There are times when you can respect your political enemies and pay tribute to them for fighting for what they believe in, but this is not one of them. Because the humiliation of Theresa May is the humiliation of a politician who believed in nothing but herself, and was motivated by nothing but an utterly selfish determination to tighten her grip on power and perpetuate her party’s disastrous rule into the indefinite future regardless of the consequences.
Now the fairweather friends who flocked round her because they thought it would further their own careers are undoubtedly sharpening their knives, and even the Tory tabloid pack of hounds are barking around her tarnished jodhpurs. Justice has been served, and it has rarely been so richly deserved. Because ever since May called the election that she had promised seven times that she would never call, she has been grimacing her way across the country, insulting the intelligence of the public with arid meaningless slogans and half-baked platitudes that made a mockery of the English language, not to mention any notion of political transparency or honesty.
It has been disgraceful, shameful, shambolic, contemptuous and contemptible, and now she is reaping the just reward for her epic arrogance and ineptitude. For once, in these dark dishonest times, a disreputable and dishonest fraud has been comprehensively exposed, and the satisfaction is only enhanced by the fact that it’s entirely her own fault.
Some might say that celebrations are premature. After all, May is still in power and the Tories won the election. They are about to form a government with (ahem) the DUP. But everything in politics is relative, and the very fact that such an arrangement is even necessary is a testament to May’s failure. Seven weeks ago, May was twenty points up in the polls. She had a 17-seat majority. She was expected to gain some 400-odd seats and put Labour out of power for a generation. She pretended that she needed a democratic mandate to negotiate when what she really wanted was a huge majority that would have turned parliament into a rubber-stamp machine.
She and all her supporters knew this and expected it. All this had nothing to do with the national interest, but only May’s own interests and the interests of the Tory party. On the eve of some of the most crucial negotiations in the history of the country, she chose to take a little time out to play political games and take advantage of the Labour Party’s seeming disarray.
Now she knows what disarray looks like and she knows what it feels like to have your democratic butt comprehensively kicked. She has no majority and no mandate. She is diminished domestically and diminished in Europe. She might continue to babble about stability but she is damaged goods. Her government is shipping water, and even though the DUP caulking may enable her to limp into Brussels, it is doubtful that it will bring her back with the deal she supposedly wanted – assuming she ever really knew what she wanted.
Faced with an almost impossible negotiating timetable, she has shortened it further, and she now enters the negotiations with her credibility in shreds. This is Mission Impossible with Mrs Doubtfire not Tom Cruise lowering herself into the negotiating chamber. Yet even now, when that reckless and irresponsible gamble has collapsed, she and her minions are still lying, still trying to act as if none of this has happened, still frantically trying to pretend that somehow this is what they wanted all along. But as the old saying goes, you can’t fool all the people all the time, and this is one pig that won’t fly.
So all this is worth celebrating, but there is a lot more than mere schadenfreude to shout about. Against all expectations, Labour increased its share of the vote to some 43 percent and gained 30-odd seats with the most leftwing manifesto since 1945. Corbyn achieved this despite the opposition of the majority of his own MPs – including the hideous spectacle that took place after the referendum, when he, not Cameron, was booed and heckled by his own party.
He achieved it in the face of an unrelenting campaign of vilification, waged with all the lack of scruple for which our press is famous, supported by many of his own MPs. But throughout this assault he never buckled, descended to the depths inhabited by his enemies, or abandoned his basic ideas and principles. In the last week the Tories and the tabloids have dived even deeper into the gutter and disgracefully used two savage terrorist massacres, in an attempt to portray him as a terrorist apologist and sympathiser.
None of this worked. Millions of people ignored the lies, smears and propaganda and made their own judgments about Corbyn and his politics, and they clearly liked what they saw. So this is a political and personal triumph and vindication for him that is absolutely deserved. And it isn’t just a consequence of the catastrophic Tory campaign: it is also a tribute to the great campaign that he and his team fought, and to the movement that believed in him and campaigned for him even when pessimists – including myself- believed that the Corbyn project could not prevail.
There have been some mutterings from the Labour right that Labour would have won if Corbyn had not been the leader, but this is nonsense. Does anybody seriously believe that Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper or Owen Smith could have done this – let alone done better? For the first time, a vote for Labour really was a vote against austerity, and millions of voters saw that and took notice, and all this is entirely due to Corbyn and his team.
No wonder the left feels empowered, thrilled and inspired, and those emotions won’t easily be dissipated, especially now that the Corbyn campaign has connected with the young – the young whose future has so cynically and selfishly been taken away from them, who successive governments have saddled with debt, falling real wages, zero hour contracts, internships, tuition fees and the glorious prospect of working till they are 75.
Yesterday these voters turned out in record numbers to vote Labour. They discovered that their votes can sometimes make a difference, and it’s difficult to believe this experience will be forgotten. A new political generation has made its voice heard for the first time, and the stale, rancorous reactionary politics of the last few years no longer seem inevitable. No wonder the tabloids are panicking. No wonder Nigel Farage is talking of a comeback. All that is a tribute to Corbyn’s character, his politics and his message, and the movement that he inspired.
Of course there are issues that have yet to be addressed. Brexit still hangs over the country like a pall, and it remains to be seen how a Corbyn government – let alone a minority government – would deal with the negotiations, or how it could implement its program when the economy nosedives.
The Labour right may have suffered a defeat, but some of its members will undoubtedly continue to conspire behind the scenes and undermine the Corbyn project. Labour’s antipathy to alliances does not bode well, should Corbyn find himself obliged to form a minority government. It still seems incredible to me that Labour refused to stand down against Zac Goldsmith,even though it had no chance of winning, and allowed yet another Tory charlatan to scrape through by forty-odd votes.
There will probably have to be another election, and even the Tories may learn from their mistakes. The attempts to destroy Corbyn will be stepped up. Boris Johnson may become Tory leader.
All this may happen, and it may or may not go well. But for now, it is possible to imagine a different future beyond the dread mantra There Is No Alternative, and the country suddenly feels like a better place to live in than it did yesterday, and I can only say, as Margaret Thatcher did many years ago in very different circumstances, rejoice, rejoice.