Labour has rarely been so excited about losing. What does it mean for the party and is this excitement justified?
This was the election that everyone lost, but perhaps given how low expectations were for Jeremy Corbyn, he lost it the least. His party gained seats when it was expected to lose them, and in doing so prevented the Conservatives from achieving a majority.
Had the party haemorrhaged votes, Jeremy Corbyn’s position would have looked shaky. As it is, the – relative – success makes Corbyn seem largely unassailable. Crucially, his supporters in the membership will feel vindicated in their support for him – despite the failure to win.
It is easy to discount the Labour Party under Corbyn, however it now faces a Government with an incredibly slim majority. The Conservative’s weakness has the potential to become Labour’s strength.
In the last Parliament the party did wring concessions out of the Government, most notably through the deft work or shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer. That was with a Conservative majority in Parliament. If Labour can work with left-leaning opposition parties; they need only to persuade half a dozen or so Conservatives to vote with them to force Government concessions. There will be plenty of room for Labour to generate mischief in the coming five years.
The party also looks set to chair more Select Committees in this new Parliament too, at the expense of the Conservatives and the SNP. These could well include the committees for transport, business and energy, and exiting the EU; allowing the party to set the agenda through inquiries and consultations. In recent years these committees have grown in stature and influence, and they will be an important conduit for Labour to influence Government policy.
However, this assumes Corbyn is able to exert control over his own party. He is a conviction-politician who has found himself politically at odds with many of his colleagues, and struggled to find room for compromise. The dynamic between the leader and his MPs will be one to watch over the coming months – including who he appoints to his Shadow Cabinet. If he reaches out to the brightest and the best, then Labour might be a force to be reckoned with, but if the leader’s office focuses on protecting Corbyn first and foremost, it will weaken itself in doing so.
Labour is at a turning point. The party has regained momentum, but it has also lost three elections in a row and its leader is perhaps lucky that his opponent’s campaign was so poor. Labour could win the next election on the basis of this campaign, but May and Corbyn were both widely regarded as unexciting choices, and –assuming they both stay in post – the UK is unlikely to be enthused by another election with the same candidates in five years’ time.