Corbynistas now cling with desperation to the idea that the Labour Party almost won the 2017 general election. It is all they have left, I suppose, the betrayal myth; we came so close and if it hadn’t been for internal saboteurs, we’d have got over the line. Look how close we got anyhow! Except in any sort of objective examination, the Labour party came nowhere close to winning the 2017 general election. No. Where. Close.
The myth is built upon the notion that Labour came within 2,000 to 2,500 votes of victory. The source of the idea stems from an Independent article, published on June 9th, 2017, the morning after the general election had taken place, under the headline “Jeremy Corbyn was just 2,227 votes away from chance to be Prime Minister“. At least, I feel pretty sure this was the earliest iteration of this idea – there were plenty of copycat articles to follow that week. The basic thesis here is that had Labour got exactly the right number of votes in seven marginal seats that fell to the Tories, Labour would have “won the election”. These seats were: Southampton Itchen, Pudsey, Hastings and Rye, Chipping Barnet, Thurrock, Preseli Pembrokeshire, and Calder Valley. If 2,227 people who had voted Tory in these seats had voted Labour instead, they would have fallen to Labour by one vote each.
Now, there are several obvious problems with this theory already. One is that we have a first past the post system, and while saying Labour was 2,227 votes short of an extra seven seats makes it sound dreadfully close, this is actually a long way off. In the 2019 general election, the Lib Dems came within 2,743 votes of unseating Dominic Raab in Esher and Walton, which I wouldn’t describe as almost unseating the Foreign Secretary myself. Of course, some Lib Dems probably would. Actually, that’s what this “we came within 2,227 votes of winning the election” thing reminds me of most – it’s very Lib Demy. I’m not sure that’s the comparison most Corbynistas hanker after.
But you know what? I don’t even need any of the last paragraph to debunk this theory that Labour came very close to winning the 2017 general election. I’ll give the Corbynistas their precious 2,227 votes exactly where they need them so they can take those seven seats off the Tories by one vote each. For the sake of what follows, they are theirs. So, what happens if Labour gets those seven seats off the Conservatives in 2017? They won the election then, right? No, not even remotely close. An extra seven seats would have given Labour 269, which if you are a keen observer of British politics you will note would still have put Labour someways off the 326 needed to have an outright majority in parliament and even way short of the 321 needed for a nominal majority when Sinn Fein, the speaker, etc are taken out of the equation. More than 50 seats short in fact, which is a strange way to call something a victory. So, what the hell are the Corbynistas on about then? Well, remember they took these seven seats off of the Tories, which means instead of the 317 the Conservatives actually ended up with, they now have 310. Even hooking up with the DUP only collectively gets them 320. If you add Labour’s 269 to the SNP’s 35, the Lib Dems 12, Plaid Cymru’s 4 and Caroline Lucas, you get 321. A one seat majority over the Tory-DUP configuration! Which means Corbyn would have been prime minister! Right?
Well, except it’s a huge stretch to think the Lib Dems would have jumped on board with this rainbow coalition automatically. It’s funny to me that the Corbynistas consider the Lib Dems to be horrible yellow Tories who are just itching to be back in bed with the Conservatives – but then assume in this little fantasy that the Lib Dems would have helped Corbyn form a government for certain. I suppose in return for another EU referendum? But that wasn’t even being talked about by Corbyn or his people at the time, so this is another stretch. The SNP would have demanded a second Scottish referendum – and for the UK government to not pick a side. In addition to these major consideration, those parties would have only agreed to vote for a Queen Speech that they could all live with as well. So, at best you would have had Corbyn’s agenda massively watered down. Those members of the PLP that the Corbynistas so despise would have had massive power to derail a more radical agenda as well, almost certainly with Lib Dem and some SNP help.
Beyond all that, even if somehow this rainbow coalition did agree on an initial Queen’s Speech, it would have been hard to see it lasting more than a year – at least under Corbyn’s leadership. It would have fallen apart as soon as everyone outside of Labour got what they wanted, which would have been quickly. Then, we would have had another election that the Tories would have won.
Perhaps you don’t agree with every aspect of the scenario that I have laid out above. Fine. But I don’t see how you can still tell me that getting 269 seats is winning a general election. It isn’t. It isn’t anywhere close. That is just a psephological fact. I do feel some sympathy for the Corbynistas’ world crumbling around them but in politics it is always better to face up to the obstacles in front of you honestly – and to do that you have to evaluate the past honestly. Labour lost the 2017 badly. Not as badly as 2019, but still pretty badly.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!