

About the author

Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.

Follow Jacob on Twitter.

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