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This is what Jeremy Corbyn needs to do to win this general election

He's got just eight weeks to turn it around

This is what Jeremy Corbyn needs to do to win this general election
18 April 2017

Tom Mendelsohn is a journalist from London. With a left-wing outlook, he has watched with growing discomfort as the Labour Party has been consumed by factions battling for control, which he believes puts at risk any chance of electoral victory. He’s not at all optimistic for the just-called snap general election scheduled for 8 June, but this is what he believes the party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn must do to avoid a rout or maybe – but probably not – sneak a win.

Let’s not kid ourselves: the Labour Party has a massive uphill struggle in the upcoming snap general election that Theresa May repeatedly promised she would never call. Embattled on all sides by a poisonous media – much of which should have known better – and constantly sabotaged by treacherous members of his own party, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is languishing in the polls, with the latest from ICM indicating that 44% intend to vote Tory, compared with 26% for Labour.

If the election were run on a flat percentage using those numbers, Labour would be staring down the barrel of one its most severe election wipeouts in history. Luckily, election swings aren’t usually quite so uniform, but at present precisely no-one expects the party to do anything other than lose seats when people vote in around eight weeks’ time on 8 June. Now you may well argue that it deserves to lose these seats after its MPs have so frequently knifed each other in the back, or you may believe, erroneously, that Corbyn isn’t a fit leader, but the fact is, a vote for the Conservatives is a vote to kill people.

It’s a vote to stifle the NHS, it’s a vote to cut vital benefits to the most vulnerable in society, and it’s a vote to keep on indiscriminately bombing the Middle East. The fact is, anyone who considers themselves a leftie or a liberal simply has to vote Labour (or, I accept, Green in places like Brighton, and even the Liberal Democrats in certain LD-Conservative marginals).

But all is not lost. The pollsters have, fairly famously, been quite wrong during a series of global elections. And perhaps in anticipation of a snap election Corbyn has made a series of strong, popular policy announcements in the last couple of weeks, and is generally if begrudgingly agreed to be on the up. His ideas are sensible vote-winners clearly favoured by a majority of the population, though they lose a bit of favourability when people are told they’re his ideas.

We can’t pretend there’s an easy route to victory, or in the face of the numbers that there’s much of a route at all, but there are still plenty of sensible things that Labour and Corbyn can do to prevent a rout – or even cause a major upset.

Stay on message

Between universal free school meals, the renationalisation of the railways and a £10 minimum wage, Corbyn’s stated policies are both sensible and popular, even amongst a surprising number of card-carrying Conservatives. If he sticks to his strengths and doesn’t allow himself to be sidetracked onto the more damaging topics such as those claims of antisemitism, etc, at least part of his message may reluctantly seep through the Tories’ media firewall.

Ignore the right-wing press

Britain’s overwhelmingly right-wing media is clearly the biggest barrier to a Labour success, especially as the left-leaning papers such as the Guardian and the Mirror are ambivalent towards Corbyn’s mild brand of social democracy. Then again, the press has always been a massive impediment to the left and newspapers are selling far, far less than they ever have before. With the advent of social media and more direct forms of communication, it will be easier than ever to get a strong message out, provided the Labour Party can maintain message discipline. 

Appeal for party unity

A sizable chunk of the Parliamentary Labour Party – its corpus of MPs – has been hostile to Corbyn since day one, unwilling for whatever reason to accept his overwhelming legitimacy as leader despite two separate elections. This has manifested itself both in open revolt in the press, or more recently from the shadows in a series of anonymous, hostile briefings to reporters. A lot of this election will depend on them: will they campaign hard for their party and leader, or will their hate for Corbyn see them continue to drip poison into the electorates’ ear?

Sidestep the dirty tricks

Dirty tricks are part and parcel of elections the world over. If Corbyn can sidestep them from his own side, he has to do the same for the brickbats of his real opponents. Theresa May has quietly hired that intercontinental ballistic shithead Lynton Crosby as her election chief – he’s the guy you go to if you want to fight in the gutter, so we can surely expect smear after smear from Tory watercarriers in the press. There’s no real getting around these, so the party will have to have strong rebuttals for everything and hope that they end up looking poised under fire.

Hammer the Tories on cuts and cruelty

That said, Corbyn shouldn’t be afraid to take the gloves off himself. He just needn’t do it via lies; there’re true horrors by the bushel which Labour must use. From the clear and present danger to the future of the NHS via cuts and stealth privatisation to the rapacious dismantling of the benefits system, Tory policies are killing people right now, in numbers that will only increase as they entrench their power and mandate. Corbyn has done a decent job in PMQs on these subjects, but now he and his whole party have to get into lockstep. He was elected leader due to his principled opposition to George Osborne’s austerity, and it’s a message that has to cut through, so lay it on thick and bring everything back to it. 

Nail the debates and the stump speeches

This is where the message gets out, where Corbyn gets to speak to electorate direct and unmediated. He needs the talking points, he needs the prepared zingers and he needs the rebuttals all down to a fine art. Again, he tends to get the better of an arrogant and shaky May at PMQs, so he needs to be a well-oiled machine any time they go head to head. Of course, there may not be any debates because the Tories know this; they know Corbyn’s ideas would have traction and they want to deny him the chance to get them across at any cost.

The spectre of Brexit

Corbyn is damned if he does or doesn’t on Brexit: his base is divided into two thirds supporting it and one third against it, but that third need to be courted in a lot of northern marginals. This upsets a lot of metropolitan liberals, who are all preparing a futile protest vote for the milquetoast liberal democrats, but Corbyn needs to stick to the plan on Brexit: opposing it in full is electoral suicide. Debate all you like on whether he was pro or anti it in the first place – I think he was a remainer myself albeit a soft one – but he’s visibly against the Tories’ nightmare hard Brexit scenario, and the way he can differentiate himself is to push for a softer Brexit. We have to accept that the referendum happened and work within its parameters. This means not tossing away your vote on the Lib Dems, and baking a progressive Brexit that enshrines worker rights and freedom of movement. If the left loses the election, hard Brexit means an end to immigration and a bonfire of the basic rights you take for granted. Basically, if you don’t want your statutory holiday, sick pay and maternity leave slashed by slavering Tories, vote Labour.

Finally, link May to Trump

Donald Trump is a vastly unpopular buffoon, and Theresa May has her tongue buried up his wrinkly backside. This needs to come up, and often. She’s going to drag us to hell in his wake, and their unholy alliance can help Labour.

It’s going to be a horrible ride, and I can’t admit to much optimism. The vote was clearly called early to get ahead of various allegations of Tory electoral malpractice currently under investigation by the police, and because the next election had previously been scheduled for 2020, a year or so after Brexit happens for good – exactly the time people expect the shit really to hit the fan. This election has come too early for Corbyn’s numbers to recover as they would have done come crunch time, but it’s up to all of us to do our best.