Jeremy Corbyn has declared “we changed the face of British politics”. This may seem just a bit hyperbolic coming from the leader of the Party who came in second place. Yet in this case it is justified. More than just revive a moribund Labour Party and social democratic agenda – he is fundamentally transforming who are the "British people"
Corbyn and his team have achieved something historically significant. They have given traditionally marginalised groups such as young people, non-whites and the poor a renewed voice for shaping the country's present and future. They have given us a positive version of populism. His activist politics, fuelled by Momentum, has suddenly turned into a dramatic expansion of who matters in UK elections and therefore for British policy makers.
This stands in stark contrast to May and the Conservative's exclusive brand of populism. They sought to unite loyal Tories with disaffected Ukip and Labour voters who felt ignored by political and financial elites. While Corbyn desired a broad coalition, May was content to simply run up the score with traditional voters who supposedly represent the supposedly “real” British people.
May's own rise to power was catalysed by a popular backlash against the status quo expressed through the Brexit vote. In an attempt to appeal to those "left behind" by four decades of neoliberalism and a global financial crisis she has ironically excluded a wide swathe of UK citizens. She and those on the right must now ask themselves who they "have left behind".
Corbyn spoke directly to everyone who had been forgotten – built on a vision of a more inclusive Britain. His pointed critiques of the country's failing public services and the Government's blind eye to growing inequality, poverty and economic insecurity was no mere election ploy. It is a long term strategy to build alliances across race, class and generations in the shared pursuit of a fairer and more prosperous nation. It was a potent brew of idealistic universalism and hard nosed solidarity.
A Corbyn near-kiss
The challenges that lie ahead for this new and expanded British "people" are substantial. Racism, xenophobia and jingoism remain deep seated and will not be swept away by a simple "politics of hope". Corbyn and Labour confronted these very tensions in their own often confused policies on "managed immigration".
Going forward, it will require concrete campaigns and real shared political struggles to make this unity a reality that can stand the test of time and coming elections. It will also demand that a future Labour led government can deliver on its promises of a better society for everyone equally in order to make this dream into a reality.
In the present moment, there are serious reasons to be optimistic. Labour has already registered 150,000 new members in the days immediately following the election. They represent a broad cross-section of society that more accurately reflects the diverse composition of 21st century Britain. Corbyn's unexpected success holds the promise of the rise of a new British "people".Reuse content