I used to own a tidy pair of trainers, that changed remarkably quickly when Theresa May called a snap election back in April. I remember the morning well, Twitter went into meltdown speculating what the announcement would be. My money was on home rule for Northern Ireland, how wrong I was.
I’ve often found myself on the wrong end of seemingly certain assumptions. I thought Wales would cruise past Portugal in the Euro’s last summer after beating Belgium in the quarter finals. I also thought that when presented with a straight choice between Corbyn and May, the country at large would opt reluctantly for the latter. Again, I was to be proven wrong but this time in the most stunning of manners.
The paradox of the General Election for Labour is that Jeremy Corbyn and what he represents was both our greatest asset and greatest weakness. On the doorstep, I would often find myself canvassing more for my local MP than for Jeremy Corbyn, such was the scepticism. I vividly remember making the ‘hold your nose’ gesture to traditional Labour supporters and as the weeks progressed, I still believed we were in trouble.
In retrospect, the Tory manifesto changed everything. The slow momentum building behind Labour suddenly gained rocket fuel from the shambolic PR management of the Dementia tax and an apparent lack of any real change compared to Labours radical manifesto. From that point onwards, Labour controlled the narrative of the election. The so called Brexit election failed to materialise, and Corbyn showed his brilliance as a visionary campaigner, focussing on public services, inequality and education.
Literally overnight, my canvassing approach changed from trying to not mention Corbyn at all to putting his policies into every other sentence. Some may look back and say this was the first election the tabloids failed to seriously affect the outcome. The metaphorical kitchen sink was thrown full force at Jeremy’s past and his views, but such was the loss of authority May was going through, these were merely superficial attacks. Kinnock and Miliband both fell to the sword of the media, but Jeremy emerged unscathed and perhaps even stronger. The Conservatives thought they could win by ridiculing their opposition, but just like the Remain campaign found last year, purely negative campaigning is dead in the water. In contrast, Labours ambition and boldness in the programme it was setting out was festering huge support.
Even so, I still had my doubts right up to polling day. In Wales we expected losses to both the Tories and Plaid Cymru. We were still marking on our data sheets Labour voters who wouldn’t vote because of Jeremy. I’ve come to find him a very marmite type figure, some are exhilarated and others repudiated by him. As someone from the centre left, it was apparent that the days of catch all politicians may be numbered. May was failing to seize the centre ground she aspired to preside over, meanwhile Corbyn lapped up the support of a resurgent Left wing Labour party.
On polling day, my pair of trainers took a real battering as we got the vote out. With two A level exams on the Friday, I went to bed hoping to miss what even then was still expected to be a drubbing overnight like in 2015. I watched the exit poll, concluded like in 2015 it was wrong but even so May had been humiliated regardless, the landslide was off and at the time that was a job well done for us all. I woke up and prepared to take stock of the damage, once more, how wrong I was.
In Wales, Welsh Labour proved again it is a ruthless machine capable of staggering consistency. Returning 28/40 MP’s after gaining three Tory seats. In my hometown of Llanelli, our majority increased by over 5000 to 12,000. Meanwhile the brutal return of two party politics clearly hampered Plaid Cymru, who were humbled in all their target seats in the Valleys.
And so here we are in the aftermath of the most extraordinary failed political gamble. Labour are emboldened and on the front foot whilst the Tories are at sixes and sevens. However, one more heave will not be enough even if Labour are now ahead in the polls. We are back where we were in 2010 and still have swathes of previous Labour voters to convince across the country. Now more than ever, those on the centre left must work with the leadership to make the next manifesto realistic, but not lacking in the ambition it promised this time round. Corbyn needs to widen his tent but must do so through gaining trust and respect rather than moving to the centre. We must accept we can’t win votes from all sections of society like New Labour, but we can’t be satisfied with piling up the votes in already safe seats either. Once again, more than ever this requires Labour moderates to continue to push the leadership and speak up, not just fall into line after Corbyn’s mandate took a huge boost.
I was proved wrong by Jeremy Corbyn at this election. Like many, I still harbour doubts, but a Labour election victory is closer now than it has ever been since 2005. I wouldn’t have foreseen that on that quiet morning in April.