The UK snap elections held on 8 June have ended dramatically in a hung parliament. The ruling Conservative Party lost its majority and the far-right UK Independence Party stood virtually decimated as the Labour Party led by veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn surged ahead with a vote share of 40% (an increase of nearly 10%)and a seat tally of 262 (30 seats more than the previous tally).
Theresa May had called the elections confident of massively increasing her majority, as the relentless demonization and mockery of Corbyn by the entire British establishment and media, as well as continual backstabbing by the powerful right-wing in his own party, appeared to have effectively sidelined him. But as soon as the campaign began and the media was legally required to give at least some exposure to Corbyn’s actual manifesto, the mood began to shift and the distance between the two parties in opinion polls began rapidly shrinking.
The real story of the elections has been not so much the failure of the Tories, but the rallying of voters around the vision of an alternative to austerity. Propelling the surge of the Labour Party was the visibly increased participation of young people aged 18-24 inspired by Corbyn’s strongly anti-austerity, redistributive manifesto, and its slogan ‘For the Many, Not the Few’. By the end of the campaign, unprecedented mass rallies, overwhelming youth support, and vibrant social media drives made it clear that the contest would be very closely fought.
The success of Corbyn is seen by many as spelling the end of Blairism and the neoliberal consensus which has dominated British parliamentary politics for the last two decades. But Corbyn’s anti-imperialist, anti-war politics and longstanding commitment to anti-racist, pro-refugee and anti-fascist struggles also distinguish him clearly from the much longer history of the Labour Party. Those who support Corbyn’s agenda are flocking to the party, yet much of the parliamentary party remains unchanged.
The challenge now in Britain is to build a wide-ranging movement on the ground which will sustain the momentum of the election campaign, expose and confront the opportunist arrangement of the Conservative Party with the far-right ‘Northern Ireland-based DUP for support in Parliament, and consolidate the forces of the radical anti-imperialist left.