On paper, they have lost. Corbyn’s Labour Party failed to win the election last night and there is no prospect of a Labour Government being formed today. The party won less seats than Neil Kinnock in 1992 and fell far short of any kind of Parliamentary majority. But despite the final arithmetic, there is no doubt that last night’s result was a stunning triumph for Jeremy Corbyn – a man who is ridiculed by much of the mainstream press, deserted by half his Shadow Cabinet and who presented the most left-wing Labour Manifesto in decades to a supposedly centrist populace. And he started this campaign so far behind in the polls that Labour’s 40% vote share at the end of it is nothing short of remarkable.
How did this happen? Firstly, it turns out populism is pretty popular! His Manifesto was a generous basket of giveaways which appealed to an electorate experiencing a fall in real wages and fatigued with austerity. His campaign was organised and energetic, and his narrative disciplined and engaging. By tacitly refusing to agree that the election was about Brexit or to articulate what a Labour Government would do with it, he successfully managed to push Brexit down the agenda and pick up both disgruntled Remainers and disgruntled UKIPpers as a result. He successfully engaged the youth vote with a positive vision for the future, and did spectacularly well at getting those young people to the polling booths.
So, Jeremy Corbyn emerges from this election a hugely strengthened figure. Where he and the Party go next is less clear. Has he hit his limit or could he win an outright majority if the country is forced to go to the polls again this year? It’s not obvious where his enemies in the Parliamentary Party should now turn as there will be precious little appetite for the argument that a more moderate leader is needed. And ironically, many of the MPs who opposed him initially now owe him for their vast new majorities.
The only option now for Labour MPs is to rally around Jeremy Corbyn and form a united, coherent and effective opposition to Theresa May’s paint-by-numbers Government. Their leader has done a commendable job in inspiring and engaging young people up and down the country over the past seven weeks. If the party can maintain and build on this positive momentum, who knows where Jeremy’s grand experiment will end up.