With the loss of their parliamentary majority, even as Jeremy Corbyn performed incredibly, the Tories must now rely on a deal with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party for survival.
It seems to be the case with every recent major election in the West – the result is greeted with much surprise, opinion polls seem to have it wrong and the tectonic plates of politics shift or readjust to a ‘new normal’. From the Brexit vote last June, to Donald Trump’s triumph in the US elections in November, to the neo-fascist Marine Le Pen’s elevation as the main opposition leader in France, we are seeing in stark terms what appears to be the sudden diminuition and feared collapse of the centre in political life.
The Right and Left are reasserting themselves in national politics as ‘centrist’ parties simply fail to deliver materially to their public and instead remain wedded to political, economic and foreign policy strategies based on empowering and rewarding the rich and powerful at the expense of the young and old, working and middle classes – the 95%.
This may be the most important British general election since 1979 and 1997 – putting paid to the engine of Thatcherism in the Conservative Party and its paler but equally damaging imitation, New Labour. This election has delivered a result that has shocked the political establishment, the corporate media and most polling organisations. The expected result that they had repeated ad nauseam to one another, in their tiny Westminster bubble – hoping to make true by repetition the outcome they wanted to see – did not come to pass. The Tories, and the even more right-wing UK Independence Party, are in a state of political and psychological meltdown. For this unnecessary election, aimed at routing Jeremy Corbyn’s allegedly moribund Labour leadership, has yielded another national crisis that deepens the one after the unnecessarily early referendum a year ago over British membership of the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May turns out to be as hubristic as her predecessor, David Cameron, who masterminded his own downfall, calling an election when she felt she could rout Labour as some polls showed her party with a 20% lead. She was sold as strong and stable and turned out to be weak and wobbly. And she’s still wobbling while the Tory Party decides what to do with her.
What the powers that be did not see, which their own blinkers prevented them from seeing, was that up to then their media friends had conducted the worst, and most effective, smear campaign against a party leader in British history, aided and abetted by the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party. But the Representation of the Peoples Act demands that balanced and fair TV and radio coverage be provided to the main parties and their leaders. And when people who had been bombarded with negative images of Corbyn – terrorists’ friend, traitor, dragging Britain back to the 1970s, heading a “coalition of chaos” and so on, as an LSE study shows – finally saw and heard him in interviews, debates and at rallies in dozens of cities and towns, they began to change their minds about this ‘monster’.
He spoke about the working poor forced to food banks, Tory plans to abolish free school meals for vulnerable children, an underfunded health service set to be gutted even further under the guise of efficiency, the young saddled with student debts and with little chance of getting good jobs and building a future and the elderly, whose pensions, winter fuel allowances and even homes were under threat.
Corbyn spoke for those whose voices had been ignored for decades in a manifesto designed “for the many, not the few”. He told people what they already know – the “system is rigged”, austerity is a policy choice not an iron law and people can change the economic model that Margaret Thatcher embedded in British political life, and which her truest heir, Tony Blair, institutionalised in ‘New’ Labour.
In parliament after the election, Corbyn noted that the Tory Party was not only “anti-immigrant” but also “anti-worker, anti-disabled people, anti-pensioner and anti-young person”.
But this election saw something even more remarkable but only because of the narrow media space for rather obvious truths. In the wake of murderous terror attacks during the election campaign, in Manchester and London, Corbyn pointed out to a media storm – echoing the political establishment including their loyal Labour lieutenants – that Britain’s Middle Eastern policies, including the Iraq War of 2003 as well as illegal wars and interventions in Libya and Syria, played a major role in increased terror threats on British soil. He accused May, as home secretary from 2010, for cutting armed and other police numbers by around 20,000 and thereby reducing protection as well as intelligence-gathering through community policing.
He demanded the government publish a report into foreign funding of jihadi terror groups operating in Britain, a report which the Cameron-May administrations have kept under wraps because, it is reported, it implicates key British allies like Saudi Arabia in funding ISIS and its affiliates.
And Corbyn linked those foreign policies and police cuts to the general austerity programme. So May’s government increased the terror threat, reduced police protection and was cutting public spending on other emergency services such as ambulances, hospitals and firefighters – men and women on the frontlines when terror attacks happen.
Needless to say, Corbyn was met with a barrage of abuse in the media but, unfortunately for them, some Tories like foreign secretary Boris Johnson were on record saying something very similar several years earlier and, to its credit, the BBC replayed those messages. They went viral via social media. And polls suggested that over 40% of Conservative voters agreed that British wars had increased the terror threat.
In post-EU referendum Britain, the Tories showed their mastery at wielding a knife against a failed leader – and opted for a safe May for prime minister. But this time the Tories will likely pay a far higher price – they have lost their parliamentary majority and must rely on a deal with a minority extreme right-wing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – with strong historic connections with and recent endorsements from paramilitary organisations – for survival.
May is being kept in office by a Conservative Party that has no idea where it’s going as Britain heads into negotiations with the EU over Brexit. And kept in power by a DUP endorsed by paramilitaries, opposed to abortion, has climate change deniers in its leadership ranks and may push the government for policies that favour one community over another in the delicate balance that is Northern Irish politics.
So much for all those attacks on Corbyn for talking with Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army – incidentally at the same time as the then government was hatching the Good Friday agreement under Tory Prime Minister John Major. The DUP is a little bit of Trump’s US in the UK. Any agreement between the Tories and the DUP is likely to be nasty, brutish and short and Britain can look forward to another general election in the next few months.
It will be a referendum on the Conservative government.
The Tories are writing in that agreement with the DUP what they wrongly suggested about the Labour manifesto – that it would be the end of Labour for a political generation, the longest suicide note in history.
And to think it all started as a joke – that Corbyn had a chance to win the Labour leadership. “Bring him on,” the Tories laughed back in September 2015.
With his incredible performance in the election, Corbyn threatens to bury the Thatcherite consensus and its New Labour variant, reducing the opposition to a stunned silence, while he prepares his party for government.
Corbyn should be prepared, however, for the resumption of a corporate media war on his leadership and philosophy, and further dark murmurings from the intelligence and military establishments. A few days ahead of the general election, Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI5 penned a piece in The Daily Telegraph suggesting that Corbyn was such a threat to British security that he would not successfully pass a vetting test for employment in his agency.
And just following his election as Labour leader, we should remember that The Sunday Times quoted a senior serving general in the British army stating there would be a mutiny in the armed services should Corbyn try to abandon Trident, withdraw from NATO or plan reductions in the size of military forces. He told The Sunday Times: “The army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.
“There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”
The Conservative government did not see fit to reprimand or discipline this servant of the civil power in threatening a democratically-elected future Corbyn administration.
Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London and columnist for The Wire. His Twitter handle is @USEmpire.