By Owais Iqbal
Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and views expressed in this article are not necessarily reflective of The Beehive or The Beehive’s associated writers.
Last week, Pakistan Cricket won their first trophy for eight years, thrashing arch rivals India. The week before last, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party gained 30 seats in the general election, defying polls which had suggested a Tory landslide right up until the day before polling day, and the election produced a hung parliament. Only a fortnight before the election, Manchester United won the Europa League, ensuring that one of the world’s greatest and most successful clubs finally returned to the Champions League, whilst also completing their entire trophy collection. So what have all these events got in common?
They are all examples of former heavyweights regaining some of their former glory. The Labour Party was meant to be doomed. Polls suggested a 24 point gap between Labour and the Tories when the snap election was called. Pakistan had been lucky in their final group game against Sri Lanka, a make or break game on which progression in the tournament hung, with the opposing fielders dropping easy catches. England were meant to sweep Pakistan away in the semi-finals, but again a former giant defied critics by progressing. There is no need to comment on Manchester United’s lack of trophies in the post-Ferguson era.
The moral of the story is that we should never underestimate former heavyweights. Although the Labour Party did not win the most seats in this election, it certainly took a big step towards a Labour government being in power for the first time since before David Cameron defeated incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the 2010 general election. Jeremy Corbyn helped influence the biggest swing in the vote towards Labour since the first post-war election in 1945, when Clement Atlee gained 47.7% of the vote (more than 3 million more voted for Labour than those who voted for Winston Churchill’s Tories).
The awakening of these sleeping giants did not happen by chance. Each has had its struggles along the way. One may also consider the case of 2017 French parliamentary and presidential elections. Neither of the traditional parties of French government, the Socialist Party and Les Republicains, progressed to the second round of voting for the first time in French history. The election also produced the lowest combined vote share of the Socialist Party and Les Republicains (26% in the first round of voting). We may assume that these mainstays of French politics will once again return to the forefront of their country’s governance, but how long will this take?
Liverpool FC have not won an English top division title since 1990. No one knows if they will ever win another again. The key point is that if a heavyweight of, for example, politics or sport is not succeeding anymore, change is the key thing. Labour had lost the trust of many former Tory voters during the Blair and Brown years by its extensive borrowing, which contributed to the 2007 global financial crisis. Tony Blair following George W Bush’s hand like a puppet and entering the Iraq War in 2003 did not help to widen ‘New’ Labour’s appeal. If the right was disillusioned by the constant borrowing, the left was outraged by the whole idea of a rebrand as a more centrist party by Tony Blair.
The introduction of tuition fees in 1998 is still looked down upon by the left- Jeremy Corbyn sought to rectify his predecessor’s mistake by promising to abolish tuition fees in his manifesto for the 2017 general election. And it was one of the key reasons for why so many of those aged 18-24 (53%, a marked increase on the usual turnout for this age bracket) turned up at polling stations after a day of lectures in constituencies such as Canterbury, which had always voted Tory since its inception in 1918 but is now represented by a Labour MP.
The resurgence of the left in UK politics is not a miracle. Many factors have to be considered, including the demise in the popularity of the ruling Tory party- and especially its leader- who cannot negotiate a deal with the 10 MPs of the DUP- an anti-choice, homophobic party which has deep roots in paramilitary- to form a government.
When a sleeping giant begins to wake from its slumber, it cannot expect to instantly be recognised as the alpha male, so to speak. It will take time for the giant to re-establish itself as the leader, and sometimes this never happens. Alas, Manchester United may never win the league again. Or, they could be on the brink of a whole new era. The success of Pakistan in the ICC Champions Cup, and that of Manchester United in the Europa League, could prove to be a catalyst for the years to come. It is for this reason that post-election polls are now showing Labour as the most popular political party. Jim Callaghan famously said that there are times when there is a sea of change in politics, and there is no way to change the public mood. We may be at such a point now.