Jeremy Corbyn's Quiet Revolution

Sottotitolo: 
After the catastrophic results that have cut off the European socialist parties one after the other, the unexpected success of the Labor Party is a lesson and a breath of fresh air. There is nothing revolutionary in the English leader's strategy. It's just a left-wing political strategy.

After the catastrophic results that have cut off the European socialist parties one after the other, the unexpected success of the Labor Party is a lesson and a breath of fresh air. There is nothing revolutionary in the English leader's strategy. It's just a left-wing political strategy.

When Theresa May suddenly called the general elections on June 8th, the choice seemed surprising. It was only a year after the referendum that had given the majority to the Brexiters, those who wanted to leave the European Union. The government had a small majority (17 votes), indeed, but enough to govern until 2020. After the legislative elections, having won 318 seats, it no longer has the 326 seat absolute majority. Mrs. May is oriented  to form a minority government, focusing on the support of DUP, the Democratic Union Party of Northern Ireland, which has got ten seats in the House of Commons – a conservative party oriented toward Brexit.
 
The question is how it was possible that Theresa May, a long-term politician,  with twenty years of parliamentary experience and for many years Home Secretary before being appointed Prime Minister in 2016, could have made such an awful mistake as venturing into an unnecessary electoral test that finally took away the majority she enjoyed. The fact is that the same mistake was made by the great number of British political analysts and by the media.

Labour – a bankrupt party?
Actually, up to two weeks before the election deadline, the Labour Party was considered in a process of going bankrupt. And Jeremy Corbyn seemed to have etched his name on the party's gravestone. Even a few days before the elections, an exponent of the Labour Party  parliamentary wing had declared to the Financial Times: It will be a "massacre", and of course he was referring to its own party.

Yet the Labour ’s massacre has not happened. The party led by Corbyn, of whom many were wondering when he would throw in the towel achieved one of the best electoral results in Labour history, earning 40 percent of the popular vote, about two points less than the Conservative Party, and ten more than the party’s led by Ed Miliband in the 2015 elections. Since the First-past-the-post voting system limited  to 262 the seats gained by Labour, it will be prevented from competing in the formation of a new government. Yet it has significantly got  some thirty seats more than  those earned by Labour in the two 2010 and 2015 elections.

In any case, the most surprising feature is not just in the forecasts being proven wrong. Two facts deserve to be stressed. The first is that Corbyn had overturned the Labour Party’s traditional stance on the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union. He had supported, although not effectively convinced, the Remain in the 2016 referendum, in line with the great majority of the party's parliamentary wing. But after the referendum defeat of the Rermainers, and after that Theresa May had suddenly called unexpected  elections, he didn’t hesitate: The majority of the British electorate had democratically chosen  to go ahead with Brexit, and Labour had to acknowledge it.

Brexit and the Labour Manifesto
In his view, the exit decision was no longer in play. Instead, the issue was now how to deal with the modalities and, in some respects, the contents of the negotiations with the European institutions. A radical and risky turn, given that Brexit camp had already been widely occupied by conservatives. It needed, in effect,  to enhance  the party economic and social platform to give it a sense of a really innovative perspective. So the choice of Brexit became the premise and, at the same time, the background for a broad political turning point.

Those who have had the patience to read the Labour  electoral Manifesto could be surprised by the ground-breaking leftwing program, no more seen after Tony Benn's and Michael Foot's  radical stances in  the Eighties. It was easy to imagine that a wide faction of the party  - in effect, 80 per cent of the parliamentarian  Labour wing - had ferociously attacked Corbyn's program, judging it as a lingering ideological stance of an old socialist, who has always been in opposition to Blair’s New Labour.

In the electoral Manifesto you could read about some forgotten goals of the leftwing ,  such as the following ones:

- Increase in taxation on business and on people earning over £ 80,000  a year; - investment  in public services through a £240 billion stimulus package over ten years;- a 500 billion National Investment Bank to help the economy recover after Brexit; - nationalization of a number of public utilities, including the railways privatized by Margaret Thatcher  that then becoming among the most inefficient and expensive in Europe; - refinancing of the public health service; - abolition of university tuition fees that penalize a large part of the new generations coming from working and middle classes families; -  keeping the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, and allowing students to freely access educational opportunities in the UK,; -  increase of hourly minimum wage to 10 pounds ;  - repeal of the Trade Union Act introduced in 1999 by Tony Blair limiting the rights to workers” representation and negotiation.

With regard to the Brexit negotiations, the Manifesto writes that “Labour accepts the referendum result and a Labour government will…build a close new relationship with the EU,… build a close co-operative future relationship with the EU, not as members but as partners”.

A “friendly divorce”
So,  Brexit is no longer the outcome desired by an extremist anti-European stance, as it could be considered under the flags of Le Pen’s Front National. Now is the common choice of the two historic parties. And one of the two clearly expresses its choice for keeping a strong relationships with the old partners, keeping a cooperative framework with the European Union, aiming at a “friendly divorce”, mired to contain the potential damns for both the parts.

Briefly, put in a framework based on a rebuke of the failed  European austerity policy, a program that could hardly be defined  as extremist, apart from a strict ideological bias. Tony Blair's New Labour had given up those goals exactly twenty years ago in favor  of the "New Center" – a shift which had gained  an enthusiastic consensus  throughout the continent. It is no coincidence that returning to a Keynesian policy of public intervention in the field of investment and support for the fundamental pillars of welfare such as health and education, is considered a twentieth-century nostalgic and ludicrous revival.

So far we are in the context of a British debate. But It’s worth highlighting the radical opposition of  Corbyn’s platform to the current austerity and regressive structural reform policy, underpinned by the EU’s market fundamentalism.
Summing up, the  Labour has given a leftwing  perspective  to Brexit, making a bold difference from the typical  opposition toward the EU politics coming from the rightwing parties, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, or the League of Salvini in Italy. Now, with the clamorous success of Corbyn's Labour Party, Brexit and the criticism toward the EU policies take on an unmistakable left-wing meaning.

Many things can still happen. It is possible that Theresa May, defeated in the electoral test – which she was not obliged to call – should, at a certain point, give up the leadership of the government  in favor of a new party candidate, most probably Boris Johnson, former mayor of London and current Foreign Minister. On the other side, European institutions have to take in the account  that, notwithstanding the defeat of Mrs. May’s electoral gamble, more than 80 per cent of British electors, well ahead of last year’s referendum outcome, have now voted for parties with different  perspectives supporting Brexit.

It is likely that the Labour will support from the opposition the softer negotiation possible, at the extent that it is coherent with the final essential goals of Brexit. At this point, it will be difficult for Brussels’ hawks and a number of European capitals to point out on the nasty pretense of inflicting a punishment on Great Britain aimed to fend off the danger that its example could contaminate some eurozone countries, the most severely hit by economic stagnation and mass unemployment.

The collapse of the continental leftwing parties
Indeed, we have learned that unpredicted events have become more and more likely. In any case, it is already a matter of fact that the typical European center-left  parties, one after the other, have relentlessly been swept away.
In Austria, the SPÖ, the Austrian Social Democratic Party - heir to the centenarian socialist history, and in the second half of the twentieth century of the charismatic socialist leader Bruno Kreisky - in 2016, after having held the presidency of the Republic during the last 12 years, having at first election round got a miserable 11 percent of the votes, was eliminated from the ballot for the election of the Austrian presidency,

In the Netherlands with the 2017 elections held in March , the Labour Party ( PvdA), led by Wim Kok during the nineties,  and member of the government coalition led by  Mark Rutte of the  Popular Party until the general elections,  shockingly dropping from 24,8  to 5,7 per cent of voter support.

In Greece, the Pasok, led by Papandreou's dynasty, which was for many decades at the center of the political scene, has literally disappeared. In Spain, the Socialist party, Psoe, main protagonist of the political landscape after the end of the Franco regime, is deeply divided and reduced to support the shaky Rajoy’s minority government, while Podemos, the new leftwing movement, continues to grow.

Finally, the  unstoppable drift of the European left has become a disastrous wreck with the dissolution of the French Socialist Party reduced, after the debacle of François Hollande’s presidency. to a six percent share of the popular vote in the election of Macron to the presidency, and being excluded by the ballot for the second round of the legislative elections.

In this bleak framework of the European leftwing parties, the rebirth of the Labour Party is an important novelty not only in the UK, where the failed Third way of the Cambridge social scientist Anthony Giddens and Tony Blair was born. The unexpected success of the Labour is an important  lesson for the left (or ,at least, that which doesn’t fear being deemed such) in continental Europe. 

The Labour’s revival
In a stunning contrast with the debacle of the European center-left parties, It is worth remembering that with its 40 per cent of the vote the Labour has got about 12.8 million votes, the highest score in the Labour history, except 1997, when Blair wan the first mandate with 13,5 million votes, but significantly loosing 4 million of them when, in 2005. got the third term.  While, coming to the recent 2010 and 2015 general elections, the Labour candidate Ed Miliband stopped respectively at  8.6 and 9.2 million votes - an abysmal difference after only two years of Corbyn’s party leadership. It is also worth remember that the Labour membership,  reduced to 200 thousand  before Corbyn took the party, have reached  550 thousand  member In less than two years,

Since in electoral games miracles don’t exist and, in any case, Corbyn is not a saint, the exceptional electoral performance of Labour, defies the claim of the fatal end of the left as a mystic branch of the last century. The analysis deserves to take into account the sense of the program and the credibility of the leader who is behind it. Two qualities that have dominated the Labour campaign under the transparent Corbyn’s hegemony.

It’s not a coincidence that so many young, workers and middle class electors have been the dominant factor in this astonishing electoral result. In the strategy of the old British socialist leader there is nothing revolutionary. Indeed just a left-wing winning political strategy. For its enlightening transparency, It deserves to be analyzed and taken for example as a vital alternative to the general debacle that has hit the continental leftwing parties.

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body, Member of the OECD's Trade Union Advisory Council and Advisor of Labor Minister for European Affairs.(a.lettieri@insightweb.it)- http://antoniolettieriinsight.blogspot.it/