Ever since Tony Blair handed the keys to No.10 over to Gordon Brown, the Labour party – and, by extension, the British left – has been in free fall. The general elections in 2010 and 2015 left us battered and bruised, and the Brexit vote seemed to be the coup de grace. Under Ed Miliband, the Labour party felt like it was headed for government, only to have victory snatched away, first by John Curtice’s exit poll and then by reality itself. This is the background to last night’s extraordinary resurgence, a triumph of socialist ideals that has – perhaps only for one golden evening – put the ‘party’ back in the Labour party. For beleaguered left-wingers – who can scarcely remember the last vote that didn’t go calamitously in the wrong direction – it is a defeat that feels a lot like a victory.
Putting aside the irreparable damage the result has done to Theresa May’s reputation, it has also served to bandage the deep wounds within the Labour party. When the polls leant towards a landslide victory for the Conservatives, it was fair to assume that Corbynistas and Blairites alike would be vulnerable to the Tory bulldozer. Remarkably, the election results have deflected assaults against all wings of the party: hard lefters like Clive Lewis and Cat Smith, who were expected to depart, held on with strong results, whilst, across the political spectrum, Wes Streeting and John Woodcock defied the odds. No single ideological grouping within the party has been punished by this election.
And beyond the PLP, another anticipated gulf has been forded. Liberals from urban areas – be they middle class socialists, ethnic minorities or students – have been the bedrock of the Corbyn project, but they’ve been joined in a fruitful union by the sort of working class, possibly Brexit supporting, voters who had vanished by most pundits’ estimates. Assumptions about a Tory majority were based on the mass migration of Ukippers over to Theresa May’s Team, but the road to Damascus hit a T junction, with Labour rehoming stray Brexiteers on a similar scale to the Conservatives. To win seats as diverse as Canterbury, Gower, and Bury North suggests that this isn’t just regional readjustment; it’s a new, nationwide, receptivity to anti-austerity, populist politics.
This has been a rare good night for the British left, but it will not be the last. The reunification of left-leaning Britain has happened at a nigh-on unprecedented rate – Corbyn has made the biggest jump in vote share by a Labour leader since Clement Attlee in 1945. The Labour campaign had energy and imagination, but it lacked credibility, but this result re-establishes the latter. For once, the champagne socialists deserve their bubbly, because the Labour party that emerges from this election is going to be the dominant force in British politics over the next few years. Today, Tory supporters will feel how we Milibandites felt in 2015 – shocked and very, very tired – but even though they will probably cling to power, they are on a trajectory towards opposition, against a left that is galvanised by this result.