Firstly and crucially, just in case this myth hasn’t been comprehensively debunked for everyone yet; Labour never promised to abolish existing student debt. No pledge. No promise. No bullet point in the manifesto.
The ridiculous distortions whipped up by the media aside, some have criticised Corbyn for outlining an ambition so close to Election Day, suggesting that it would inevitably be viewed as a manifesto pledge. I see no issue in outlining in an interview longer term ambitions outside of short term manifesto pledges. The 2010-2015 parliament showed us that often manifestos are not fit for a full parliament. There were times when Parliament was effectively inactive under the Coalition, so highlighting longer term ideas showcases a party’s plan for being a long term credible government in waiting, rather than ticking boxes to win votes in the short term.
Some have even gone as far as calling Corbyn deliberately deceitful. We’ve all seen the press media’s desperate attempts to seize on a ‘gotcha’ moment and slam the leader of the opposition.
So, what does this tell us? For one, the Tories and the establishment are terrified. They strutted into the snap election, primed to wipe Labour off the face of the electoral map. They hubristically ran a Presidential campaign to capitalise on May’s perceived popularity and highlight Corbyn’s flaws. They arrogantly churned out a weak, close-minded manifesto that took their own base for granted. They horrendously miscalculated.
Corbyn’s election campaign was not stellar, it was not free of flaws and missed opportunities, but it was solid. Corbyn is comfortable on the stump, he’s comfortable addressing large crowds, and he’s comfortable engaging with voters like a human being. Three things ‘Maybot’ proved to be utterly inept at. The country did not overlook this contrast. This was the worst Tory campaign I have ever witnessed. Their manifesto proved to be the shortest suicide note in history. Their Presidential candidate proved robotic and cold. Their mantra of strong and stable proved to mean weak and wobbly after U-turns and gaffes.
The result speaks for itself, and the Tories are rightly terrified, not just of the Labour Party, but of the Corbyn phenomenon. It’s no secret that Labour won extraordinary support from young voters and traditional non-voters, and it’s generally accepted Corbyn was a major factor behind this. His honest, straight-talking brand of principled politics was a breath of fresh air to those disillusioned with the established order, while his empathy and policies resonated with the consistently let-down under-25 generation. This has not gone unnoticed at Tory HQ or Fleet Street.
You can almost hear the panicked then excited conversations that would’ve taken place. They knew non-voters loved his honesty. They had to paint him as a liar. They knew students and young voters, so often deceived and mistreated by political parties, loved his future student fees abolition. They had to convince them to stay in bed for the next election. They chose existing student debt as their line of attack. Because Corbyn expressed a long ambition about alleviating student debt, a denial that this was an election promise provided a tenuous opportunity. But the way the papers have read this week you’d think Labour had scored an own goal. Sadly for the Maybots, these desperate attempts to turn the young against Corbyn, and to tarnish his honest image, have failed to connect with the electorate. The Murdoch rags have run out of truthful criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn and have turned to outright lies that the electorate is done buying.
Something else this whole furore tells us is that very few people actually read manifestos. While this hardly sounds like a ground-breaking revelation, maybe it should be. When this fictional story broke, many believed it. Many Labour voters believed it. Fortunately, the rebuttal was strong and had truth on its side. But it’s disturbing that there was that initial belief, as it shows very few people read party manifestos. I find that a depressing thought. There are people across the world that would give a limb to have a democratic choice where they can judge their representatives by a programme of legislative pledges. Our votes are like gold dust, and we consistently undervalue their importance, and the privilege they provide us. When we vote in a General Election, we are signing a social contract with our representatives. In any other scenario, when would we sign a contract without reading it first?
I’m inclined to feel that Corbyn’s Labour could have won a landslide victory had every elector read the two manifestos, as there was nothing that even resembled a contest in that arena. Democracy is dependent on an informed electorate, but until we start providing our children with a broader political education at secondary school level, we can’t be surprised when people who get all their information from the Daily Mail are drawn to Brexit, Farage and xenophobia.
It is clear that this whole news cycle has been fuelled by nothing but lies, desperation and fear, but what we can learn from it is telling. More value must be placed in party manifestos, and off the strength of Labour’s most recent one, that value may well be increasing. This ‘news’ story will have done nothing but contribute to this enigma. The Tories and the Establishment are still throwing mud, but it’s not sticking anymore. The Corbyn phenomenon far from dying out, is growing. Labour are on the charge, and this wounded government is limping towards electoral oblivion. The establishment are running scared. You know what? They should be.