One Man Against Them All Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Sensation
Even more astonishing than Theresa May's poor showing in this week's British election was the resurrection of Labour -- especially after Jeremy Corbyn's party seemed to do all it could to get badly defeated.
When it was clear that the British prime minister, and not he, had emerged humiliated from the election, Jeremy Corbyn allowed himself to relish a sliver of satisfaction. "I would think that's enough, to go, actually, and make way for a government that will be truly representative of all of the people of this country," the Labour leader said in front of his home in the London district of Islington. Then the 68-year-old held up both thumbs for the cameras, a seemingly uncontrolled outburst of emotion coming from a man like him.
No one, perhaps aside from Corbyn himself, would have dared to predict even 12 hours earlier that the Labour Party would reap roughly 40 percent of the vote nationwide. But instead of receiving the poorest Labour result in postwar history, as many had predicted, Corbyn achieved the party's best result since 2005, when a certain Tony Blair won with an absolute majority. That in and of itself is remarkable -- yet given the circumstances, it's sensational.
Ever since Corbyn, a socialist, managed through a series of lucky breaks to seize the party leadership two years ago, he has been fighting a lonely struggle. During the eight-week election campaign, the competition used every opportunity to mock the pacifist and anti-nuclear activist as a doddering political dinosaur. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson ridiculed Corbyn as a "mutton-headed old mugwump," to the great amusement of many. Company executives predicted that the British economy would collapse if Corbyn were to gain power with his ideas of renationalizing the railways, the postal service and the power utilities, raising taxes for the rich and scrapping tuition fees. Nearly the entire media in the country portrayed the Labour leader as a security risk because he rules out ever using nuclear weapons and is allegedly on good terms with terrorist groups scattered halfway around the globe.
A Tireless Effort
But most damning of all was that the majority of the Labour MPs in the lower house of parliament, the House of Commons, left no doubt as to how much admiration they had for their leader, namely none whatsoever. Right from the get-go, his left-wing agenda did not fit with the Labour Party, which had moved to the right under Blair. Many MPs campaigned in their electoral districts for voters to support Labour, not because of Corbyn, but despite him. And since the leader stubbornly refused to take even a single step toward his rivals in the party, two Labour parties, bound by a deep sense of mutual loathing, effectively took part in the election campaign. It was essentially a hopeless endeavor.
But Corbyn -- who calls himself "Monsieur Zen" -- didn't let this faze him and did what he had already done during his campaign for the Labour leadership: He sidestepped the media that was hostile toward him and directly wooed his greatest fan base, young British voters, on social networks. Furthermore, he tirelessly toured the country to personally explain his political agenda to as many people as possible, in stark contrast to Prime Minister May, who strung together platitudes as she addressed hand-picked crowds of elated British voters.
By contrast, Corbyn condemned throughout the country the harsh austerity policies that have meant that some British have had to wait for months for medical treatment, even in urgent cases. He described the consequences of the millions slashed from the budgets for schools, daycare centers and the nursing care system. He promised affordable housing for young families and higher corporate taxes. How exactly he intended to raise the billions and billions needed to finance his socialist program remained in many respects a mystery, but two out of three British voters didn't mind. Corbyn spoke their language.
By all appearances the anti-politician has let a genie out of the bottle, also in Britain, that was long thought to be firmly corked up and stored in some faraway cellar. Like Bernie Sanders in the United States and, more recently, Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, he has countered market radicalism with the utopia of a caring society. Some would call this nostalgic dreaming. Or populism.
But when 40 percent of voters respond positively to this message, it should at least give the embattled social democratic parties in the rest of Europe some food for thought.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen