Jeremy Corbyn fans are celebrating the third general election in a row that the Labour Party has lost as a ‘yooj’ victory. As the editor of Jacobin Bhaskar Sunkara put it, “I don’t care if he didn’t actually win — he won.” June was supposed to be the end of May and yet she persisted.
Bernie Sanders is fond of saying about the 2016 American presidential election that Republican Donald Trump did not win, the Democratic Party lost. The same logic applies here: Labour did not win, the Tories lost.
For now, the Conservatives’ Theresa May remains Prime Minister despite losing one dozen seats to Labour and with it her party’s parliamentary majority. Short of the 326-seat threshold she needs to govern, May is now in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who have 10 seats to cobble together a minority coalition government. DUP is a right-wing extremist anti-abortion, climate change-denying party linked to paramilitary (meaning terrorist) groups in Northern Ireland during the 1980s who are even more pro-austerity than the Conservatives.
Only if May (or whomever the Conservatives choose to replace her, possibly Boris Johnson) fails to come to an agreement with DUP will Corbyn have an opportunity to form a minority government since Labour came in second place with just 261 seats. He would need roughly 65 seats from other parties to create a governing majority. Given his failure to lead his own Labour MPs effectively and the outright refusal of the Liberal Democrats who have 12 seats to enter a Labour-led coalition, there is really no scenario in which Corbyn becomes Prime Minister out of this election.
So what Britain is facing is the “coalition of chaos” May warned about – except she is leading it instead of Corbyn (and with terrorist sympathizers, no less). A shaky DUP-Conservative coalition government is nothing to celebrate and would be further to the right than the previous government.
Labour gained 31 seats at the expense of the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party (SNP) in an election that should have resulted in a Labour majority. By every metric – economy, living standards, terrorism, National Health Service, an unnecessary Brexit referendum that yielded a catastrophic result – Conservative rule since 2010 has been a disaster, or more accurately, a series of disasters. The policies codified in Labour’s 2017 election manifesto were manifestly popular with the electorate and yet the man chosen to be the party’s standard bearer was manifestly unpopular.
Corbyn was and remains a liability. May tried to capitalize on that by calling a snap election to enlarge her majority and then ran what can charitably be described as a dumpster fire of a campaign, refusing media interviews, refusing to debate Corbyn face to face (she could not be bothered so she sent Amber Rudd to debate on her behalf even though Rudd’s father died 48 hours prior), refusing to include her own ministers in writing the Conservative Manifesto, flip-flopping on their manifesto over and over.
The snap election played to Corbyn’s strength (probably his only strength) as a lifelong backbencher in parliament – campaigning as a beleaguered underdog for seemingly lost causes. Corbyn beat extremely low expectations handily; compared to May, Corbyn was demonstrably strong and stable. So instead of being electorally obliterated, Labour made modest but insufficient gains.
The inconclusive results of the 2017 general election and the political contradictions it unleashed make another snap election a real possibility. Labour will have to win over 60 seats – twice the gains of this election – to form a Labour government. ‘Jez We Can’ remains to be seen.