I have to admit it. Faced with a Tory landslide and all the terrible things that would go with that — the dismantling of the NHS, the reintroduction of Fox Hunting Grammar Schools — I flinched. I thought: I like Corbyn, I agree with him on many issues, but if there was a way of painlessly swapping him for someone more electable… I flinched.
The first thing to say is how much of an achievement the election result was. Many commentators and some back- pedaling Tories are now keen on blaming Theresa May and her rotten campaign, but the numbers don’t sustain that argument. She won over 13 and a half million votes which is the best result since 1992 and 42% of the vote. You’d have to go back to Thatcher’s landslide to beat that. Certainly she might have done better, but she could only have done that by eating into the Labour vote, or relying on what often happens, that vote simply staying at home.
The fact that it didn’t. The fact that many young people — historically ranked high in abstentionism — came out was due to the campaign, the manifesto and the personality of Jeremy Corbyn. Of course, he didn’t win the election, but he reversed a twenty point deficit in a little over a month. In the teeth of ferocious attacks from the Tory press and lukewarm reception from the rest. Not to mention a chunk of the Labour Party who I suspect were secretly calculating how many seats they would be okay with losing if it meant Corbyn’s ousting.
Since the election, Corbyn has shown himself to be quite comfortable in his new role. His reshuffle was pointed but not a blood bath. His reaction to the Grenfell Tower disaster wasn’t so much Prime-Ministerial, as human, empathetic and urgent. His victory lap on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury had the wonderful side effect of trolling Tom Watson for his cowardly moshing while the knives were out last year. I imagine that never entered his mind. He was there with a genuine purpose: to thank the young people who have substantially contributed to this wave.
The 12 Nation Army chanting of his name, the musicians eager to associate themselves with him, even the apparent peace that has descended on the PLP, all of this could be a bubble that can pop at any time. But on that stage he uses the moment to quote Percy Bysshe Shelley — that revolutionary proto-socialist who published the first defense of atheism in the English language when he was 16, a vegetarian and free thinker. Also a target of hatred for the Tories in his age — his obituary read: ‘The Atheist Shelley is dead. Now he knows whether there is a God or no.’ The lines from the Mask of Anarchy were written in response to the Peterloo Massacre which took place in Manchester in 1819, when a pro-democracy demonstration was charged by armed militia and cavalry. Corbyn is laying claim to a heritage of the left that goes from Shelley through the Chartists to the hippies and peace demonstrators, the CND women of Greenham Common to the popular anger that is rightly bursting out today. It is a tradition that has been ignored and repressed, but if we follow Andrea Leadsom advice to be more patriotic, it would be good to start with this tradition of resistance and humanity. For the good of the many.
It is this tradition which Jeremy Corbyn represents today.