Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn Surprises Pundits with UK Election Gains

Posted June 14, 2017

MP3 Interview with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, conducted by Scott Harris

corbyn

When Conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election for June 8, she was hoping to increase her party’s power in Parliament as the country began Brexit negotiations over terms for leaving the European Union. However, voters had a different plan. Instead of strengthening her standing, the prime minister lost seats, with no party now having a majority, in what’s called a hung Parliament.

May’s ruling Conservative Party won 318 seats, 8 seats short of a majority, forcing her to forge a coalition government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP. The DUP which won 10 seats, holds controversial policy views, including opposition to same sex marriage and abortion, climate change denial and rejection of the theory of evolution.

Just weeks ago, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was written off by media pundits who predicted that Labour would suffer a historic defeat. But under the banner of “For the Many, Not the Few,” Corbyn promoted a party manifesto that included strengthening workers rights, nationalization of key industries, increased taxes on the wealthy and free childcare. His party won 262 seats, an increase of 30 since the last election. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who examines the Labour Party’s platform that helped them defy expectations and dramatically improve their position in Parliament. [Rush transcript.]

MARK WEISBROT: Well you know, the pundits were not so off a few weeks ago, on May 18, when the most successful, recently successful pollster had Tories winning the large majority. They lost that lead in the last few weeks and in fact, May 18 was the day that Labour came out with the Labour Manifesto, and that was the first thing that kind of broke through because it showed people -- it got in the media and instead of all the bad things that they would say personally about Corbyn being the news about the Labour Party and Corbyn, it was now what do they stand for was a little in the news. And I think the pundits didn't realize that people would actually like this program because it was a pretty left program. And so maybe that's why they reported it. But it turned out people liked it quite a bit; they were calling for major increases in spending on the country's national health service, government-sponsored childcare, actually nationalizing the railways and the public utilities. And taxing people with high incomes to pay for these things to go against the increases in the retirement age that the Tories planned to do, and to increase public investment. So, they were going to take care of all this with taxes on high-income people and also increasing the tax on financial transactions, which is something that people have been fighting for, with some success in recent years in the rich countries. It hasn't got here yet, but it's something that Bernie Sanders promoted, for example.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mark, what can you tell us about an overview of a progressive populace contesting for power against this rising tide we've seen of right-wing and racist populace who certainly in Europe, at any rate, have based a lot of their campaigns' success on anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, you know, the problem of the right-wing populism and the racism populism is really not that "suddenly racism is more prevalent than it's ever been." Even in the United States, for example, Trump all his racism didn't get him a bigger share of the white vote than Romney got – and the two of them got less a percentage of the white vote, according to the exit poll data that we have. It got a lower share than the last 25 years.

So what's happened is the center-left has really collapsed because they've been supporting these right-wing, well, these neoliberal policies, I should say that have in the Eurozone really created mass unemployment that is going to endure for a long time unless they change their policies. And so you have these trends that allowed somebody with a real progressive populist platform to capture the imagination of the public. You had (Jean-Luc) Mélenchon in France, the left candidate, left populist there who came within 1.3 percentage points of getting into the second round in France and in the presidential election. I think when you have these kind of candidates, if they can break through the media barrier, they do very well. Obviously, Syriza was able to win in Greece, but they were unable to do very much because Greece is too small and they were crushed by the European authorities. We've talked about that before on your show. But that wouldn't be the case with France, and it wouldn't be the case with the U.K. which not even in the Eurozone and right now is negotiating a departure from the European Union. So, I think there's a lot of hope for more of this. And I think it will have an impact on all of Europe and the developed world, to see this kind of progressive politics coming back with this kind of force.

For more information, visit the Center for Economic and Policy Research at cepr.net; Labour Manifesto at labour.org.uk/index.php/manifesto2017.

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