Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the leader of the Labour Party in September 2015 to waves of enthusiasm from much of the so-called British left. The MP for Islington won a record mandate and thus the UK’s largest opposition party was headed, not by a neo-liberal centre-rightist, but by an ardent, open, loud-and-proud socialist.
There was widespread jubilation and membership to his party swelled. A generation previously labelled as apathetic were seemingly swept up by it all and Momentum – a vehicle for the Corbynista Labour Party – was born.
Fast forward a year and Corbyn won another election, this time post-Brexit, with an increased mandate and an even bigger membership base.
Jump ahead another six months though and a snap election has been called and much of the early optimism has been replaced by groaning pessimism as Theresa May sits around 20 points up in the polls.
What went wrong?
Well, it depends on who you ask. For Corbynistas the party’s struggles have been caused by a biased British press and the collusion of the political classes. It was the right-wing of the Labour party with their chicken coups and schemes. And despite widespread derision from many, these assertions are at least partially true.
The Blairite base of the party has never embraced Corbyn’s vision and has repeatedly demonstrated its antipathy for democracy in their attempts to circumvent the membership and establish Blairite control.
Yet these MPs failed miserably every time and the only winners were the Tories who were left off the hook after the referendum despite David Cameron’s resignation and the resulting leadership debacle. It’s also true that much of the press has been biased in its reporting of Labour and in particular its leader and his supporters.
Nevertheless, it is disingenuous to suggest that Corbyn himself doesn’t deserve at least some of the blame. His position has been made difficult but throughout his 18 months as leader he has failed to effectively convey his political message and has rather limply tried to keep all elements of his party together.
Only recently has he began announcing more progressive policies and even then they do not really gain traction with much of the public (again this is partially because of a lack of coverage). Corbyn is simply unable to play the game even remotely successfully, neither on social media nor with traditional media. His policies poll well but he doesn’t.
In the end the hope and enthusiasm of 2015 and then 2016 has not been translated into any real political gains. Corbyn has made little inroads, which of course wasn’t helped by Brexit. The problem is that much of the hope and enthusiasm generated by his rise to leader was probably misplaced.
People funnelled into the Labour Party believing it to be the answer despite the party long since adopting the mantras of neoliberalism and a well know lust for war. It was always going to be extremely difficult for Corbyn to wrestle back control of the party and a create a popular socialist movement.
Britain will of course be a better place if Corbyn somehow manages victory on June the 8th, but in the end politics doesn’t start or end at the ballot box. We should always remember that the next time we pin our hopes on the next new political leader.
That being said, it seems unlikely that anyone else could have done a better job in shorter period of time – Corbyn was always up against it. After all, he is trying to drastically change the nature of the Labour Party and that was never going to happen over night, despite his strong support amongst members.
Corbyn could chose to stay on even if Labour get smashed in June and in doing so continue down the slow, arduous path of trying to change the party apparatus from within. However, Labour becoming a force for positive change seems unlikely, no matter how well intentioned Corbyn is.