Nearly all the commentators were wrong about this election, of course, except me; and even I was wrong to doubt how right I might be. That’s why I never allowed myself to hope, in spite of sensing the fundamental reaction across the Western world – and maybe beyond – against the effects of late-stage capitalism, which lie deep behind both the right-wing and the left-wing responses to what is currently called ‘globalisation’. Look back over my past posts here (here’s one: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/), and you will find both the American Presidential election and the British EU referendum explained in these general terms, with the belief expressed that the very same grievances that had provoked both Trumpists and Brexiters could be exploited, and for what to me would be a preferable end, by a more radical Left. Sanders tried to do that in America. Now Corbyn has done it here. Hence the apparent transfer of about a third of the collapsed UKIP votes to Labour, rather than to the Tories, as those who saw politics in conventional Right/Left terms had predicted. That didn’t surprise me. What we are seeing now, basically, is a ground-shift to a new political discourse, arising out of the latest crisis of neo-liberalism, which the mainstream commentariat has been too imprisoned in its own older discourse to detect.
This has left that commentariat floundering. It has been bleakly amusing to see and read their reactions in yesterday’s media. Some of them deny Corbyn’s success, on the grounds that he didn’t actually win the election, did he? – which for someone who lives in Britain, and is aware of the height of the mountain he had to climb, appears ungenerous to say the least, and foolish at best. The reality is that with one enormous bound we (on the Left) are not yet quite free, admittedly, but are far further along that path than anyone whose mindset is constricted by the public discourse of the Blair-Cameron years could have imagined. Hence all their talk of Corbyn’s having ‘defied conventional wisdom’; by which they mean the wisdom of yesterday.
Then there are those – mainly on Right of the Labour Party – who seem happy enough to concede that they were wrong about his ‘leadership’, but make the excuse that this was because Corbyn then was a different creature from the Corbyn they see now. How could they have been expected to know that the man would turn so suddenly into Superman, when all they had had before them was a dozy Clark Kent? This is Peter Mandelson’s explanation: that Corbyn had somehow undergone a metamorphosis, or ‘character change’, which is what turned him into the utterly different animal that emerged from the election. A modified version of this is that he has ‘grown into the role’. Others’ changes of heart seem to be more qualified: yes, they now admit, he is a successful campaigner, and popular with the young folk (bless them), but that doesn’t mean they were wrong in doubting his capabilities as a real leader: i.e. as a potential prime minister. They’ll never be satisfied, of course, unless or until he becomes PM. And probably not even then.
In fact one reason they were wrong is that they never took him seriously even as Labour leader, and never allowed him to be viewed directly, without the mediation of the hostile (tabloid) and cynical (broadsheet) press, until the actual election campaign, which forced them – the TV networks, at any rate – to present him as he is. Theresa May’s arrogant incompetence helped here, of course, in providing a foil to his directness and honesty, which usefully boosted his ‘image’ at the same time as it was fatally destroying hers.
But the main reason is that, stuck in their ‘Westminster bubble’, and in Blair-time, they simply weren’t aware of the earthquake that had been slowly rumbling right under their feet over the past five years or so, making old political assumptions redundant; until they all fell into the hole suddenly and blindly, to the wicked amusement of those of us who had felt the earth moving – in my case I think deriving from my experience as a broad-based historian – but had been too nervous to quite credit it, against the opinion of all the political experts.