A historian recalls the momentous day of 9 June 2017, when Jeremy Corbyn entered Downing Street as the first Labour Prime Minister in seven years.
It was a scene that, until just a couple of weeks before the election, quite literally nobody expected to see. Theresa May, stood outside Downing Street, conceding defeat on behalf of the Conservative Party. Or at least trying to. In practice all she could manage was to mumble ‘strong and stable’ repeatedly, but people got the idea.
Shortly afterwards the victorious Jeremy Corbyn addressed his supporters outside the Labour Party’s Victoria Street HQ. ‘A new dawn has broken, has it not’ he opinionated, triggering wild applause and chants of ‘Jez we can’ from the assembled crowd. Corbyn repeated Labour’s manifesto commitments, to scrap tuition fees, nationalise the railways and provide an additional £30 billion to the NHS, before asking ‘and who’s going to pay for it?’ The crowd momentarily fell silent. ‘Mexico’, shouted one man, but the confused look on Corbyn’s face told him this was the wrong answer. After a while a Labour staffer handed one of the supporters a piece of paper. He unfolded it carefully, read it, then shouted ‘the rich’ which triggered another round of boisterous cheering. The applause spread to street parties across London, and was soon audible in Buckingham Palace. Prince Harry momentarily stopped nailing lengths of wood across one of the lower Palace windows, and listened. He turned to his brother and asked ‘how long do you think we can hold them?’ ‘I don’t know’ came the answer ‘I really don’t know’.
An emotional Theresa May concedes defeat outside 10 Downing Street.
Of course Corbyn wouldn’t have won if Wikileaks hadn’t released that video. Most people assumed they had got it from Russian intelligence but, once they’d watched it, no one really seemed to care about this. To this day legal experts are unsure whether Theresa May’s actions were illegal, or just highly immoral, nor even whether she even realised she was in the German Embassy. May’s team insisted that no offence had been intended, and after a few hours scrubbing managed to remove most of the stains, but by this point the reputational damage had been done. She pleased nobody. The left were furious about the cultural insensitivity whilst the right were angry at how badly May had misspelt ‘wankers’. This was swiftly followed by another blow, when the traditionally pro-Tory London Evening Standard delivered a shock endorsement of Labour. It turned out the paper’s new editor was really impressed by John McDonnell’s economic programme. Certainly the headline ‘Up The Workers’ and the red flag on the masthead were visually evocative.
After addressing his supporters Corbyn walked back into Labour HQ to start drafting a more formal victory speech. On the way, when he thought he was out of earshot, Corbyn’s Director of Strategy Seamus Milne pulled him to one side and stated that he’d spent years compiling ‘a long list of names’ for this day. Corbyn smiled, and told his aide that he was ‘delighted’ that he’d put so much thought into who would be in his first Cabinet. Milne looked confused, then grumbled ‘no that’s not what the list is for’ before adding ‘don’t worry – I’ll explain later’.
Within minutes of returning to his office Corbyn started receiving congratulatory telephone calls from various world leaders. The first was from American President Donald Trump. It went a lot better than expected. The two men bonded over their shared dislike of the mainstream media. Trump said he had ‘loads of trouble’ from ‘a totally bias blond female establishment journo called Megyn Kelly’. Corbyn commented that he’d been having ‘similar trouble’ with Laura Kuenssberg. Unfortunately conversations with other world leaders went less well. Corbyn struggled to hear what Putin was saying as the Russian leader seemed to be playing the Kool & The Gang hit ‘celebrations’ at an annoyingly loud volume, and at times sounded like he might be dancing. Macron didn’t seem to know who Corbyn was, Jean-Claude Juncker was clearly drunk and Merkel kept asking to discuss something called ‘Brexit’, which didn’t ring any bells with the Labour leader.
Labour supporters gather outside Parliament to celebrate Corbyn’s win, with chants of ‘Jez we can’ and ‘liquidate the Kulaks’.
As morning turned to afternoon some of the reactions to Corbyn’s victory started to become increasingly hysterical. Outgoing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told a Telegraph journalist that he feared it could lead to the fall of the British Empire. At this point a Foreign Office official intervened to point out that the British Empire no longer exists. Boris didn’t take the news well. Meanwhile Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon were both detained by the police after they were caught trying to steal a vending machine from The Treasury. Apparently they were convinced that, considering the possible economic impact of Corbyn’s policies, it was vital to stockpile all the food they could. The most provocative intervention though came from Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. After telling a press conference that the British people had made ‘a grave mistake’ in not electing his party, Farron called on the army to take ‘all necessary measures’ to return the Lib Dems to power. A few hours later it was clear that the soldiers were remaining in their barracks, and the whole incident was put down to over exuberance.
It was late evening before Corbyn’s motorcade pulled up outside his new home at 10 Downing Street. Before entering the building he delivered a few choice words to the assembled journalists. Paraphrasing St Francis of Assisi Corbyn asserted that ‘where there is discord, may we bring harmony…and where there is despair, may we bring hope’. Minutes later came the news that the French Government had sealed the border at Calais. Apparently they couldn’t cope with the sheer number of Brits trying to leave the country. It was a dramatic start to what would turn out to be a tumultuous term in office. Of course at this stage no one could have predicted how much of a political scandal a tub of Vaseline could cause, but they would soon learn.