Thursday night was a spectacular night for Labour, something most people never thought would happen under Jeremy Corbyn. The much maligned Labour leader deserves full credit and huge applause for the result he and his team earned. It was a tremendous campaign ran by the Labour leader, focusing on a positive, hope filled message while teasing and poking at the inward focused Conservative campaign.
As positive as the results and the data from polling day are for Labour, might this be the peak of the rollercoaster for Labour under Corbyn? Benefitting from an opposition running one of the worst election campaigns in British political history and their own campaign with little Prime Ministerial pressure placed on it, Labour might struggle to advance much higher and this stunning result could turn out to be the high watermark for Labour under Corbyn.
Catastrophic Conservative Campaign
Labour are in the best position to win an election since 1992 according to the Fabian Society, it was a remarkable campaign and election for Corbyn’s Labour. However it may be the beneficiary of a series of factors that helped the Labour vote to soar, factors that won’t be repeated and therefore makes the likelihood of a future Labour majority still unlikely.
The first factor is the disaster that was Theresa May’s campaign. Devoid of all positivity, a manifesto poorly planned with very few uplifting policies then avoiding debates, dementia tax and fox hunting all contributed to a plummeting public opinion on the Conservative leader who was effectively the entire Conservative election pitch. The string of errors and mistakes hurt the Conservative vote and helped Labour, it is almost certain that a campaign this bad will not be repeated for Labour to take advantage of.
In all likelihood the Conservatives will also have a new face to rally around in the next election, almost any MP would improve on Theresa May’s personality and public interactions which proved to be a useful Labour attack point in this election. The one small positive from the Conservative campaign is Ruth Davidson leading a strong push in Scotland, should this continue and more seats north of the border turn blue this would also make a Labour majority tougher whenever the next election is held.
Labour themselves were also boosted by background factors within their own campaign. The party went in to the election with no one, maybe not even Corbyn himself, expecting Labour to form a government and Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister. What this meant during the campaign was Labour MPs, particularly those unfriendly to Corbyn’s leadership, could realistically say to the electorate, ‘you can vote for me and not worry about putting Corbyn into power. ’ There is evidence of Labour MPs distancing themselves from the leadership and utilising the slim chance of seeing Jeremy Corbyn becoming PM, ths could have gained the party extra votes. It is unlikely this set of circumstances will occur again next time Britain goes to the polls.
The story of this election was about youth turnout, 66.4% of 18-24 year olds voted in this election contrasted with just 43% of this demographic voting in 2015. This begs the question of whether this high turnout is repeatable and if it is possible to increase that percentage in order to make a majority. It would seem unlikely as the Corbyn factor and freshness wears off and the messages he provides become stale. Of course it is entirely possible that this election signals the start of record youth voting and if numbers rise further then Labour are likely to be major benefactors.
The final factor is the division spreading through British politics with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn heading to the right and left extremes of politics. With neither side willing to try and take votes from both of politics extremes and both reaching 40% vote share, it means there is a ceiling to their vote that lies not much higher than 40%. Splitting the electorate in such a way inevitably lowers the potential reach as right leaning voters gradually move more right with the Conservatives and Labour voters do the same in the other direction.
This division, particularly in the current two party state, makes even medium sized majorities highly unlikely unless one party decides to take votes from not just their own side but reaches across the political divide to win votes from the other.
Due to this perfect storm of electoral circumstances, although Labour should be delighted with their performance and are in a better position to win than in past decades, MPs and voters should be wary of becoming too optimistic. Jeremy Corbyn, certainly staying as Labour leader, might be wise to take note of these circumstances and potentially tack to the centre to appeal to more Conservative voters otherwise the 2017 election might turn out to be the high watermark for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.