As the party approaches its conference, Labour appears more united than it has for years. And for the first time in a long time, many of us are optimistic about the left.
Jeremy Corbyn has a lot to thank Owen Smith for.
Let me explain. Exactly a year ago this Sunday, the result came in for a leadership challenge that probably should never have happened. But it arguably set the party on a trajectory where victory at the next election seems, whisper it, more likely than not.
In August 2016, Corbyn was still popular among party members – in fact, more popular than he had ever been. And the ‘opposition’ to the Labour leader – for all its sometimes valid critiques – was, it has to be said, disparate and devoid of ideas. It was clear that they were against the individual, but not clear what policies and vision they wanted in his place.
Nonetheless, in the wider public, a divided Labour was losing support.
And then the result came in – 62% opted for Jeremy Corbyn, up from 60% in 2015. With it, came among most quarters an acceptance that, right, this is it now. Await a heavy General Election defeat and start again after.
But (the appearance of) unity is a powerful thing. The announcement of an arrogant snap election followed months of developing a clear message – something honed by a manifesto that few in the party could reject. Labour was, perhaps unexpectedly, able to contest weak, defensive Tory messages about stability with a core progressive narrative.
A year on from Owen Smith’s leadership challenge, the tables have completely turned. A poll yesterday showed Jeremy Corbyn is entering conference season with a higher leadership rating than Theresa May – a fact that would have been unthinkable last year.
The Conservatives are battered, bruised and embittered at May for her election folly. And in contrast to Cabinet members writing counter-manifestos and leadership challenges in newspapers, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet look stronger than for years.
In an interview with The Guardian today, Corbyn says:
“The election has changed politics in this country. We are now the mainstream. The government lacks any sense of direction. They are hiding behind parliamentary power grabs to avoid scrutiny.”
And he notes that a Boris Johnson-esque rant ‘would not happen’ in Labour now. All of this rings true.
Labour is entering conference season in an extremely strong position. Theresa May is cornered both in Europe and in her own party.
And, crucially, Labour, for perhaps the first time since the referendum, have a solid stance on Brexit – and one it’s expected will be strengthened further in the coming days. They have squared the circle: retaining working-class support while keeping metropolitan Remainers on side.
As Theresa May speaks in Florence, she stands alone. Corbyn, meanwhile, looks more statesmanlike than ever.
And for the first time in a long time, many of us are optimistic about the left.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
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