In “Britain’s Midsummer Fever Dream” [Aug. 14/21], John Harris draws a very imperfect picture for Nation readers of what is happening in the United Kingdom. His claim that “the way [Jeremy] Corbyn went from zero to hero in a matter of weeks looks like further proof of how politics flips around in the topsy-turvy reality in which we find ourselves” ignores the years of grassroots campaigning that made Corbyn a real challenger for prime minister, on a genuine program of social reform.
Corbyn and his supporters built a grassroots machine by winning the leadership of the Labour Party not once but twice: He was elected Labour’s leader in 2015 and then reelected when the attempts by “moderate” Labour MPs to unseat him were rebuffed by the grassroots a year later. In these leadership campaigns, Corbyn’s supporters recruited hundreds of thousands of new members to the Labour Party and built a campaign machine that mixed traditional methods—rallies and massive outdoor meetings—with imaginative digital campaigning, all promoting solid socialist policies like raising the minimum wage and building more public housing.
In the election, this same campaign strategy was able to take away Prime Minister Theresa May’s majority, despite a vicious, smear-filled personal campaign against Corbyn. Mass canvassing by a newly enthused membership and the production of free web films outclassed the Conservative campaign, which was based around paid-for “negative” Facebook advertising and a virulently right-wing press. It’s a simple lesson: If you want to try to change things, you need to campaign from the bottom up.
But Harris thinks it’s just an unpredictable set of “pictures in variable sequence, images with no ‘meaning,’” because he joined in these attacks on Corbyn. This March, just two months before the election, Harris published a column attacking Corbyn under the headline “Can anyone rescue Labour from this deep irrelevance?,” in which he accused Corbyn’s Labour of being a “pantomime” and asserted that it was “blindingly obvious” Corbyn should resign.
There are no guarantees in this world, but there is a real possibility that a Corbyn-led Labour Party could win the next general election by building on this campaigning with the kind of social-reform politics we haven’t seen for decades. Harris is having trouble predicting the future, but Corbyn’s supporters are trying to change it.