Labour Bets on U.K. Election Rematch With Summer of Campaigning


U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party may have held onto power after June’s election but the team around opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn remains on a campaign footing for a rerun.

Corbyn’s Labour surprised pundits and many of its own lawmakers in June election, appealing in particular to younger voters, increasing its vote share by about 10 percentage points from 2015 and gaining several Conservative seats previously regarded as out of its reach, such as the prosperous Kensington district in west London. That left the Tories without a parliamentary majority, forcing them into a pact with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists.

In a bid to maintain the energy from the election, Labour is holding rallies and training campaigners throughout the summer. It plans events in about 40 swing seats before Parliament returns in September, and Corbyn is holding a rally in Cornwall, southwest England, on Thursday. Momentum, a grassroots group set up to support him, is hosting sessions across England to teach members how to target marginal districts including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s seat in Uxbridge, northwest London.

“We’re a campaigning party and we continue to campaign,” one of Corbyn’s political advisers, David Prescott, said by phone. “Every opposition party should do it.”

While there are precedents for an opposition party to keep campaigning after an election, it would normally only happen if another election was on the horizon, said Steven Fielding, professor of politics at Nottingham University.

‘Deliberate Tactic’

After the Conservatives lost their majority in an election May called to boost her party’s strength ahead of Brexit talks, there was speculation she might resign amid anger about the result within the Tory party. But with the pact with the DUP concluded and Brexit negotiations already under way, the clamor for her to go has died down.

“I don’t think anybody is now thinking that’s possible,” Fielding said. “It’s a deliberate tactic by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters to reinforce his own position in the party.”

Corbyn was elected Labour leader in September 2015 with broad backing from rank-and-file members and supporters but faced constant opposition from the majority of Labour lawmakers. That all changed with the election, as his left-wing manifesto proved more popular with voters than expected.

Polls since the election have shown Labour a couple of points ahead of the Tories — possibly enough to win more closely contested seats in London and southeast England in a new election, such as Education Secretary Justine Greening’s district in Putney, though not sufficient to give the party a House of Commons majority. Momentum’s tactics, with an emphasis on social media, may not be enough, according to Fielding.

“The kinds of voters Labour needs to make a majority in the House of Commons aren’t on Twitter,” he said. “Just banging on in Putney is all very well and might increase support among certain voters, but it doesn’t achieve much with those other voters that Labour need to actually win a majority.”

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