Oh Snap

Labour Insiders On What Happens Next

The view from inside both wings of the Labour party.
June 9, 2017, 10:52am

So Theresa May has failed to get a majority. The Tories did increase their share of the vote to 42 percent, which – in any other election in the past three decades – would have been enough to build a commanding majority, but against all the odds, Jeremy Corbyn has defied pundits, pollsters and media smears to bring his party a ten-point surge.

Despite shadow chancellor John McDonnell this morning saying that May can't go on and Labour could form a coalition, the Prime Minister will visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace today to seek permission to form a government after agreeing terms with the DUP. Mind you, whatever the outcome, this is hardly a fix – and it won't be a surprise if we're all here voting again next spring, or even this autumn.

Advertisement

But forget about the Tory tears – what's the word on the inside? Are Labour having a love-in after months of infighting? And has Jeremy really achieved something huge for the party, despite not gaining a majority?

Maryam Eslamdoust, a Labour councillor in Camden, says yes. She has been campaigning across the country and points out that Corbyn has travelled 7,000 miles, addressing 90 rallies in total. She says this election has probably seen more feet on the street from party supporters than ever before. "Never have I seen such positive political engagement from the public like this, from all walks of life. Corbyn has pulled off an incredible political turnaround. It's really shaken the Tories; they retreated back to their desperate dog whistle racist campaign mode," she says. "May should go – the public have seen how hollow and unstable she really is." Others from the opposite side of the party are equally upbeat. "We didn't win, but loads of MPs thought they'd lose seats, and to make some progress and to get back on the map in Scotland is amazing," says Luke Akehurst, former NEC member. "People are hoping that the party can perhaps put the conflict of the last few years behind them now and get on with the next stage and get the Tories out." Unsurprisingly, Labour is looking more united than it has done in a long time, and the ball is now fully in Corbyn's court. He is in a strong internal position, and whether he wants to roll with what he's got or bring in other wings from the party is up to him. Akehurst says that the moderates are not in any position to demand anything because it was Jeremy's strategy that won this vote share. "A lot of this happened because of his personal speeches and performances during the campaign – they were so much better than before," he says. Some are also saying that Corbyn has done a lot to appease the right of his party. "He's obviously starting from a place very politically different from us, but he compromised a lot on key things my wing of the party care about, like Trident and his response to the Terrorist attacks," says one moderate insider, who did not want to be named. "He's indicated a willingness to move that wasn't there when he first became leader. It didn't go unnoticed he attempted to compromise on things he really cares about."

Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Rwendland, via

While the Tory internal divisions about Brexit and leadership personalities look set to come to the fore, the remarkable thing is that it's now looking like Labour are the ones holding it together. During this campaign, hardly anyone has stepped out of line. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single tweet from a Labour MP saying anything majorly critical. So what next for the former Labour heavyweights. Chuka? Yvette Cooper? Akehurst reckons these guys will get on board – if Corbyn wants them to, that is. "It will be interesting to see if he goes ahead with the team he's got or broadens it out to the rest of the PLP. There are a lot of people quite frustrated not to be able to be on the front bench," he says. "If we are going into a different era with a new upbeat mood, people want to be a part of that." Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at Queens Mary's University London, agrees, and says that Corbyn is here to stay. "All credit to Corbyn – he tapped into austerity fatigue and youthful idealism. Labour MPs who've held back from serving under him will now face enormous pressure to get back on board: they should probably bow to that pressure because he's there for the foreseeable future and Britain needs an opposition." With big names like Nick Clegg losing his seat in Sheffield Hallam to Labour, and an estimated 72 percent turnout from 18 to 24-year-olds, one of the big questions is whether it's time to give up fighting for the centre ground. Eslamdoust says it is. "Labour have proved that you can win over serious numbers of votes by unambiguously meeting the needs of the young, working class people and ethnic minorities. The idea that the only way to up your vote share is by focusing just on the centre must be over now. Just look at the Lib Dems," she says. Others are less certain, but agree that the political climate has indeed changed. Akehurst says Corbyn has demonstrated that there was a pool of votes on Labour's left that he, and many others, were wrong to be sceptical about. He points out that Jeremy has taken votes of the Liberals, the Greens and the SNP, and got non-voters – particularly young people – enthused. "However, to get a Labour government in the next general election, we've probably reached a point where we've maxed that out and have got to somehow take votes back off the Tories," he says. "Some of these will have voted Labour before – they're not all lifelong Tory voters, where you have to meet them all the way."

One former Labour supporter and campaigner agrees. "People like me felt alienated by Corbyn. He now has a golden opportunity to bring people back into the party. To do that he has to bring back in the main body of the Labour parliamentary party. If he can do that, then the sky's the limit." Whatever the future holds, the Labour party is looking stronger, more confident and more united than it has in a long time. And even the Blairites have fallen for Corbyn, as the unnamed insider says: "My sense is that a Labour government under Jeremy is an achievable thing now."

@tessreidy