The politician who talked about his “friends” from Hamas and Hezbollah and attended a wreath laying at the grave of a Palestinian terrorist didn’t quite manage to become Britain’s Prime Minister, writes Nathan Jeffay. But he came astonishingly close.
Instead of the hard-left Jeremy Corbyn repelling voters from the Labour Party, he drew them in and gave the party its highest election-to-election boost since 1945.
It gained 9.6 per cent of the vote since the last general election.
This didn’t translate in to enough seats for Corbyn to become PM – a development that would have shaken Jewish Britain, given his strong sympathy for even hard-line Palestinians, his coolness to Israel, and what many consider a lacklustre response to scandals over anti-Semitism in his party.
But the electoral swing towards Labour did mean that Theresa May, the Conservative candidate, lost her parliamentary majority and could only return to power propped up by a small Northern Irish faction, the Democratic Unionist Party.
May won the election but lost her majority. And given that she only called the snap election to try to increase her majority, and seemed confident she would do so because her Labour opponent seemed to be an electoral train wreck, the supposedly-victorious May has egg on her face.
Corbyn, while the loser on paper, proved May wrong. He came back fighting from the battering he received over his lacklustre campaign against Brexit, and showed that against all odds and defying many opinion polls, he’s a hit with large parts of the British public.
Just as the rightist Donald Trump surprised America by showing that his political support wasn’t a fad, in the UK, the leftist Corbyn has just shown that support for him isn’t a passing phase.
May thought that it was, and so did many Labour members.
The veteran Labour and pro-Israel activist Luke Akehurst wrote in 2015 that the main question for people like him was: “How much damage can be done to the party’s policy on the issue before Corbyn’s anticipated lack of electoral resonance with middle England ends his leadership?” Two years later, Corbyn isn’t on his way out, but stronger than ever in his party.
Some serious analysts are saying that if Corbyn manages to force an election within a couple of years then he will stand a good chance of taking his party to victory and becoming Prime Minister.
Should May resign, instability and new elections are a real possibility; if she stays them an election might come soon because of how weak May is, and because of the fact that she faces the mammoth task of Brexit negotiations despite her limited mandate.
In view of all of this uncertainty regarding May, this election’s long-term importance may lie less in the fact that it returned her to government than the fact that it crowned Corbyn leader of Labour for the foreseeable future.
It was his survival election – the ballot that made the idea of his rise to PM conceivable in the eyes of Brits.
Despite his favourable comments about Hamas and Hezbollah, despite his failure to take up invitations to visit Yad Vashem, despite his hard-left positions, Corbyn is staying at the highest level of British opposition politics.
And it has never looked so likely that things are falling in to place for him to make the jump from the helm of the opposition to the job he really wants – the job of PM.
NATHAN JEFFAY is The AJN‘s Israel correspondent.