I was in the busy, bustling media hub of ITV News when the exit poll dropped, and suddenly the shock was palpable. I was there as a political commentator with the great and the good of the media establishment. The last time we were gathered there we’d been caught out by the Brexit result, and once again we were all in collective shock. We had all overestimated Theresa May and underestimated Jeremy Corbyn.
I fess up to being one of those people. I got it wrong on Corbyn. He ripped up the political rules from the minute he decided to stand for the Labour leadership. I remember him speaking at the very first hustings for Labour MPs, Lords and MEPs. He spoke fluently, and with spirit and passion. I remember quipping that at this rate he would win. He hadn’t even got enough nominations to make it on to the ballot paper at this point. The rest is history.
Many of us thought that if Corbyn faced the electorate he would cost the Labour party seats and wipe us out. That hasn’t happened. In fact, the opposite happened. Labour gained votes, but most importantly looks like it will have gained seats.
He has helped the Labour party rediscover its radical heart. We lost our political courage on lots of issues and to be fair, following the financial crash, deficit reduction was at the heart of the 2010 and 2015 elections. We are now in new territory where people are fed up with seven years of Tory austerity and sick of political business as usual. Corbyn offered what people had been craving – hope. And that counts for something.
The Labour manifesto was a big moment for the campaign as it was rich in bold and exciting ideas which spoke to the issues so many people in the country actually care about – from tuition fees to trains to lifting the pay freeze on public sector workers. It was the manifesto many on the left wanted to see for a long time. Corbyn put clear, red water between Labour and the Tories.
It also helped that he and his team stepped up and ran a professional, energetic and enthusiastic campaign. They were open to the media and the public whereas May disappeared. Corbyn started 20 points behind in the polls and with a photocall in a loo. And yet it was her who had the stinker, and now has her leadership being called into question. The Conservative campaign was pathetic, vile and exposed how out of depth May really was.
I applaud Corbyn and his team on a great campaign and a great night. The Labour party exists to win seats and power so we can action the positive change this country is crying out for. Overnight we have made progress but Corbyn must continue to work hard to reach out to all parts of the population, not just those in metropolitan areas, and we must focus on winning more seats not just piling up votes in safe areas.
I urge my fellow Labour colleagues to acknowledge Corbyn’s success and to try to find peace with him. What the past few weeks has shown is that Labour can be an inspiring and powerful force for good. Let’s try and come together and find some settlement. The country needs us to be a strong united party now more than ever.