At the General Election, support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party shocked politicians and pundits alike. So what happened? In a series of interviews, we speak to the campaigners, mobilisers, concert organisers, educators and pundits changing the political landscape and energising a new generation of the left in Britain…
Owen Jones has been one of the most prominent left-wing voices in recent years, a near ubiquitous presence on TV, radio, in print and on social media. The 32-year-old has become one of the country’s most high-profile political thinkers – and, according to recent research, was the most influential individual on Twitter during the election campaign apart from Jeremy Corbyn himself.
Even Jones had a crisis of confidence in Corbyn, if not his policies, ahead of the election. So, once the snap election was called, what was his strategy? “I had campaigned for Jeremy to be leader the first time and voted for him twice. But I looked at the polling before and thought, blimey, we’re in a lot of trouble.
“I just decided to throw everything at it. We had nothing to lose. My own strategy had quite a few elements to it.
“I tried to up my social media game at this election. I was sceptical before, even though I use it a lot. But, without wishing to humblebrag, my Facebook reach exploded – from around 2 million to 10 million engagements, by sharing posts, articles, videos. I really tried to get younger people to register to vote.
Lots of activists had never knocked on doors before, some had never even voted
“One key strategy of mine was to try to get people to come and knock on doors in constituencies we needed to defend, but also places like Battersea and Croydon Central where we might have a chance to win. And we did. I worked closely with Momentum. They did a brilliant job. It was about co-ordinating with other people and using social media to get people to do face-to-face campaigning.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
“Thousands came out. Lots had never knocked on doors, some had never even voted. Some were below voting age, trying to get people enthused on their behalf.
“The manifesto genuinely inspired people, caught the imaginations of people who were fed up with the way the country was run.
“Labour had an optimistic vision of society. The Labour Party’s campaign was witty, funny, creative, upbeat. And you had Grime4Corbyn, which really cut through particularly with young working class and minority people. The polling shows that Corbyn Labour’s biggest supporters are young working-class people.
“People also changed their mind. They saw, I think, the real Jeremy Corbyn, because as soon as broadcasting election rules kicked in they were forced to give space to the leader of the opposition. And Theresa May had the opposite – the more people saw her, the less they liked her.
My plan now is a big online and real world campaign to overturn the majority that a lot of leading Tories have.
“For the last few years it has often been the case – without getting the little violin out – that it felt like I was the only person of my brand of politics with a mainstream platform. We now have people like Aaron Bastani from Novara. And old comrades of mine, like Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Abi Wilkinson and Rachel Shabi, are getting more of a platform.
“The left is a major political force in British society, so the media is slowly being forced to accommodate that. Undue prominence is still given to so-called centrists – I’m not sure what section of the population they represent now. A centrist party led by discredited hasbeens wouldn’t get any traction outside the commentariat.
“Because just as in the 1970s the postwar consensus established by Clement Attlee’s government began to collapse and made way for Thatcherism, now we are seeing the pendulum shift again. If the winter of discontent was an iconic moment summing up the collapse of the postwar consensus, the Grenfell Tower atrocity sums up the collapse of this order.
“My plan now is a big online and real world campaign to overturn the majority that a lot of leading Tories have.
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) July 9, 2017
“I’m targeting Uxbridge, represented by Boris Johnson, whose majority halved to 5,000. We are going after Iain Duncan Smith in Chingford, Amber Rudd – who only just won Hastings and Rye, and Philip Davies, surely one of the most obnoxious Tory MPs of them all in Shipley. He has got to go.
“With enough determination willpower and commitment, we can turn those seats red. If we can win Kensington, then we can win virtually any seat. I think the Tories realise this and are panicking – and rightly so…”