Until Labour addresses the toxic trio – immigration, welfare and economic trust – it will never win again

by Kevin Meagher

You’ve probably heard Labour politicians concede there’s a ‘perception’ that immigration is a problem and respond by saying that ‘people are not racist for being concerned about the issue’.

These are the two weaselling formulations trotted out time and again to body swerve the issue that looms large in the concerns of electors – particularly those who still vote Labour – and millions more who the party needs to win back if it ever has a hope of governing again.

Yet Labour is not serious – not at all – in trying to meet the public’s expectations. There is no concession that mass immigration has indeed been damaging for many communities and groups of workers, (albeit largely positive for the urban middle-class). Behind the platitudes – the obfuscations – the real view is clear: Immigration is an objective good. There are no downsides. You are a fool or a racist if you think there are.

Enter Jon Cruddas. The Dagenham MP and sometime policy chief to Ed Miliband, has launched a new report, Labour’s Future, Why Labour Lost in 2015 and How it Can Win Again. It argues the party needs to: ‘…stop patronising socially conservative Ukip voters and recognise the ways in which Ukip appeals to former Labour voters…’

Devastatingly, Cruddas – a former academic and not much given to hyperbole – adds: ‘Labour is becoming a toxic brand. It is perceived by voters as a party that supports an ‘open door’ approach to immigration, lacks credibility on the economy, and is a “soft touch” on welfare spending.’

‘A toxic brand’. My, how we sneer at the Tories’ lack of electoral success in the north, yet as the report points out, 43% of voters in the south said they would never vote Labour (the same figure for voters in the north who would never vote Conservative).

The report adds: ‘The full significance of this for Labour is the fact that it must win 27 seats in the south to gain a majority of one [at the next general election] on a uniform national swing…’

Some hope.

In recent years, Uncut has repeatedly warned the party is residing in a completely different place to the majority of voters on each of these touchstone issues. This toxic trio – immigration, welfare and economic competence – guarantees Labour permanent exile from government unless they are addressed to the public’s satisfaction. But they won’t be. This is the price for Labour becoming ‘largely a party of progressive, social liberals,’ as the Cruddas report puts it.

And, for the record, this sorry situation is not the fault of Jeremy Corbyn. Sure, he shares the basic assumptions that immigration is always wonderful, that high welfare spending is always a sign of a civilised society and that it is always right to challenge ‘the neo-liberal settlement’ rather than reassure voters on the economy; however this groupthink, in part or in whole, is widely shared. Indeed, the one thing that unites Corbyn and, say, Tony Blair, or Chuka Umunna, or Yvette Cooper, is an unqualified support for open-door immigration.

It’s on display every time Labour politicians think no-one is listening. This was Gordon Brown, caught by a television microphone describing Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy as a ‘bigoted woman’ during the 2010 election campaign. Shadow Europe minister, Pat Glass, did the same thing last week when she described a voter (courtesy of another live mic), as a ‘horrible racist’ for complaining about the impacts of immigration.

It’s this wilful disdain for the centre of gravity of public opinion that is most depressing. Why worry about the electoral consequence of the Corbynistas adopting a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament when so many in the centre of the party are willing to defy the electorate on more potent issues?

Those Labour MPs contemplating their political mortality should internalise this report and what it means. The obvious lesson is simple. If Labour doesn’t start appealing to voters who value family, tradition, work and country then the party will never – ever – win again.

And the next time candidates reach for either of those watery, disingenuous terms to avoid the public’s legitimate questioning on immigration, bear in mind just how much voters now despise you for doing so.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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17 Responses to “Until Labour addresses the toxic trio – immigration, welfare and economic trust – it will never win again”

  1. Tafia says:

    Cruddas is bang on the nail.

    UAt the last election, the tories had largely recovered their voter base. Labour were still 4 Million down. UKIPs vote was? 4 Million.

    Labour only has two routes. The first route – favoured by the Corbynistas, is to abandon that 4 million and aim at the 35% of the registered electorate that don’t bother voting. The second route is you win back those people from UKIP. To do that you are going to have to address their concerns – not attempt to persuade them they are wrong, change to meet them.

    Labour’s traditional core vote – blue collar Labour, is overwhelmingly socially conservative in outlook, beliefs, behaviour and attitude. That is not going to change and that is all there is to it. Get used to it. You would have to be a total wank-spanner to think otherwise. You are not going to get those voters back unless you compromise with their beliefs and wants. If you don’t, you will never see inside Number 10 ever again. And it’s no good threatening them with perpetual tory government. In their eyes a red tory is just as much a tory as a blue one.

    One thing I will guarentee you. As a result of this referendum no matter who wins neither the Tories nor Labour will ever be the same again. But should Remain win, one of the two will at some stage over the next decade end up an openly anti-EU party because that will be the only way they will be able to regain their voters and the disillusioned anti-EU voters from the other parties. And should that party then go on to win a General Election we will leave the EU without any referendum because the electorate will have voted for it at that General Election.

    And my money is on Labour becoming that party – because if it doesn’t it’s in a death spiral no matter whether it moves right or left.

  2. Warren Tarbiat says:

    The main problem is that not many if anyone actually realises the strategy and ideas thought about by most of the people from all traditions inside the Labour party are just in pure denial. If Labour needs to have at least a majority of one it will need 13% lead over the Tories in England alone to achieve this after the boundary changes come in (that’s the massive danger for Labour, not the reselection battles people hype about). For most of its history Labour has had this massive Scotland comfort blanket and favourable boundaries that it has relied on to at times gain a majority (whether sustainable or not, did you know that 5 times it has won a working majority 3 of those under Blair?).

    Our challenges of the public is to provide a platform that isn’t just immigration/welfare-bashing to appeal to one section of our tradition white working class base. We need a platform that appeals potentailly 50%+ of the electorate in 2020 and it will be very different to the hey days of when Blair & new Labour was an electoral beast. For instance there will be more self-employed than public sector workers in 2020 but is anyone addressing any policy detail from the Shadow Cabinet, Corbyn’s team or the centrist backbenchers?

    Only some gestures from Liam Byrne which is a long god dammed way from solving Labour’s electoral woes. Ed Miliband utterly failed to address Labour’s problems back in 2012 when noticeable shifts began to happen as attitudes began to harden and now we face a Tory Government that is going to last how long? Another 9 years? 14? 19? 24?

    We are utterly screwed and nobody is able to comprehend this.

  3. Warren Tarbiat says:

    Forgot to add this; the country also faces fiscal challenges from an ageing population and one that do not like deficits . We are not going to get the Blair-era where good growth & low taxes would have good public services & money for private-sector workers to enjoy the fruits. I feel a lot of Labour centrists or just wish this problem away with “effiency!”, “let us manage money well!” & “devolution!” which is not a direct solution to our public service woes. While Corbynites go “raise taxes under the current tax system & hammer tax avoiders!”.

    I’m hysterical aren’t I? *sigh*

    Disclamer; do not consider myself any “factional” type.

  4. Peter Kenny says:

    You’re imagining a party so different that almost all the members and huge chunks of the PLP would have to either give up their basic values or leave.

    This “blue Labour” stuff presumably calls for us to start lying to people by claiming we think things we don’t. That always works out well!

    It’s not going to happen, is it?

    So what’s your political trajectory?

  5. Warren Tarbiat says:

    @ Peter Kenny

    So how can an unabashedly pro-welfare, pro-migrant, pro-spending perception gain 13% ahead of the Tories in England in order to gain a majority of 1 once the boundary changes occur? We cannot rely on the Scottish comfort blanket anymore that helped us to get commons majorities anymore. Most voters want opposition parties to have in a sense of being in “control” of things/issues which is how Cameron won (Chris Dillow went into this: http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2014/11/immigration-spontaneous-order.html).

    The left don’t realise how Cameron & Osborne is outfoxing them and it’ll be too late. Easy to metaphroically masturbrate about “values” & “principles” but from the electoral challenge we face we must face hard truths.

  6. james says:

    As a Lib Dem leaver (ie i agree with the non-pecuniary social changes – that can dovetail with the traditional values) though am extremely concerned at the current inferiority complex psyche of the UK as a whole at demanding what it needs from the EU to change that relationship I agree that `there is no concession that mass immigration has indeed been damaging for many communities and groups of workers, (albeit largely positive for the urban middle-class)` is a huge problem on the centre and centre-left and also is a huge challenge for a view of life that should be worried in an ethical sense that groups of voters are being left behind.

    May I posit a different scenario? If Labour doesn’t transmogrify the Tories will. Forget Cameron who is a busted flush. Brexit will demand a Brexiteer PM as a counter-weight to what’s gone on – if they’re canny enough to re-orient the Tories to the centre ground on spending, with a strong commitment to workers rights, being tough with the EU (getting concessions on immigration and free trade deals) whilst bringing in some of the non-toxic elements of UKIP along and the blue Labour tribe that provides an exciting new paradigm.

    Add on the dispersal of power shifting from London to other regions and you have the elements of a new party that is the new government. Voters may not have to vote Labour – after all many working class people voted Tory before. Boris, Mordaunt vs Corbyn – it’s not an even contest.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Well said Tafia, although the remain fear campaign,is gaining momentum(no pun intended) the amount of working class socially conservative blue collar workers voting brexit, has either shocked metropolitan types, or they’ve either been in denial or just dismiss them as knuckle draggers , who we don’t need to win, making it even harder to win back after 2020

    Paul Kenny, 2/3rds of current labour members, support remain 50/50 of labour voters at the last election support remain,and all those ex labour members?
    Yes you are asking for a lot of current labour members to reject what they currently stand for, how many People who fully endorsed the 1983 manifesto,or backed Benn for deputy, endorsed the 1997 manifesto, I know ,people who backed acorbyn bqcuse he was the most anti EU of the 4 candidates,take Brendan Chilton of the labour leave campaign or some of blue labour in Cruddas constituency,they voted Kendall First,Jeremy second,

    Didn’t blue labour, back Wayson for deputy, and Rod liddle and eventually Lord Galsman of blue labour, backed Sadiq for mayor, after Lammy blew it.

  8. Tafia says:

    Here’s a little conundrum for you.

    Imagine the forthcoming referendum wasn’t about staing in or leaving, rather imagine we were out and it was actually about joining.

    In the campaigning you would be told:-

    that over 50% of your laws would be made by the EU.
    That you would have to give up your exclusion zone around your coast to allow fellow EU countries to fish in your waters.
    That their would be a common agriculture policy that would cripple your farming industry.
    That if any of your heavy industries got in trouble the government would not be allowed to help.
    That the plan to make a European army would include ours.
    That you would have to have an open border to over 500 million Europeans who would get access to benefits, healthcare and social housing.

    How would you vote?

  9. Tafia says:

    John – the amount of working class socially conservative blue collar workers voting brexit, has either shocked metropolitan types, or they’ve either been in denial or just dismiss them as knuckle draggers

    I don’t actually know any Labour (or Plaid) voters who are going to vote Remain. They are all for out and Wales is supposed to be more pro-EU than England.

  10. Peter Kenny says:

    My point is that the Labour Party is not going to take those even further right than Blair positions without ceasing to be what it is.

    It won’t happen.

    That’s a “hard truth” for you.

    Another “hard truth” is that no one knows what is going to happen – even Blair said today that he doesn’t understand politics anymore. So all this political fortune telling is just looking at tea leaves in a cup.

    Nothing’s gained by equating having a values based politics with wanking, is it? Do you imagine insulting people changes their opinions?

    Essentially I’m a socialist and a democrat. We put our case, our position and people have a real choice, instead of varieties of essentially the same product.

    What do you think the “socially conservative” working class people you’re talking about would make of a party pretending to agree with them. They’d think it was crap and they’d be right.

    The thing is that real change is hard won – I remember many people in the LP in the eighties telling us to shut up about Gay Rights for example, to get elected. Or racism, or police corruption, or anything that rocked the boat. I say rock the bòat as hard as you can.

    So how about, just saying, we say what we think, not what we think people want us to think. Imagine, people could then engage with us in an open honest way. Perhaps we wouldn’t have lost our Scottish support, who weren’t our “comfort blanket” – they actually had dreams and perspectives of their own.

    Now, what to do? First we have to finish the job of transforming the party, we have to have a programme of political transformation as well as economic change. We need PR, elected second chamber, devolution and a willingness to work with others to get there.

    A deal with the SNP? Yes.
    A deal with Plaid? Yes
    A deal with the Greens? Yes

    We could lose, sure but the easiest way to lose is to surrender.

  11. Tafia says:

    A deal with the SNP? Yes.
    That will be IndyRef2. The SNP are adamant that any deal with anyone is 100% dependent on them granting a second referendum, but this time with no London/Westminster interference.

    A deal with Plaid? Yes
    That would be Wales being up-gunned to a Parliamnet of it;s own and powers equal to Scotland devolved to it.

    A deal with the Greens? Yes
    Which Greens? The Scottish Greens are totally separate to the Englandandwales Greens. The Scottish Greens are pro-independence. The Englandandwales Greens are [ro-unionist and anti-Trident

  12. John P Reid says:

    Paul kenny, as blair was very pro immigrtion, and you define labour as wanting to control EU immigration, as taking us to the right of Blair, I Accept that the labour left of the past in being anti the EEC( as it was) weren’t anti it because of immigration, u think to was a point ,ha the non stop and labour of old mentioned
    But I wouldn’t define controlling immigration from the EU as being a right wing thing,
    Regarding the 80’s racism,and the police, people telling people to shut up, were the ordinary black folk of Totenham telling bernie Grant,to, stop positive descrimination as he was causing a problem where there wasnt one,when Martha Osamor didnt make the election list or Vaxhall MP ,grant was saying black people would use other forms of direct action to get their voices heard, gay rights was muddled up with Peradophile information exchange

    I accept, there was homophobia and labour spoke out, but things like that weren’t going to affect the majority,as Black and gay people were worried about the economy ,inflation

    When was economic trust ever aright wing thing,Blair never had any interest in the economy ,as he has said he doesn’t understand politics,it could be the anti immigration of trump,or Corbyns not being interested in Winning elections
    Blair wasn’t socially conservative but the Labour Party was, many joined in the last 30 years due to that otherwise they’d have joined the liberals and social security ws seen by the Attlee Government as a failure, why would I think be regarded as right of Blair to want what the Atlle govt, felt should be eradicated.

  13. John P Reid says:

    James I’ve just put a bet on Gove as the next PM, I even know old fashioned teachers Union leaders who liked his reforms,something Charles Clarke was proposing
    If he becomes PM we’ll have Tory government still 2040 and that’s if remain just win too

  14. Peter Kenny says:

    The SNP will have Indyref2 the moment they think they can win it, that’s not the terms of a deal, they don’t even want another referendum right now.

    Plaid are a minority in Wales, unlike the SNP in Scotland, so they’re in a much weaker position.

    The Greens have only one one MP but got a significant minority vote.

    Of course there’s a price for deals – but what’s the price of sucking up to UKIP voters by swinging right – not that that is going to happen.

    John Reid – how come Bernie Grant trebled his majority in 1992 if he was as unpopular in his constituency as you say. Mind you, you also think Gove is going to be PM, so…

  15. Tafia says:

    The SNP will have Indyref2 the moment they think they can win it
    The SNP would have IndyRef2 tomorrow if they could. All they ae looking for is a justifiable reason to have it.

    Plaid are a minority in Wales, unlike the SNP in Scotland, so they’re in a much weaker position.
    If you need them, they are in a stronger position than you. Carwyn Jones has just found that out and is now having to divert funds to massively increase and accelerate the Cymraeg medium education programme as well as other things he didn’t want to do. The lady doesn’t come cheap.

    The Greens have only one one MP but got a significant minority vote.
    There are no Greens. The Greem Party of Englandandwales is totally and completely seprate to the Green Party of Scotland, with a different agenda.

    Of course there’s a price for deals – but what’s the price of sucking up to UKIP voters by swinging right – not that that is going to happen.
    In which case you will never ever recapyure the blue collar Labour voters who have deserted you, in which case you will never ever win ever again – unless you move into the tories ground, which funnily enough is swinging right, or you take a gamble and move left. In short. you are going nowhere where you are and have no option other than moving quite significantly right or left.

    you also think Gove is going to be PM, so…
    So do I

  16. Peter Kenny says:

    Sturgeon’s position is that there would need to be 60% support for independence for a year before another referendum would be called, unless there is a vote for Brexit in which Scotland voted to stay. They are very aware of what happened in Quebec – the danger of losing a second referendum for them is high.

    You’re wrong on that, in short!

    As for the rest, well we’ll see. We haven’t got control of the Party not to have a go at what we believe to be the best way forward. Corbyn’s majority and the doubling of the membership says that’s what we’ll do. It’s just what follows from winning – you get to put your programme before the country.

    As for Gove..!

  17. Tafia says:

    Sturgeon’s position is that there would need to be 60% support for independence for a year before another referendum would be called

    Tot up the SNP vote, the Scottish Green Party vote, the SSP vote and don’t forget, some of the remaining Labour, Tory and LibDem voters are actually pro-Independence.

    That’s well north of 60%.

    As for Gove..!
    The EU referendum has already impacted on the tory leadership hopefuls. May has shown herself to be duplicitous in the extreme – her speech last year about immigration is entirely at odds with her current position of being pro-EU and is very likely the reason that since the debate shoifted to immigration she has deliberately gone (or more likely been forced) to low profile. Osborne has shown himself to be inept, clumsy and shallow. That leaves Gove -vs Johnson for the leadership and the tory party faithful are not big fans of Johnson. Incidentally, did you watch Gove on the Sky News debate the other night? He was immense – by far the best and most coherent of either Leave or Remain.

    So, GE2020 will be Corbyn vs Gove. Now consider that nobody believes Corbyn is pro-EU – they all think really he is anti and is only adopting his pro-stance for the sake of Cabinet unity. In his speech the other day he literally oozed insincerity and the commentators on all the TV channels picked up on that – it was obvious he didn’t mean what he was saying. Coupled with the fact that he is shortly going on holiday and will take no further part spoeaks volumes in itself (apparently he has also let it be known he doesn’t have a postal vote, which means he won’t even be voting).

    Not that that what Corbyn thinks matters anyway. Unless there is a recession and/or a major scandal between now and 2020, the tories will win again. – and with Gove as PM, with an endorsement from the GE, we could well end up leaving even if Remain win this years referendum.

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