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In Britain’s June 2017 general election, the Labour Party achieved a result that far exceeded expectations. However, as the negotiations for Brexit became the focus of postelection British politics, the issues involved exposed multiple fractures in the party that the leadership will not find easy to manage.
Corbyn faces the voters
In the wake of Labour’s severe defeat in the 2015 general election, elections were held for a new leader. To everyone’s amazement, the winner was Jeremy Corbyn, the seasoned rebel on the “hard” left of the party. His hold on the throne was precarious and in 2016 he was forced into a second leadership election, which he also won handsomely. But his popularity among the party’s rapidly expanding membership was not paralleled in the country; his poll ratings were dire.
So the mood in Labour circles was gloomy and apprehensive when Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election to be held on June 8, 2017. Labour had just suffered major reverses in local elections and parliamentary byelections and was riven by deep fractures. Corbyn was widely seen as a huge liability. Early in the campaign, polls were showing a Conservative lead of around 20 percentage points and a massive Tory majority was anticipated.1
The results were stunning. Far from being crushed, Labour won an additional 30 seats and 3.5 million votes, boosting its poll share by 9.5 percentage points to 40 per cent. This was the biggest swing to the party since the celebrated election of 1945. Theresa May was humiliated and forced into an embarrassing deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists to maintain her majority. Her authority has been severely impaired.
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