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9 June 2017

Jeremy Corbyn has won a great victory – and so have the Liberal Democrats

Labour may not have the most MPs, but Jeremy Corbyn has created an electoral map with many more winnable seats than he inherited.

By Stephen Bush

So it was brilliant defeat after all. Labour lost their third successive general election, but for the first time since 2005, the party can feel they have the wind at their backs.

Yes, the numbers mean that the only viable government – and even then that’s using a very generous definition of “viable” – is a Conservative one, propped up by the Unionist parties. English votes for English laws means that the Conservatives will still have a majority of 60 on English issues, but this is a government that is altogether weaker and more vulnerable than the one it replaced.

Don’t underestimate the scale of the turnaround that Labour achieved after its disastrous local elections, either.  

As far as Jeremy Corbyn is concerned personally, having increased both Labour’s vote share and more importantly its seat share, he has a cast-iron right to have a second crack at the electorate if he so wants. Equally, if my maths is right, a Corbynite successor could now make the ballot without relying on the kindness of strangers.

But Corbyn hasn’t just achieved an internal victory. (And let’s take a moment to praise Theresa May, who has done what no one thought possible, and unified the Labour Party.)  As I wrote immediately after the 2015 election, that defeat was very bad for Labour indeed. So bad that the party had lost two elections in one night. There were very few genuine marginals for them to gain and a number of their own seats were highly vulnerable.

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Some of their own seats are still very vulnerable but Corbyn has created an electoral map with many more winnable seats than he inherited. Shipley is a marginal again. Chingford and Wood Green is a marginal for the first time in its history. The electoral path to power is still formidable. But no matter how bleak things look, Labour will know that having won Canterbury – a seat that has been Conservative-held for so long that the last party leader to take it off the Tories was William Gladstone – they can revitalise and regenerate their coalition.

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The remarkable boost in turnout – not only among the young, though we will have to wait for the full figures to emerge to start to draw real conclusions from it – means that no party will feel as relaxed about offering thin gruel to young voters again. That will change British politics for the good and for ever.

As for the Liberal Democrats, as bruised as they will feel, they had a fantastic night too. The loss of their best performer in Nick Clegg, the miscalculation of wasting time and money trying to unseat Kate Hoey in Vauxhall while narrowly losing to Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park, and the fall from first to third place in Southport, obscures a night in which their parliamentary party is larger and their talent pool is deeper. Their vote went down but it is more efficient. And to be frank, Clegg doesn’t need to be in Parliament to make a splash.

But what the parties of the left and centre can now do is look at the next election, whenever it may be, with genuine hope.