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Keith Geddes: I was wrong!

9th June 2017

I did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn in either of Labour’s election contests. I believed that his lengthy back catalogue of associations with a variety of causes would prove fatal during an election campaign. I did not believe that he would be seen as a serious prime ministerial contender. Frankly I was wrong.

And since 2015,when Ian Murray was Labour’s sole Scottish survivor at Westminster, I had doubts if Scottish Labour could survive, particularly as Corbyn was very much part of the Islington set.

True, there are those who will argue that Labour has just lost its third consecutive election, and that if Labour had a more mainstream leader, the party might have won. I disagree.

Looking at the result from a global perspective, Corbyn’s achievement reflects the deep cynicism that the electorate have of the western political elite. Whether it be Macron in France or Trump in the USA, political outsiders have benefitted from that cynicism and Corbyn did likewise.

Many thought that the campaign strategy of holding rallies throughout the UK was a mistake, similar to that made by Yes supporters during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – that these were essentially conversations with the faithful, rather than with the broader electorate.  But they clearly struck a wider chord and contrasted with the sterile, often abusive, campaign run by the Conservatives.

Key to Labour’s qualified success was its manifesto. Costed, specific and comprehensive it appealed to young voters in particular but, more importantly, its contents were acceptable to the wider party. Indeed Wilson or Kinnock could easily have produced a similar raft of policies. And the contrast with the Conservative manifesto was telling. No costings, a poorly thought-through social care policy and the inclusion of peripheral but emotive issues such as fox hunting made many perceive, ironically, that the Conservatives had returned to being a “nasty party”.

The Conservative’s biggest misjudgement was that they thought that this would be a “continuity election”.  Rather, it was a change election.  Sections of the UK electorate, tired of close on 10 years of austerity wanted a different approach.

And Corbyn deserves credit for raising far-reaching questions about the consequences of UK foreign policy at a time of the atrocities in Manchester and London.  He opened the door to a broader view of the effects of interventions in countries such as Libya and Iraq. He was also prepared to take on arguments about a nuclear “first strike” policy, although by the end of the campaign he was proposing “multilateral, not unilateral disarmament”.

So Labour is alive and kicking with the momentum (no pun intended) necessary to make further advances. Anyone who has watched the Conservative party’s difficulties with the European issue over the last 40 years will know that, more than likely, they will internally combust over the Brexit discussions.

More than anything this election reminds me of the February 1974 election. Called by Heath in the midst of the miners’ strike, the Conservatives asked the country: “Who do you want to govern Britain?”  The answer was a resounding: “not you mate!”  And, of course, that election was followed by a second one six months later.

Don’t bet against that happening again!

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Keith Geddes