- Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire/Press Association Images
LONDON – Jeremy Corbyn was underestimated by everyone, right from the beginning.
Underestimated by moderates in the Labour party who – twice – refused to believe he could lead and win.
And underestimated by the traditional media who simply assumed he was this century’s Michael Foot (the Labour leader in the 1980s who led the party to one of its worst results).
Tonight, he is the favourite among online political bettors to become the next prime minister as the head of a coalition government. Theresa May’s odds have collapsed from a near certainty to somewhere around just 38%:
While everyone else was making assumptions, Corbyn’s machine went directly to its core constituency: Young people and former Labour voters who were alienated by Tony Blair. He went direct to them on Facebook and Twitter, gathering audiences that vastly exceed those who watch the BBC or read the Daily Mail. (One million people alone follow his Facebook page.)
And while the newspaper editors inside the Westminster Bubble just assumed that the man wearing a John Lennon hat and riding a bicycle couldn’t possibly appeal to ordinary voters, Corbyn’s Momentum activists were busy registering new voters.
The turnout in this election has been a huge factor in Corbyn’s favour. Some of the vote counts coming in are far exceeding those of previous elections. It looks as if the young and disillusioned have come out to vote in unexpected numbers.
The collapse of the UKIP constituency – a largely working class, alienated vote – has helped Labour as much as it has helped the Conservatives. And yes, Theresa May’s manifesto was a lucky gift to Labour: It promised to undo the triple lock on pensions and it threatened the houses of elderly people who required social care. Those are two lightning rods for older voters, who tend to vote Tory.
May was hoping for an extended majority in parliament. People talked seriously about a 100-seat or more margin. It’s not looking like that. The Conservatives are still likely to come out ahead. But they will emerge as a wounded, weakened party who – frankly – look beatable.
Corbyn often stood alone. A huge majority of his own MPs voted no confidence in him. The polls – which are based on real voters, after all – painted him as a loser. But he stood firm, and stuck to his principles.
That stand has paid off.
There is a lesson in there that will be studied by people who want to win elections for years to come. Corbyn has rallied his supporters and confounded his critics.
He won’t be dismissed quite so easily from now on.