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6/7/17

The British Election: Tales of the unexpected - Rodney Barker

In Britain the Conservatives have recognised this more consistently than have their opponents, though the left in the Twentieth Century had a readily demonisable, and readily demonised, target in Margaret Thatcher. In campaigning attacks the Conservatives have gone for the player, not the ball, and still have as well a residue of ruling class disdain for anyone who lies outside either their own charmed circle or beyond the frontiers of currently dominant narratives and ideology. Even to wear the ‘wrong’ clothes can provoke a sneer. They have concentrated on personal attacks on potential rivals, and on presenting a narrative of their opponents as marginal, untypical, out of touch with the mass of voters. This story, like the story about markets, liberal economics, and austerity, has been sustained by the power of ideological carpet bombing, and the marginalisation of alternatives in the tyranny of received opinion.

This goes a long way to explaining one of the many curious features of the 2017 General Election. When the decision to go to the country was made, the predominant media narrative was of a Labour Party doomed to virtual extinction, massively behind in the polls, likely to virtually disappear from parliamentary politics. And if nothing changed, and the current narrative were both correct and unchallenged, that would be true. But things do change, choices are made, and the impossible becomes possible by someone choosing ‘unrealistic’ policies and making ‘unrealistic’ claims and giving ‘out of date’ or (and that’s the alternative) ‘fantastic’ narratives.

But once campaigning began, something happened which took this dominant and pervasive account by surprise. Up until then, the prevailing account of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had been of an unrealistic, extremist, out of touch and old-fashioned.

Once the campaign began, and some account had to be given of the Labour manifesto, and some reporting on the Labour leader’s speeches, it was difficult for a predominantly right wing media entirely to ignore Corbyn, whose values and aims – a simple rejection of austerity on both moral and economic grounds, a belief in the central importance of properly funded public services from health to railways, a rejection of a taxation system which let large corporations off lightly and prioritized making thing better for the wealthy – suddenly seemed sensible and modest not just to actual and potential Labour voters, but to ordinary citizens beyond the left. Corbyn slowly but transformingly was presented and could be seen as someone who, at last, attacked an entire system of privilege and inequality and extreme economic ideologies. He was no longer the impractical leader of an out of date party, but a champion of public services in health, education, and transport, services which were valued by ordinary voters, the many not the few, and a fundamental context for their wellbeing. A manifesto which had been anticipated as a recipe for disaster became the prospectus of a party which seemed every day to narrow the gap.

Read more: mThe UK General Election: Tales of the unexpected | Euronews

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