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Brexit negotiations start tomorrow - seven lessons for May

LOOK WHO'S COMING TO DINNER: The Democratic Unionist's Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster, left, with DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds arriving at 10 Downing Street

WITH A look ahead to Monday's initial Brexit talks in Brussels, it seems that an event which is of mammoth importance to the country has been overshadowed by recent tragedies, starting with the Westminster terror attack in March, followed by the Manchester Arena and London Bridge terror attacks, a snap general election and most recently the Grenfell Tower fire.

Leeds Beckett and Salford university lecturers Dr. Remi Joseph Salisbury and Laura Connelly have compiled seven of the most memorable and unpredictable moments of this month's general election; all testament to the ever-changing nature of the current British political climate; which will no doubt take even more twists and turns come Theresa May's Monday trip to hammer it out with EU officials:

1. Corbyn is electable

This election should certainly have put paid to those lingering suggestions that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable. This was an election called to catch Labour by surprise, at a time of perceived instability. This was an election called to give Theresa May a strong mandate and to annihilate the left. With little regard to his record of proving his critics wrong, journalists from the right and left wrote Corbyn off.


MAN OF THE HOUR: Jeremy Corbyn shows concern as he visits Grenfell supporters

Corbyn’s campaign drew wide-ranging support from demographics that were quite rightly disillusioned with mainstream politics. Whilst many (including senior Conservatives) believed that young people were too disengaged to vote in numbers, Corbyn spoke in 2015 about the foolishness of writing them off as ‘non-political’. As young people turned out in droves to support Corbyn, there was vindication for his belief in the politicised youth. This election saw the highest voting turn out in twenty-five years, and that is in no small part down to Corbyn’s campaign.

Although not a genre typically concerned with mainstream politics (which is not to say it is not deeply political), #Grime4Corbyn played an important role in this election. Whilst it may have been underestimated by many, with Stormzy’s home constituency shifting from Conservative to Labour, we are left in no doubt that this was a serious movement.

2. It’s time for the ‘Labour right’ to get on board or step aside

In 2015 Corbyn was the rank outsider who shocked the political commentariat to emerge victorious in the Labour leadership contest. Just over a year later, as the 'Labour right' agitated for his removal, Corbyn saw-off a second leadership challenge and increased his mandate. Corbyn has spent much of his time as leader fighting off critics from inside his own party. This was no doubt a distraction from the real work - it prevented Labour functioning fully as an effective opposition.


ALL CHANGE: Prime Minster Theresa May chairs her first Cabinet meeting after the June general election

It is only right and proper that Jess Phillips, Chucka Umunna, Tom Watson and Corbyn’s other critics admit that they were wrong to doubt his electoral appeal. It is only right and proper that they acknowledge the key role Corbyn played in increasing Labour’s vote share by almost 10%, the greatest increase since 1945. They should also acknowledge Corbyn’s role in helping them retain their own seats. As the electorate shifts to the Left, Tony Blair and others, must understand that public opinion has left them behind.

3. Our political discourse has shifted - socialist ideas are back on the map

Perhaps Labour and Corbyn’s greatest success has been ideological. By offering a real left-wing alternative, Corbyn has shifted public consciousness and widened the scope of what is imaginable. Ideas around free education and renationalised public services are becoming common place and there is a demonstrable and long overdue reclamation of socialist ideas!

That the very rich should pay more tax to help alleviate extreme poverty, increasingly seems a very logical idea. It has become unacceptable to so many that the rich are getting richer, whilst nurses are having to rely on food banks. And the introduction of a ‘living wage’ has quickly become a political priority.


OWN GOAL: Jeremy Corbyn's football technique leaves a lot to be desired on a visit to Hackney Marshes earlier this month

4. Labour are not perfect

Labour’s successes are in no small part down to a flurry of progressive and exciting policies. However, notwithstanding everything said above, there are certainly policies that are worthy of critique and further debate.

Caroline Lucas of the Greens was quite right to question Corbyn for his emphasis on ‘controlled migration’. Whilst undoubtedly swayed by political pragmatism, this partial acceptance of anti-migration rhetoric forecloses possibilities for seeing free movement as a positive and fundamental human right.

Throughout this election Corbyn has shown an ability to transform public opinion. Rather than kowtowing to the xenophobic right, Corbyn and his party should set out the advantages of immigration, resist discourses that scapegoat immigrants, and instead place the onus back on an establishment that exploits the masses.

5. The mainstream media are not all powerful

Corbyn managed to increase Labour’s vote share more than any other of the party’s leaders since 1945: this is remarkable. This is a leader that has had to overcome a mainstream media apparatus determined to present him as ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘incompetent ideologue’, as well as a ‘terrorist sympathiser’. Yet despite this sustained propaganda campaign, Corbyn managed to avoid engaging in counter-smears and instead offered a campaign of positive politics.


DRINKING IT ALL IN: Theresa May prepares to answer a studio audience on BBC's Question Time

Somewhat more troubling than the right-wing media smears, has been the sustained anti-Corbyn campaign from the supposedly impartial public broadcaster, the BBC. Nick Robinson, Laura Kuenssberg, and John Humphrys have been among the BBC presenters to come under fire from a general public that refuses to digest their rhetoric.

A study by the London School of Economics found that the mainstream media frequently pathologized Corbyn, presenting him as a non-conformist and a ‘political transgressor’. Somewhat ironically, in the media’s attempt to delegitimise and denigrate him, they presented him as the anti-establishment figure many of the electorate had been waiting for.

The outcome of the election demonstrates that much of the public do not uncritically absorb media messages and instead, are able to reject the hateful rhetoric of outlets like The Sun and The Daily Mail. Social media has given rise to a diverse range of voices that have provided counter-narratives to the hostile mainstream media. As we build for next time, we must hold the biased mainstream media to account, and support progressive and independent media outlets.

6. Racism and sexism still permeate British politics

This election has seen a considerable rise in the number of MPs from ‘BME’ backgrounds. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority represent Labour. Most satisfyingly, Eleanor Smith became the first African Caribbean MP for the West Midlands, whilst taking the Wolverhampton South seat formerly occupied by Enoch Powell.


POPULAR: MP Diane Abbott proved her effectiveness after gaining an increased majority in her Hackney constituency earlier this month

Whilst Obama’s presidency has shown we need more than black faces in high places, we should be cautiously encouraged by the diversification of British politics.

However, this election has also made clear the way racism and sexism continue to pervade our political discourse. No doubt Diane Abbott has made some mistakes during this general election; so too have Michael Fallon, Phillip Hammond and countless others. But they’re not subjected to anywhere near the same levels of scrutiny as Abbott. And that’s not even to mention Boris Johnson, a Foreign Secretary whose career is littered with political gaffes.

Does the first black woman MP, with such an inspiring and illustrious history, really deserve such appalling mistreatment? This is misogynoir at its most brazen. It is a testament to Diane Abbot’s political strength that despite such a torrent of abuse, she was once again elected as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, with 75% of the total count.

7. The Tories are faltering

Theresa May began her election campaign as one of the most popular Prime Ministers of all time. Yet her vanity project grossly backfired: over half of Britons now believe she ought to step down as PM. Rather than securing the Labour wipeout May hoped, the Conservative’s lost their overall majority in the House of Commons.

Whilst in this election we have witnessed a swing towards the left, in many ways the Conservative Party appear to be taking a huge step towards the right. By entering into a coalition with the DUP, the Tories will give a platform to an anti-abortion, climate change denying party, with historical links to Loyalist paramilitaries.

That said, whilst some Conservative MPs and the right-wing media have been quick to scapegoat May, it would be unwise to individualise this as May’s failure. This is a rejection of the Tories’ austerity project and could be the beginning of their demise.

Dr. Remi Joseph-Salisbury, is a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies at Leeds Beckett University and Dr. Laura Connelly is a Lecturer in Criminology at The University of Salford.

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