The election results are in and I have to say I’m surprised. No, stunned. Floored. Like Labour supporters everywhere this morning, I just can’t make sense of it.
What’s puzzling me is not the party’s exceptional performance, but the long line of commentators, pundits and politicians now shaking their heads in disbelief. Having spent nearly two years kicking Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, and vilifying their supporters, they convinced themselves the pair were nothing but, at best, a pair of incompetent losers; at worst, dangerous, even treacherous, ideologues. They predicted doom at the polls because, as we all know, the British don’t like losers and they don’t like IRA-loving Marxist vegetarians who secretly want to tax your gardens and surrender the country to Islamists. A very few have had the decency to apologise.
They say that Corbyn performed better than expected (more accurately, better than they expected). They point to May’s disastrous and mean-spirited campaign (no argument there). They note that the young were mobilised, the elderly scared, and the manifesto was bright, sensible and attractive. All true, to some degree. But there’s more to it than this, and actually it’s no mystery. Any one of the tens of thousands of selfless activists who went out in rain and shine to knock on doors for Labour could tell you: the reason Corbyn-led Labour did so well is because poverty and inequality are now at levels that would embarrass even the most brazen kleptocracy of the most corrupt banana republic. And they trust Corbyn’s Labour to do something about it.
Allow me to introduce you to Diane. I know of Diane through one of the modern right’s current hate figures – a Momentum activist. He’s a solicitor in Hackney who specialises in housing law. Diane is one of his clients. Diane is not her real name, but everything else I’m about to write about her is true. She was born and bred in Hackney. A single mother of four boys, she works as a dinner lady in a local school where she is on a zero-hours contract. That means there’s no holiday entitlement and no sick pay. Simply put: if she doesn’t turn up for work, for whatever reason, she doesn’t get paid.
One day last year, Diane didn’t turn up for work. It wasn’t a bad back or a cold, or because she couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed that morning. It was because her eldest son, still living at home in their rented housing association flat, had killed himself. Depression set in, her absence from work got longer and her rent arrears mounted. Her financial difficulties took a turn for the worse with the bedroom tax. She had what the government now classed as a spare room – her dead son’s room – and she would have to pay extra for it. The debts piled up.
Diane was issued with warnings, and then a summons to appear in court. This is when my solicitor friend got involved. In spite of his efforts, in April this year, she was served an eviction notice. It was a Sunday when he told me about Diane. On the Tuesday, he said, the bailiffs would enter her home, remove her belongings and put her and her three sons on the street. What happens then, I asked? My friend explained that because Diane doesn’t tick any of the priority housing needs, she’ll be left to fend for herself.
You sit listening to this and you think: is it really possible in this day and age that a neighbour will be tossed like a piece of junk into the street? Aren’t there safety nets?
There aren’t, it turns out. And the tragedy of it is that Diane isn’t alone. At any one time, my friend is dealing with a dozen desperate people in similar situations. Up and down the land, there are countless people like Diane being punished for their poverty.
And, just in case you think Diane a one-off, let me introduce you to Amma (same deal, not her real name; the details are, unfortunately, all too true). Amma has been given leave to remain in the country but has “no recourse to public funds”. That means she is not allowed to work, nor is she allowed to claim benefits. She has three children, born in Hackney. After the father deserted the family, Amma eventually found shelter in a hostel in Hertfordshire, sharing a kitchen with nine other families. Every day, her children get up at 5am to travel to school. When they arrive, they are exhausted, hungry, and their clothes smell because Amma has no way to wash and dry them.
We’re coming up for 10 years of austerity. Ten years of turning the screw on Diane and Amma and millions like them, while the rich continue to plunder the country with grinning abandon. And you’re surprised that Labour did so well? Corbyn and McDonnell and their allies have spent their political lives denouncing the injustice of poverty and exclusion. They are now a hair’s breadth from being able to do something about it. Let’s put the infighting behind us and put our shoulders to the wheel. Let’s put May’s grisly new coalition out of its misery as soon as possible.