It is time to get excited about Jeremy Corbyn. Almost.

Even a potential defeat is a victory for the left.

He keeps doing this to crusty old leftists like me. We’ve seen it all. Defeat after defeat. A steady drift by all the mainstream parties ever further right, in spite of the evidence. We’ve started to believe in the myth of our unelectability. We’ve started to internalise the idea that it’s probably for the best that our naïve radicalism is kept from the levers of power, allowing us to feel safe in the knowledge that it’s just as well people who believe what we believe will never get near them. But Jeremy Corbyn keeps surprising us.

In 2015 people started paying attention to what he had been saying for years. Just as Bernie Sanders did in the United States, Corbyn offered a different perspective to the status quo: he provided a voice for the working people, promoted equality, and encouraged us to challenge the establishment. Both Corbyn and Bernie came along with a spirit of optimism for the left. And it rather caught on.

Just as progressives in the States were met with resistence from the Hillary-supporting-Democratic-Establishment, the UK Left had to compete against three other leadership candidates who kept on making their Blairite noises. But Corbyn won more votes than all the other three candidates put together.

Like no Labour leader in living memory Corbyn has inspired spontaneous and bottom up support rallies all over the country. These sort of things are rarely reflective of overall voter intention, but they are certainly reflective of something.

When Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election her conservative party — The Tories — was ahead in the polls by over 20 points. It looked like exactly the attempt to gain an electoral landslide that rebellious Labour MPs had feared back when she became Conservative leader after the Brexit vote in 2016. It also looked like the election would end just as they had feared back then, due to Corbyn being leader.

However, within days polls suggested the Conservative lead was shrinking. And then Corbyn started campaigning and doing TV interviews and looking ever more confident and comfortable. At the same time Theresa May avoided TV debates, avoided ordinary members of the public, mass rallies, difficult questions from the press and even difficult press altogether.

As of today one (unadjusted) poll shows Labour actually ahead. In just weeks it has eliminated and reversed a 20 point trail behind the Conservatives. Few other opposition parties have seen a swing towards them during the campaign, Labour seems to be drawing strength only from the Conservatives weakness. But obviously we all know not to trust polls.

Labour are relying on a new, secret, hidden voter base, one which has yet to swing in force. The young.

I wouldn’t be excited, in fact I would be just plain cynical, about these polls. Except that Corbyn defied my cynical expectations by becoming leader out of nowhere, and he just keeps defying the odds, just when things look the bleakest. But Labour are relying on a new, secret, hidden voter base, one which has yet to swing in force. The young.

Obviously young people tend to vote left or left-leaning anyway, and they tend to be more likely to vote for change. However, there is something of a demographic war going on of late in British politics, with Baby Boomers blaming the apathy of younger voters for the fact that governments offer less and less to the young, while shoring up pensions and benefits and tax breaks for the old.

With less than 50% of younger people voting, if this shortfall can be tapped that makes for a reservoir of votes in any and every constituency that could throw the election.

Record levels of voter registration were seen before the deadline and statistics suggest that this was mostly younger voters, news stories varying wildly between half a million and one and a half million. But all the papers agreed, young people, that previously apathetic and disengaged demographic, were signing up to vote in their droves. If these are as yet untapped votes, voters who have either never had a chance to or never chosen to vote, they could swing seats that have previously looked safe for the Conservatives.

I heard an ex-Labour cabinet minister talking about this a while ago. He suggested there simply weren’t enough younger voters for an extra 10–20% of them voting to make much of a difference (they make up something like 1% of the voting population, the over 65s close to 25%).

He might be right. But what is exciting, to me anyway, is that they are not just considering voting but they are joining the Labour party, getting involved, campaigning, fighting for things they believe in, in a party that spent decades jettisoning what it believed in (and many of its traditional members alongside) in order to look electable. If these young people stay, if Labour doesn’t respond to a defeat in this election by swinging to the right and doing its best to reject every change made in the short Corbyn years, then the left will have a voice again and a platform for gaining power, as they never did during the New Labour era. And a new generation will grow up, hopefully staying loyal to this party, as the old generations that delivered us Brexit die away.

So for a crusty old leftist, who permanently expects to see disaster for my side of the argument, even defeat for Labour on Thursday could still be a victory. If it galvanises the party around a position anchored on the left and around the hopes of the young and idealistic. If it is less disastrous than the doomsayers on the right of the party have spent the last two years predicting (with more than a few attempts to make their prophecies self fulfilling), if it makes the case for redistribution of wealth and isn’t laughed out of town, Jeremy Corbyn will have achieved something that at least I didn’t expect. And that’s something to be excited about. Almost.

Written by UK Correspondent Barry Pencells



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