Under the Tories economic stagnation became political chaos – and Corbyn’s Labour relit a spark of socialist hope after a decades-long gloom. 2017 will go down as a turning point year.
Theresa May’s snap general election called no doubt because she believed her own rhetoric – ‘Brexit means Brexit’ while spectacularly misreading the public and gravely underestimating Jeremy Corbyn.
Despite the attempt by ardent Brexiteers to spin a narrow majority in the referendum as the ‘democratic will of the British people’ as if four per cent was a convincing win. It wasn’t.
People voted for different reasons in a Leave campaign that was emotionally driven and steeped in distortion. And in a Remain campaign focussed on an argument predicated on economic prosperity being put at risk. It was an argument showing the enormous disconnect between people weighed down by austerity and wage stagnation and the Prime Minister, and his Chancellor.
Just imagine how the referendum may have turned out if the arguments that we are now hearing had been articulated during the campaign. The most obvious one being the cost of leaving far outstripping the £350m to be spent on the NHS instead of being ‘sent to the EU every week’.
Prominent Leavers stood in front of the bus with the figure emblazoned on its side for photo-ops at every campaign pit stop. The message to the voter was clear. Only it wasn’t. It was highly contentious.
So despite a winning slogan that has secured its place in campaigning history the sound of the footsteps of Brexiteers like Ian Duncan Smith distancing themselves is deafening.
Spectacular political miscalculation
This spectacular political miscalculation that voters in Labour Brexit constituencies would vote Tory or that Remainers in Tory held seats would still vote Conservative went some way to stripping her of her authority and her majority.
But it wasn’t the whole story. It wasn’t only the Theresa May and the Conservatives who underestimated Jeremy’s campaigning style that inspired voters to turn out in their droves anyone watching the TV programme ‘The Summer that Changed Everything’ saw how the Labour MPs the programme makers followed were not in the same campaign.
Who could forget Lucy Powell exclaiming ‘Oh My God’ when she saw the result of the exit poll that the Tories had lost their majority.
These MPs just couldn’t accept the huge numbers turning out to hear Jeremy speak contemptuously putting them down as ‘Jeremy’s love bubble’. When I see people running up a hill in the rain to hear the Labour leader do the same for them then I will take them seriously.
Gordon Brown said Jeremy Corbyn was a ‘phenomenon’ is an acknowledgement of significance. The Tories are irrevocably split over the EU with the zealots on the benchers both alongside and behind Theresa May issuing threats on how she is to conduct the negotiations. We are not that divided.
Obviously there are some divisions all political parties are coalitions of sorts. But we need to fight elections united and the first test will be local elections next year.
In the meantime Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s budget last Wednesday was judged a success because he was able to walk out of the Chamber upright is as bad a joke as the litany of jokes he made during his speech.
But the budget showed what we already knew. He is as out of touch as his predecessor, George Osborne, although even Osborne didn’t make the astonishing claim that ‘there is no unemployment’.
With 1.4m registered unemployed, and more than three million insecure workers, who have no idea how to pay their bills from one day to the next, Hammond’s statement beggars belief.
Outside of Parliament, away from the political theatre the Chancellor may have survived that day but the budget is beginning to unravel. For starters there was no mention of social care despite the enormity of the problem.
Arguably this budget will be remembered for what it did contain slow productivity growth and economic weakness that will continue to condemn people to further bouts of misery.
Wages will continue to plummet. Personal debt will go on soaring to dangerous levels and the cost of living squeeze will continue.
Austerity is still here. And child poverty, which has risen to 4m under the Tories, is set to rise by a further million by the end of this Parliament.
On Brexit we are still no clearer as to whether the government has any idea how to navigate our exit. While the Tories remain in power this is our future. The many can’t afford them any longer.
Until such time we should continue to be inspired by Shelley:
Rise like lions after slumber
In unfathomable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
That in sleep have fallen on you Ye are many, they are few.
- This comment first appeared in Tribune November 26 and is the personal view of Joy Johnson