This could have been a very different election result.
With two terrorist attacks during the election period, the right wing press running one of the ugliest and most vindictive campaigns against Labour ever (Britain doesn't need Breitbart; we've got the Daily Mail), with Corbyn continually undermined by the majority of his own MPs, with the nationalist drums just starting to gather renewed momentum as the Brexit negotiations seemed about to begin, with these and many other forces gathering, Theresa May must have felt she was on course for a landslide of reaction on June 8th. But, joy of joys, it didn’t happen.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the student leaders in Paris in 1968, once said that today’s revolutionaries are tomorrow’s reformists. What did he mean? Was he simply saying that revolutionaries inevitably sell out and join the establishment? No, quite the contrary, what he was saying is that to reform the system in a radical and progressive sense is so difficult and so rarely achieved that when it happens it is tantamount to a revolutionary change. Let’s not kid ourselves, in one sense Labour’s small gains last night are not revolutionary. Indeed viewed one way their manifesto pledges on tax, public ownership and so on would make Britain more like most of our west and northern European neighbours rather than less like them. But that’s the crucial point, for the first time since the Thatcher/Regan embrace and the emergence of the so-called Anglo-American model of economic development (ie. neoliberalism plus globalisation), the British people have woken up to the idea that ‘There Is An Alternative’. TIAA has gained its first small victory over TINA (Thatcher’s ‘There Is No Alternative’). And it took a group of old Marxists to do it because the system in Britain was incapable of reforming itself!
Although the electoral gains were small the change that has occurred is major. TINA was crushed in Greece and then, with Podemos, sidetracked in Spain. It could be seen once more with the campaign of Bernie Sanders (another old Marxist) for the Democrat nomination in the USA. Now, finally, TIAA has her first small but real victory. Again, to return to France '68, I think it was Cohn-Bendit who said that France '68 will be remembered not for what it achieved but for what it imagined. Finally, perhaps, our political imagination is becoming free once more.