Campaigners from global citizens´ movement Avaaz demonstrate after UK general elections Campaigners from global citizens´ movement Avaaz demonstrate after UK general elections (Photo: Avaaz / Flickr)

We asked a number of voters to explain the political earthquake that shook the UK last week and to say what the opposition parties should do next.

In an election, unlike in an opinion piece, everybody (well, almost everybody) gets a say. For that reason, instead of using this space to express my own opinions about the last week’s remarkable general election, I draw on the expertise of several thoughtful friends. With them being my friends, there isn’t a single Tory voter amongst them (nor do I tend to hang out with many supporters of the DUP), but there is a healthy range of views, some useful insights into the circumstances that produced the unexpected outcome and a few very good ideas as to how progressive political forces might try to move things on.

Who did you vote for?

Joanne: Labour. We had a great Labour MP till 2010 and have been suffering under a conservative one ever since. I couldn’t bring myself to vote Liberal Democrats tactically.
Ralph: I didn’t because I can’t. But I would have voted for Labour because the Tory manifesto was borderline fascist.
Akin: I voted Labour as I can’t imagine voting Conservative. Labour doesn’t seem to be about the preservation of privilege unlike the Tories.
Richard: I voted Lib Dem with no great enthusiasm; I might well have abstained. It’s the first time I’ve not voted Labour at a GE. Jeremy Corbyn fought an excellent campaign and obviously enthused people. In spite of this I found it hard to contemplate voting for the party while he is leader. Mainly, that’s because I thought the leadership team in the front bench was 1) incompetent and 2) has an over-simplistic view of the world, in which ‘US imperialism’ is the principal obstacle to all progressive change.
Laura: Lib Dem. Voting for them was, in my seat, the only realistic prospect of ousting the Tory MP. Also, they are the only party remotely reflecting my position on Brexit, the most urgent issue facing the UK, although perhaps not on every other issue. Also, the candidate was Vince Cable, who I think is a useful presence in any Parliament.
John: Labour. The Conservatives had already proven themselves to be unusually cruel and glib about the conditions of Britain’s poorest and most marginalised and had to be stopped. Meanwhile Labour had a left-wing, progressive, class-conscious leader and a manifesto that dared to make the case for public spending rather than more cuts.
Rich: I voted for Labour because as a socialist it is the first (and hopefully not last) chance I have had to vote for a mainstream socialist party.
Andrew: I voted Labour, because Labour had an actual mildly Keynesian anti-austerity programme, and to support Corbyn.
Dan: I voted Liberal Democrats because traditionally in my constituency Labour can’t win. At the time I still hoped for a kind of progressive alliance as the best hope to beat the Tories. As it happened Labour and Lib Dem were quite close, so I’ll just get on the Jeremy bandwagon next time.

Are you surprised at the result?

Joanne: Yes, I am. The rise in Labour votes was reflected in many areas, although not enough to oust the Conservatives. Plus, it was a real change to the local elections where Labour came 3rd behind the Lib Dems.
Ralph: No.
Akin: I’m not too surprised because I didn’t expect Corbyn to win.
Richard: A little bit. Although I think in retrospect it’s perfectly explicable.
Laura: Yes. Huge understatement. I’d done my reading, and I have a friend who’s a polling statistician in Ipsos Mori who carefully explained to me before the election why the YouGov poll predicting a hung Parliament was utterly misleading! Neither of us have ever been so happy to be proved wrong.

Trump’s election had taught us never to hope again. Then the exit poll came…

John: Yes. Unless you seriously believed Labour were going to win, this was a much better result than we could have hoped for. The polls pointed to a defeat, the media coverage was relentlessly hostile; Trump’s election had taught us never to hope again; then the exit poll came…
Rich: Are you shitting me?! If I’d bet on a Tory-DUP coalition at the bookies, I’d now have so much money that I’d never have to pay tax again!
Andrew: I am surprised at the result. Part of me hoped there would be a hung parliament. But hope can be cruel, so I reduced my expectation to Labour getting 35 % of the vote, better than Miliband. None of the other canvassers on Thursday had a real clue what would happen. The only hopeful thing we knew was that the turnout was up in various parts of the country, including London, and there were queues to vote in university towns.
Dan: I am surprised by how volatile the electorate is. Given how reactionary the last two years have been, I thought this trend would continue. I guess the same detachment from establishment norms that fuelled Trump and Brexit can also be exploited by the left.

How do you explain the result?

Joanne: May’s obvious lack of humanity becoming more apparent by the day. The defensiveness of her campaign, the initial focus on Brexit, then random placing of other policies that were then fudged. Turtle and the Hare. Labour seemed to plug a way with a variety of policies and actually talked on the same level to the public. May always has a plinth between her and the public.
Ralph: The polls had forecast growth for Labour shortly before the election with 6% margin of error and the result was within that range.
Akin: I had a feeling that sufficient numbers of people were put off the more they got to really know Theresa May and keener on Corbyn the more they were exposed to him.
Richard: Austerity fatigue is an obvious factor. There are signs that it’s popping up all over the place, witness the way police cuts have become an issue in the wake of the London atrocities. More importantly, it’s obvious that younger people – 18-24s above all – have been won over by the student finance commitments. In addition, the Tories managed to alienate their core constituency – older folk – in the most incompetent and ill-thought out campaign I’ve ever witnessed. May was an utter disaster.
Laura: All I can do here is repeat what I’ve read: the youth vote is coming out for Corbyn after a great campaign. A terrible, arrogant campaign by May offering nothing to the young and alienating even her core support among the elderly. Rejection of hard Brexit. Rejection of a second independence referendum in Scotland.

Young people have been told that free education, affordable housing, stable jobs and public services – all a given for their parents’ generation – are now ‘unrealistic’. Corbyn gave them hope.

John: May’s abject campaign partially explains why this wasn’t the mauling some of us feared, but the big story is the gains that Labour made. People warmed to Corbyn as they saw more of him. Including many who couldn’t even articulate what he stood for – a theme that kept cropping was how he ‘wasn’t a typical politician’. In these discontented times, looking like a political insider puts voters off, that clearly mattered, especially among young people, who have effectively been told that free education, affordable housing, stable jobs and public services – all a given for their parents’ generation – are now ‘unrealistic’. Corbyn gave them hope.
Rich: JC’s campaign was, in the end, fabulous and offered a great deal to the country. TM’s was the complete opposite, offering nought but even more cuts. I think the Tories – with the help of their lunatic coalition mates – scraped in by the skin of their teeth because there are still a lot of people in the UK who would crawl naked over a mile of dogshit-smeared broken glass if it meant they had to pay less tax.
Andrew: Labour’s manifesto and Corbyn’s media persona, which was clearly to an extent his personality. The Corbyn surge started around the time the manifesto was leaked. An allotment – and a pot of jam for the One Show – helped dispel accusations of sympathising with terrorism.  Social media – yes!  Since Murdoch and Dacre weren’t in control of social media, that really helped. Momentum operation – My Nearest Marginal – and the masses of canvassers in some key seats.  Lib Dems thinking Labour represented a pro-Remain protest vote.  Ukippers thinking Labour had accepted Brexit.  A unity fudge around ‘defence’, which meant sitting on it.  The terrorist attacks weirdly didn’t help May. Instead, she was blamed for cuts in policing.
Dan: I can’t explain Scotland ditching SNP in favour of Tories except that there must be more strident anti-independence sentiment than I thought. People say the young vote helped Corbyn. Even her supporters recognise May had a bad campaign. If everyone gets behind Corbyn for the next, probably imminent, election than he could go all the way.

What do you think the opposition parties should do now?

Joanne: Join up with other parties to firm a progressive alliance. At least Labour has to capitalise on their success by finding out what made people vote for them.
Ralph: Keep Tories at bay in order to approach EU negotiations with much needed humility.
Akin: Expose Tory lies and hypocrisy, I suppose.

I’d like to see a clearer position on Europe from Labour. Until now Corbyn has kind of hedged his bets in order not to alienate too much the northern working class base. A positive Norway-option vision might attract centrists.

Richard: Well, I think that Corbyn needs to make Labour electable by drawing on the party’s knowledge and experience. I’d obviously like to see some moderates in the government – Chukka, Yvette etc. After all the party still lost by 50 odd seats and the Tories will get better if they replace May as is likely. Above all I’d like to see a clearer position on Europe from Labour. Until now Corbyn has kind of hedged his bets in order not to alienate too much the northern working class base. A positive Norway-option vision including free movement in Europe might attract centrists. But it’s hard to see him going in that direction.
Laura: Corbyn is riding high and needs to seize his chance to sock it to the Tories at every opportunity. I know his natural style is not flashy or combative but I think he’s going to need to add a little of that to please his new wave of supporters. He needs to continue to engage the young. The different elements of the left need to learn to form pragmatic alliances, even if they’re uneasy ones at times. The right has always been much better at that. Above all, push for the softest Brexit possible, and a second referendum on the final deal. It’s not only the right thing to do but will probably be electorally popular.
John: Two threats loom – a hard Brexit and further cuts. With UKIP hopefully obliterated, these two measures will now be owned completely by a shambolic Conservative Party that, although riven with divisions and uncertain of its mandate, still represents the political establishment. The opposition, including a bigger, more confident Labour, must repeat ad nauseum that if the Conservatives continue to push for either, it will be in the service of the rich and powerful, not Britain, not the working class. If they can block these measures, they will deprive this Conservative administration of any purpose, and maybe we will see the back of it sooner rather than later.
Andrew: In the short term: present an alternative budget; prepare for a possible election in the autumn; never stop campaigning and fighting against cuts and racism; target key Tory constituencies; build the independence current in the Scottish Labour Party. In the longer term: campaign for PR.
Dan: Work together! Articulate a joint vision of post-Austerity Nordic Keynsian soft-Brexit humane UK that doesn’t act like a school kid around EU officials and doesn’t reject refugees or use EU citizens as bargaining chips. Let the disgrace end!

Richard Willmsen

Richard Willmsen teaches English to politics students at a university in Rome and is the author of the blog Infinite Coincidence.


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