The smiles on faces said it all. Red rossettes, red flags and red signs dominating sport centres and town halls up and down the country. The cheers and whoops of the winners. Hugs of joy. High-fives of delight. The sights and sounds of electoral success. Labour is working and wining. Erm, not so much. The 2017 general election result is a disaster for the Labour Party.
Let’s establish one or two facts. This is the third general election in a row that Labour have lost. Yes, they lost this election – finishing nearly 60 seats and 2% behind the Conservatives and 65 seats away from forming a majority government – and 100 seats short of having a majority that would sustain them. They have now not won a general election for 12 years. They made gains, but only 30 seats. If the Labour Party, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid and Greens put all their seats together it would not be enough to form a government. Labour lost and despite Jeremy Corbyn’s kind offer to lead a minority government – he was apparently ready to serve yesterday morning – he has not the moral or numerical authority to do so.
But hang on, Labour did much better than expected. This is their highest share of the vote and number of votes polled since the heady electoral days of Tony Blair. Jeremy Corbyn massively exceeded expectations and now has a larger parliamentary party behind him (at least physically) in the new House. Of course that is all true but it misses the point.
This was a catastrophic campaign for the Tories – with an unpopular leader and mess of a manifesto. Theresa May’s performance over the last few weeks would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic. It was risible. She will be gone soon and the Tories – ruthless in the extreme at renewing to win elections – will relaunch with a new leader and fresh start. Jeremy Corbyn looked like a winner because “among the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
The Tories offered nothing but confusion and concern to key groups of voters, including pensioners and first time voters. They will not make that mistake again. They will also not underestimate Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal again (God knows how they did it this time – didn’t they see him in action during two recent leadership elections?!). They will not produce such a vacuous and complacent un-costed prospectus again. This was a Conservative catalogue of chaos and misjudgments. It was a mess. A gift for Labour. This was Labour’s best chance since 1997 to win a general election.
Next time around, the Tories will have a new leader, new policies, new ideas and will return to the formula that has served them throughout their history. Labour will now need to build on this relative success and this will be Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest test. Can he now move from protest movement leader – at which he is adept – to acting and behaving like a Prime Minister in waiting? I have seen no evidence to suggest he can.
It’s time to remind ourselves that when really scrutinised during this campaign – such as on Woman’s Hour – the amateurish, not up to it, Mr Corbyn revealed himself. He cannot and will not change enough to win next time and Labour moderates know this. They are surely now the only group more depressed than the Tories – they know now they are stuck with this leader and this approach until the next election. This Tory blowout has just delayed Labour’s inevitable meltdown – this type of left-wing extremism cannot and will not win a general election – it is much easier to offer these ideas when you know you can’t win. Let’s remind ourselves again, Labour were miles short of winning this time despite popular policies and a hopeless opponent.
Repeating this type of campaign and pitch again will not be enough for Labour to win a majority. This result was down to getting the Labour core vote out, mobilising in impressive numbers the first time vote out, exciting under 35s who don’t normally vote and squeezing UKIP, Lib Dems and Greens votes back inside the Labour tent. This approach didn’t do what it will need next time if real success is to be delivered; it needs to get Tory voters to join the fold not in their dozens but in their hundreds of thousands. They are a very long way from that. To fund their Santa list of giveaways – which they will now see as popular and necessary to repeat next time – they need to hammer the very people they need to get them into government. It is a circle they cannot square.
If Labour think more of the same will be enough next time they are barking up the wrong tree. This is the high water mark of this approach and campaign – helped by the sinking Tory campaign. Jeremy Corbyn will now be scrutinised in a different way by voters – not the interesting, honest bloke offering different, interesting ideas with no chance of winning, but as a possible Prime Minister. This was a once in a lifetime chance for Labour and it fell over 60 seats short – in electoral terms that is light years. This has been a disaster for the Tories but they now get the chance to renew and relaunch – Labour are now locked in to Project Jeremy and that is their disaster; not today, but next time.