Corbyn and Labour are Fighting for a New Progressive Political Mainstream

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Corbyn and Labour are Fighting for a New Progressive Political Mainstream

Jeremy Corbyn visits a polling station in Islington, north London, to cast his vote. (Photo: Andy Rain/EPA)

On April 18 the newly selected Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called a general election for June 8th, declaring it "the only way to guarantee certainty for the years ahead." This was a complete reversal from her previous promise not to hold an election. For the cynics, this U-turn (the first of what would prove to be many) was based on her huge advantage in the polls. Even more troubling, there were rumblings that she wanted to get re-elected before the full negative impact of Brexit was felt economically.

Her much maligned opponent Labour Leader Jeremy has been accused of being to0 leftwing and even a terrorist sympathizer. These attacks came not only from Conservatives but also from centrists within his own party. Across the country he was derided as being not only misguided but also downright "loony."

However, a funny thing happened on the way to being laughed off the political stage: Corbyn started to connect with voters. They found his policies far from extreme. Instead they responded to his party's manifesto that promised greater investment, a fairer tax system and well funded public services. They listened approvingly when he condemned terrorism and the causes of terrorism.

There is every indication that Corbyn will still lose and possibly by a large margin. Yet what cannot be denied is that even if only temporarily he shifted the public debate in a dramatically more progressive direction. Suddenly, to be left was to be part of a potentially new political mainstream.

Breaking Through the Establishment

Since his surprise election and re-election to the Labour leadership, Corbyn has been dismissed as a fringe politician. The elites of the party waged an all-out campaign to undermine him and have him replaced. It was only with the support of a progressive grassroots that he survived. The Conservatives merely sneered that he was a dyed in the wool socialist who barely deserved to be taken seriously.

The mainstream press treated him perhaps even worse. He and his team were regularly dismissed. His ideas were ridiculed as "irresponsible" and way outside the sensible mainstream. Meanwhile May was presented as strong, popular and capable. That there was almost no evidence for these judgments mattered little. Study after study confirmed this damaging media bias.

The election was all but a foregone conclusion. The question was not if May and the Conservatives were going to win but rather by how much. Yet there was consideration that the political and media elites did not consider – Corbyn’s policies were not only more credible but more popular than those of May. With legally mandated equal airtime, his message started to break through.

His call for higher taxes for corporations and top earners were widely applauded. His demand to use this revenue to reinvest in health care, housing and social care was an even bigger hit.  His promise to negotiate a "fair" Brexit pushed back against the Tory charges that he would negotiate the country into a disaster. And when tragedy struck not once but twice, it was his voice that rang most clear in demanding a more effective and humane security policy.

May meanwhile floundered. There was her famous u-turn on the so-called "dementia tax." Her inability to answer basic questions about policy was mocked even by former allies. And she could barely defend herself against legitimate charges that her decision as Home Secretary to cut 20,000 police officers as part of the government's austerity left the country less safe.

What the election showed perhaps more than anything was that beneath the media cloak of respectability and her own fashionable wardrobe, Theresa May and the Conservatives were akin to the Emperor with No Clothes. Corby, by contrast, had serious answers for the nation's serious problems.

Fighting for a New Political Mainstream

Corbyn's strong campaign is no small political achievement. Historically, he has altered the public discussion on major issues of the economy and foreign policy. He has also shown that a full throttled progressive agenda is not only not suicidal but potentially down right popular.

It has also exposed the beginnings of a potentially new political mainstream. It is no secret that young people have flocked to Corbyn in support. The same is true for non-whites and low-wage earners. He is speaking and representing usually ignored constituencies that are growing. He has become their spokesman and made their issues a key part of the political debate.

Just as importantly he has shown the "respectable Right" to be an existential threat to the country and the world's future. May and the Conservatives would put the NHS, schools and even safety in utter jeopardy. Progressives have become not only the most hopeful but safest choice for an increasing number of voters. It is a message that echoes that of Bernie Sanders and one that could produce a similar potential revolution across the Atlantic.

Win or lose tonight, Corbyn has changed the country’s political landscape for the foreseeable future. He has created what he calls a "new centre ground." And now, what will be of the utmost necessity is to continue to fight for this new and dramatically improved rising "political mainstream."

Peter Bloom

Peter Bloom is a lecturer in the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University. He has published widely on issues of 21st century democracy, politics and economics in both scholarly journals and in publications including the Washington Post, The New Statesman, Roar, Open Democracy, The Conversation and Common Dreams. His books include Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalizationand Beyond Power and Resistance: Politics at the Radical Limits which will be released in November, 2016.

 

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