The Conservatives, as callous and blundering as ever, nonetheless cleaned up in marginal English seats, destroying their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in the process.
Analysts attribute the shock election defeat of the party’s prominent finance spokesman, Ed Balls, to a combination of Labour abstentions and a strong UKIP vote.
(Best known in the United States as a pal of Larry Summers, Balls is now on sabbatical at Harvard.) The two ex-ministerial candidates for the leadership, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, were unable to speak to the gravity of Labour’s situation in the aftermath of the 2015 defeat.
This is a virtually unprecedented feat for a British governing party—still less one with no tangible record of success. The analyses multiply, but few combine empirical rigor with any sense of promise for Labour’s revival.
Cameron has presided over a failed policy of austerity and a boom in the use of food banks in Britain alongside countless instances of gross incompetence: a corrupt fire-sale of postal services, a near-breakdown of the social security system, a farcical non-renegotiation of competencies with the European Union, botched market reforms of Britain’s treasured National Health Service (NHS). The problem for the British left now is far worse than in the 1980s, when the electoral requirement was simply to bolt on enough Tory switchers to an obvious Labour core.
The vast majority are there because of Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The veteran left-wing London MP for Islington North became an overnight sensation during the leadership contest following Labour’s crushing defeat at the 2015 general election.Whether Corbyn’s leadership can prosper outside this very specific moment remains an open question.The key piece of local context to understand is just how bad May 8, 2015 was for the Labour Party.It was difficult for anyone outside the parliamentary party to envisage a scenario where voting the government—against the interests of Labour’s few remaining core supporters, and five years before the next election—would do much for the fortunes of the opposition.The echoes of 1931, when one of the first Labour governments fell apart over similar demands for “sound money” from the City of London, were overpowering.They wasted most of the summer campaign shadowboxing with a neo-Blairite right that never stood any chance of winning the membership.Indeed, the immediate post-election mood music from key figures on the party’s right was crucial to Corbyn’s ultimate success.Corbyn duly led forty-odd rebels through the “no” lobby of the Commons and moved into an unassailable lead with the membership. Not, it should be noted, because of any particular effect on the new activists Corbyn was bringing to the party: they were always unlikely to endorse run-of-the-mill candidates like Cooper or Burnham.Rather, it was significant because it convinced many long-standing members, in the immediate wake of a terrifying election result, that only Corbyn could be trusted to preserve Labour’s identity as a recognizable party of the left.Depending on who you ask, Britain’s Labour Party is either soaring, or in free-fall.There is evidence for both propositions, but the reality is messier.