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35 The Absolute Corbyn Jeremy Gilbert Even at the start of the June 2017 election campaign, nobody expected Labour to achieve the vote share of over 40 per cent that it eventually won. This was a 10 per cent increase on the last election, just two years previously. Labour hasn’t seen such a large increase in vote share since 1945, when then there had not been an election for ten years. How did it happen? How did this historic turnaround occur, and what did it mean? To answer this question, we have to understand the genesis of Corbynism, some of its internal dynamics, and where they might be heading in the future. It’s easy to forget now how unexpected Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader was in 2015. At the start of the leadership campaign, bookies were offering odds of 100/1 against Corbyn winning. Neither he nor his closest advisors thought his chances any better than that. Two years on, after Trump’s election, the Brexit vote and the surprise of the general election, we are becoming accustomed to unprecedented and unexpected outcomes. In fact, it is becoming clear that we are now in a new historical moment, wherein many of the typical assumptions of the previous era no longer apply, even if it is not yet wholly clear what our new assumptions should be. This new era is one in which digital platform technologies are increasingly becoming central to the organisation of many forms of social life. The election campaign was no exception. Mobile and online apps and platforms have vastly reduced the costs traditionally associated with organising large numbers of campaigners, making it possible for Labour and Momentum to mobilise thousands of activists at minimal cost. Online platforms similarly reduce the cost of producing and circulating media content, allowing fantastically successful viral campaigns to challenge the mainstream media’s antip7KH &RUE\Q(IIHFWLQGG  36 the corbyn effect 36 athy to Corbyn and his politics. All of this has coincided with the end of the long period of neoliberal hegemony in Britain. Just two years previously, Ed Miliband was derided as a marxist for proposing some regulation of the domestic energy market. In 2017, the Tories offered to do something remarkably similar themselves. LABOUR AND PARLIAMENT The UK is governed according to a classical parliamentary model, such that executive authority rests with the prime minister, who is almost invariably the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons (the elected legislature). Each Member of Parliament (MP) represents a single, geographically-defined constituency with a population of around 100,000. Unlike almost every other parliamentary system in the world, and unlike even the systems for election to all of the more recently created legislative bodies in the UK (such as the Scottish parliament), there are no proportional mechanisms in place to overcome the inevitable discrepancies which arise between the share of the popular vote won by each party nationally and their actual representation in the House of Commons. So a party, in theory, can achieve close to 20 per cent of the national vote without achieving any parliamentary representation, if that vote is not concentrated in any particular constituencies. This produces a situation not entirely unlike the American party system, and less like that in most European countries , such that the two main political parties are, by necessity, large and at times quite incoherent aggregations of different political traditions and interests. In any normal parliamentary system these disparate views would be represented by distinct political organisations. Within the Labour Party itself, the group of Labour Members of Parliament – the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) – has a specific role, in that the party leader must be drawn from this group. All leadership candidates must secure nomination from at least 15 per cent of the PLP membership to be allowed to stand in a national leadership election. During the Blair years, the party leadership took great pains to ensure that only individuals fitting a very narrow set of criteria, both ideologically and presentationally, were selected as MP candidates in winnable parliamentary constituencies – which of course influenced the membership of the PLP. There was less that the Blairite leadership could do to ensure that the actual overall membership of 7KH&RUE\Q(IIHFWLQGG  The Absolute Corbyn 37 37 the party conformed to their idea of what good citizens should look like. Instead, various mechanisms were introduced to ensure that that membership, and particularly the local party organisations in...


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