Don Brind reflects on a better than expected result
“Can I have one of those”, said a young woman as I was walking along the road with a bundle of leaflets in my south London constituency. She was on her way home to collect her boyfriend before going to vote. She was having trouble deciding how to vote. “Is there anything in particular that is worrying you”, I asked. “I’m worried about terrorist attacks. I’m not sure that Labour can tackle it.”
I launched into the argument that Theresa May had cut 20,000 police and Labour were going to recruit an extra 10,000 officers. Could we afford to pay for them, she asked. We couldn’t afford not to, I replied.
It struck home. She was nodding agreement. My follow up, that schools were facing 8% cuts in their budgets was a clincher – her sister was a teacher. “OK, I’m going to vote for you. My boyfriend will too.”
Back at the campaign centre I boasted that if our MP Rosena Allin-Khan survived by just two votes — it was down to me. All day I had been saying on doorsteps, with complete, conviction, this is going to be really close.
I had started the day taking numbers at my local polling station and one of my main fears was underlined when a man walked out saying, very apologetically, “I would have voted for you but I can’t vote for Corbyn. Sorry.”
But then a couple of hours later the Tory teller confided “I voted for Dr Rosena. I’m a Remainer.”
Another pointer to what was to unfold came when my wife, who’d taken over the clipboard, was told by a grey-haired man “I’ve never voted before but I’m voting for Jeremy.”
So Jeremy was a vote winner – but also, as I had argued persistently, a vote loser.
At the beginning of the campaign when key decisions are made about campaign material he looked like a drag on the campaign. That’s why it’s the face of Mayor Sadiq Khan that adorned leaflets in Tooting and in many other London seats.
But Corbyn supporters had long argued that Jeremy could be a vote winner if only people got the chance to see him as they saw him. And the great joy of a British General Election is that the broadcasters give equal time to the parties. Jeremy got his chance. Armed with his little red book – the For the Many not the Few manifesto — he took it.
With ten days to go I tweeted that I was wrong about him and that he had grown into the job.
Something important was also happening at street level. Corbyn fans and Corbyn sceptics, who last year were arguing and voting over whether he should be replaced, were working side by side and developing a mutual respect. Momentum followers, sometimes derided as clicktivists and slacktivists, were there doing the hard slog alongside veterans of many campaigns. It won’t have been lost on MPs, who saved seats that looked in jeopardy or those who gained seats.
The campaign succeeded – up to a point. There is a huge amount of work still to do.
Thrusting the “weak and wobbly” Theresa May into hung Parliament agony was a big achievement. It has stopped, grammar schools, the dementia tax, foxhunting, hopefully, hard Brexit.
Austerity will, however, continue. Theresa May sacked George Osborne but his ghost still haunts the Treasury. That means living standards will carry on falling, the crisis in the NHS will continue school budgets will be cut — because Labour did, after all, lose the election.
Jeremy Corbyn faces a new and different challenge when MPs return to Westminster to engage them in preparing for the next election, whenever it comes.
In a charming exchange with Newsnight’s Nick Watt he offered his critics a group hug. It’s the right spirit.
He will, of course, feel great loyalty to the front benchers who have supported him over the past year and during the campaign but he also needs to recognise that there are a lot of talented and articulate people outside their ranks. How he embraces them will go a long way to deciding whether Labour can build on 2017 or whether 40% and 262 MPs turns out to have been a high water mark.