‘May’s humiliation was delicious’
Photograph by Matt Brown
Getting everyone into the project space, where the coverage was being screened, just before the 10pm announcement was not easy – our memories of the 2015 exit poll, which (correctly) called an unexpected Conservative majority were still raw. When it predicted a hung parliament, we were ecstatic: May would be dramatically weakened (having said that losing just six seats would be a disaster ‘for Britain’); Corbyn’s supporters, constantly demonized by the media, would be vindicated; and Britain’s long rightward drift, which had culminated in the previous summer’s Brexit vote, might be reversed. Corbyn may not have won, but he had done far more than avoid obliteration: he had won 40% of the vote (his party’s best result since 2001), secured the biggest swing to Labour since 1945, and not just several won marginals but also seats we could never have imagined turning red – most notably Kensington.
Suddenly everything had changed. Labour certainly had: there could be no leadership challenge to Corbyn, given a standing ovation when he returned to the Commons. The Manchester and London Bridge terror attacks, on which May had attempted to capitalise, prompted recriminations over police cuts. Having long smeared Corbyn as an IRA sympathiser, May flailed to form a ‘coalition of chaos’ with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement. Everyone I knew was jubilant: May’s humiliation was delicious, and the Tories’ fear that Corbyn, branded ‘unelectable’ by Labour ‘moderates’ for the last two years, would become Prime Minister if (or when) their now-minority government collapsed was palpable.
Amidst the celebrations, many of us in London-left circles considered our friend Mark Fisher, who took his own life in January. Fisher’s k-punk blog and his book Capitalism Realism, issued in 2009 via Zero Books (which he co-founded) had been a huge influence on our thought: his diagnosis of an ideological framework in which no alternative to neoliberalism was allowed to be imagined, let alone enacted, and suggestions for how we might challenge it, had inspired many of us to write, make art, or join activist movements that might now feed into a more radical Labour Party. He died at a point when it looked like the economic order might be toppled – by the extreme right, after Trump’s election and the hard-line Tory coup that followed the EU referendum. In this context, the maintenance of capitalist realism might have become what we had to fight for, but now, there was genuine hope, and it saddened us that Mark, always so enthusiastic about any popular movement, wasn’t around to see it.