They were the seven days that shook the world. Or, at least, the British political world as viewed by the “experts”.
For those of us who had championed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership from the start, it was a sweet moment when the clock struck 10pm and David Dimbleby read out the findings of the 2017 general election exit poll.
After two years of being abused and ridiculed for backing a man who was “unelectable”, we were finally vindicated.
Of course, it would have been even better to win outright but, despite the churlishness of Labour MP Chris Leslie (and the laughable claim by a former Tony Blair adviser that the election had been “easily winnable”), this was a result of historic proportions.
Literally. This was the biggest increase in any party’s general election vote since Clement
Attlee’s landslide victory in 1945. It was the first time Labour had made a net gain of seats since Blair’s first win in 1997.
Labour got 40% of the vote. To put that in context, Blair comfortably won the 2005 general election with a 35% share.
John McDonnell reckons that Labour would have overtaken Theresa May’s Tories with just two more weeks of campaigning.
May was expecting a huge majority and told us she was the only leader who could safely negotiate Brexit but, a week later, she is still struggling to do a deal with a fringe party that will give her a workable government.
It was an extraordinary achievement for Labour.
But just think how much greater the achievement might have been if the MPs who gave Corbyn a standing ovation when he returned to the Commons had got behind him from the start.
Labour were still leading the Tories by one point at the local elections in May last year. The post-referendum coup by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) not only wiped out that lead, but meant the party began this year’s campaign at least 20 points behind.
I have written before about how we therapists use a technique known as priming. It is very simple: if you suggest to someone that something will happen, then it is much more likely that something will actually happen.
Imagine the collective effect on the electorate of being told repeatedly that Corbyn was unelectable – not just by the Tories and their friends in the media but also by his own party colleagues.
Blair, Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and any number of MPs were given the freedom of the media to dismiss Corbyn as a no-hoper who would destroy the party.
His PLP enemies kept saying this was an issue that came up on the doorsteps. Of course it did – and they had encouraged it.
When I went knocking on doors during the election campaign, I did hear a small number of people saying they wouldn’t vote for a party led by Corbyn. Why? They didn’t really know. They just knew it. People are influenced by what they hear – and what they heard from so many Labour MPs was that they shouldn’t vote Labour.
Add to that all the anti-Labour messages that were gleefully passed on by an ever-grateful Tory press (and even the BBC):
:: The Tories would win a huge majority (as much as 150, according to one Daily Telegraph story – though even that would have been less than Labour’s 1997 majority of 179).
:: Labour were going to be wiped out and their vote share could even drop into the teens.
:: The Lib Dems were going to pick up huge numbers of Labour votes with their EU stance.
:: Labour was going to be crushed by the Tories in Wales.
:: Labour would win nothing in Scotland.
None of this happened.
And the funny thing is that none of the experts saw this failing to happen – even though it was in plain sight.
While Theresa May crept around the country from one stage-managed set-up to another, Corbyn was out there in full view, talking to ever bigger crowds.
TV viewers might have struggled to see this, as the broadcasters’ interpretation of “impartiality” rules meant they gave equal weight to Corbyn speaking to a crowd of 20,000 people chanting his name as they did to May talking to 30 party members in a locked warehouse.
But those of us who witnessed it could see something big was going on. When Corbyn visited my home town, on a weekday lunchtime, he had to deliver his speech twice – once
indoors, then again from a balcony outside – because there were far too many people to get in the hall. Crowds lined both sides of the river, and some people even waded in to hear him speak.
And it wasn’t just Corbyn. The election campaign made stars of other shadow ministers such as Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner.
This was pretty much unprecedented in modern politics. Yet even then most of the press failed to spot what was happening.
Because they didn’t want to see it. And they didn’t want to see it because that wasn’t the story they wanted to write. Their agenda was the one described above: a Tory landslide, the crushing of Labour, and the humiliation of Jeremy Corbyn.
I have been a journalist for 40 years, and I know how these things work. Only this time it didn’t work the way it was supposed to.
May’s Tories won the biggest number of seats but this did not feel like a victory for her most enthusiastic press backers. John Prescott tweeted on election night that he heard Rupert Murdoch had stormed out of the Sun’s party when he heard the exit poll.
Murdoch famously likes backing winners, and on the night of June 8, Theresa May did NOT look like a winner.
The decline in the political influence of the national press has been predicted for some time, but this election was almost certainly the first in which social media were more important than the traditional media.
Interestingly, a poll by Survation (one of the companies that accurately predicted the election result) suggested two days afterwards that Labour already held a SIX-POINT lead.
And this is priming in action again. Many people didn’t vote Labour because they had
been convinced that Corbyn was unelectable and that Labour were going to be heavily defeated.
When they saw this demonstrably wasn’t the case, and that the “strong and stable” May had been proved to be just weak, they switched their support.
And that could make future elections more interesting. We have no idea when the next one will come, but it’s quite conceivable that it could be before the end of the year.
If Labour are still in the lead and looking popular, what is Murdoch to do?
He was able to back Labour in 1997 because – whether or not there was a pact between them – he knew Blair would do nothing to damage his business interests. But he certainly wouldn’t have the same expectation of a Corbyn government.
So would he continue to back the Tories, knowing they were likely to lose?
It would be very painful for him…especially if he knew his once-mighty papers had lost their ability to influence the voters.
One thing is certain. The neoliberal consensus of the past 38 years has been smashed and the British political scene is now irrevocably changed – by a man who was derided as being weak and having no electoral appeal.
The experts might not have seen this coming, but those of us who joined or rejoined the Labour Party in the last two years did.
Seven days have passed since the election, and Britain already looks a very different place. With a leader who is now regarded as electable after all, the Labour Party has everything to play for.