Labour’s congenital fatalism means it’s in danger of learning the wrong lessons from 2019

by Atul Hatwal

There’s much that’s salient in the Labour Together report. The problems of Jeremy Corbyn on the doorstep, an economic prospectus that few believed, a chaotic campaign and, of course, Brexit. This is hardly breaking news, but credit is due for calling this out.

But then there’s also a recurrence of a peculiarly Labour fatalism.

The report states “The roots of our 2019 loss stretch back over the last two decades.” It cites a panoply of long term trends including deindustrialisation, demographic change and declining trade union membership, to explain the steady rise in the Conservative vote in Labour seats, since 2001.

The framing in the report paints a picture of an ineluctable growth of Tory support in Labour strongholds as a function of these deep-seated changes.

To anyone who remembers the late 1980s and early 1990s, this is pretty familiar stuff.

Much the same was written then. Structural factors. Population movement. Shifting values. All were used to explain a decade on decade decline in Labour support, a downward slope starting in 1945 that pointed to final obsolescence sometime in the early 2000s.

Labour Together’s report has a particularly striking line that epitomises the pessimism inherent in this ‘historical forces’ type of explanation.

“Many of these trends are global and have had similar and negative impacts on social democratic and centre-left parties around the world”

Unsurprisingly, Corbynites such as Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery have chimed in with support for this perspective. It’s a crime without a culprit – the politicians in charge are at the mercy of larger forces. It was the system, events dear boy, events, not individual leaders like Jeremy Corbyn or, Ed Miliband (coincidentally a commissioner of the Labour Together report).

In the early 1990s it was Labour’s challenges in the South that were insurmountable. Today, it’s the North and Midlands, exemplified in the notion of the recently crumbled Red Wall.

Certainly, it’s unarguable that Labour did exceptionally badly in its heartland seats. But the Labour Together report mistakes correlation for causation. Yes, there were losses but not for the reasons claimed.

The idea of a Red Wall is itself indicative of a mindset prone to fatalism. It’s a neat phrase that makes for great copy but bad politics. Lewis Baston broke down the detail of why the Red Wall is a myth in this piece back in December – TL;DR a significant number of these seats were always marginals and would normally follow the overall national swing. For example, Bury North has only voted twice since 1955 for the party that has not won the popular vote (1979 and 2017). Others such as Bassetlaw have experienced significant demographic change that makes them lean towards the Conservatives just as several seats in the South have gone in the opposite direction, but history suggests both main parties are in with a chance of winning these kinds of seat on a good year.

The reasons seats in the North and Midlands swung to the Tories at the last election are the same as why seats in the South such as Peterborough and Kensington returned Conservatives. And why Labour’s target seats up and down the country returned Tories with large majorities. The eternal combination of views on the leader and the party’s economic competence, overlaid in 2019, with Brexit.

In 1996, I was one of the eager young faces around a table at Labour’s HQ, Millbank Tower, at one of the early meetings on targeting first-time voters. In keeping with Labour practice since the 1980s, I was expecting a separate manifesto for young people with measures specifically focused on them. Alastair Campbell was in the chair and his contribution was short and sweet – there wasn’t going to be a special package for young people, or minority communities or any other sub-group. People in Britain had the same basic needs – jobs, security from crime and schools and hospitals that worked.

There would be targeting around communications but the offer remained the same because people fundamentally just want the same thing from their government.

He was right.

Winning back seats in the North or Midlands won’t be based on having a leader or MPs that sound the same or come from a similar background. Diversity of representation in the Labour party is needed to draw on the widest possible pool of talent, but identity politics palpably matters less to voters – after all, the electors of the imaginary Red Wall just backed Boris Johnson, scion of Bullingdon and the most stereotypical southern Tory since Lord Alec Douglas Home. It won’t be built around a new approach that is tailored to seats like Bury North that radically differs from the offer to Basildon.

Demographic change is inevitable today just as it was in the mid to late 1990s. Industrial sectors in parts of the country will rise and fall, just as they have always done. The path back to power is simple and the same, whether in the South, the Midlands, the North or Scotland and Wales: a leader that voters can see as PM and economic policies that are practical and deliverable. In both cases, these are active choices a political party can make.

For 2024, the election is there to be won by Labour. The polling is clear that Keir Starmer looks like a Prime Minister. Labour now needs economic policies to match. Brexit will not be an issue in the same way – though if there is a hard Brexit with attendant hardship, it may yet be a millstone around Conservative poll ratings.

Labour needs to kick its fatalism, leaders and political parties have agency, they’re not just flotsam drifting in the currents of history.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut


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15 Responses to “Labour’s congenital fatalism means it’s in danger of learning the wrong lessons from 2019”

  1. It may not be the whole answer Atul, but having more parliamentary candidates that look like the electorate they hope to represent would be a massive step forward. Of course with the gentrification of the party which really started in 1945 but accelerated under New Labour it would be like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

  2. Alf says:

    The leaked Labour report shows that there is little the Tory-lite wing of Labour won’t do to prevent a socialist government. All those involved in the sabotage must now be suspended and expelled.

  3. John P Reid says:

    Danny Speight of you mean working class as by the candidates they’re suppose to represent, how on earth a oxbridge lawyer like Richard Burgon got parachuted in a safe Northern seat I’ll never know

    I organised a council election in a 90% white average age 60 seat and got a 22 year old black female elected

    So it’s not always the case

    Alf did you actually read arils article the leaked inquiry was leaked because it wasn’t going to be published as Corbyn knew it was a hatchet job and when the inquiry into the leaked inquiry quiet comes out all it’ll reveal is they shouldn’t have told the press Diane Abbott was crying in the toilet
    The rest of it was banter towards people who are bullies themselves
    Good article

  4. John O Reid says:

    We’re 6 months away from the trade deal or not, from leaving the EU completely
    We’ve been delayed due to covid negotiating
    Yet the Tories are 5% ahead in the polls and the reform/Brexit party is still on 2.5%
    If there was a election the Tories would form a overall majority in 2010 the Tories got 7.1% more than labour and didn’t form a overall majority ok there plenty Libdem MPs then but just think labours vote is do now deeply stacked in the Cities that rhe Tories could get a 2 figure overall majority with a 5% lead now but couldn’t get a overall majority with a 7% lead in 2010

    Those who felt betrayed by the labour party’s contempt for the working class arent coming back any time soon
    There’s areas that labour would expect to get votes due to votes due to demographic changes as younger people or minorities leave the cities due to house prices being yuppified
    So are forced to the shores but then labour assumes younger people or minorities jus because they voted labour in the cities will still vote labour in the shires

    Thurrock being a Example
    When I stood for labour councillor 10 years ago Kemi Badenochs mum voted for me
    She now voted tory

  5. John P Reid says:

    There’s at least 4 inquiries plus Emberys court case all of which will make labour look bad ,the grooming gang and the EHRC anti semitism one
    The leaked one was just a hatchet job .
    This will all make it harder for labour to win

  6. Tafia says:

    Atul, dince when has Peterboro been in the south? Its in the Midlands. The east Midlands to be specific.

    Is this a common trait amongst Labour activists that they don’t even know where major towns are? Is it deliberate Labour intention to insult people?

    I remember a decade ago living in Holyhead when Labour bussed in activists from universities in England who promptly made very public fools of themselves when they couldn’t even pronounce basic road and place names.

    You are failing to address that the Tory vote, particularly in suburban and semi-rural Labour seats, has increased every election for the last four elections, under three different Labour leaders, promoting three different versions of Labour. I can give you a clue as to why – they’ve seen the gang and drug-riddled benefits reliant sh1t-holes the working class areas of the inner cities have become and Labour’s acceptance of it and message of tolerance of it and they have no intention of allowing it to happen on their doorstep, so until you promise them it won’t happen, you will stamp on it AND they believe you, you’ve got a bit of a problem.

  7. John P Reid says:

    The Tory party is a culture Marxist going back to thatcher liberalism
    And to the Labour Party culture war needs to say this vicitmhood feeling angst that labour is saying black People don’t feel welcome in their country needs to stop its

    This is very good Spiked on the left facing it’s problem

    https://www.spiked-online.com/podcast-episode/the-tory-war-on-woke/

    Labour doesn’t want Blue collar workers or the family man

    I recall the 1987 election labour was thought of as anti white racist when various quotes used by Bernie Grant or Diane Abbott expresses hatred for white people
    and the likes of Owen jones just feel that if a black persons is a Tory they’re a Uncle Tom and keep calling them a uncle Tom will suddenly mean they’ll want to be mead by a middle class young lad who has no idea what it’s like to be poor
    Like him

  8. John P Reid says:

    At the election labour promised all it could, then promised more, It would have been better offering less if it Needed to say it hoped to offer more then additional things could be added if they got to that stage.

    It reminded me of the Amps that go up to 11 in Spinal tap to make the guitars be heard louder, If we promised we could do 9 and then we did 10 it would be a bonus
    The Spinal tap comparison is Like going up at a Toby carvery and trying to take more food than it’s possible to eat

    I remember the Green Party had a slogan on a poster in 2008
    Vote green we’ll cut tax we’ll spend more on public services and everyone we’ll be more happy And someone wrote in Paint underneath Like a child in a magic peter pan would
    “And we’ll all get free cake and It’ll be Christmas day , every day”

    Natasha Engel former labour mp and deputy speaker
    Said the Labour report talks about building bridges But the bridge is more like
    Gaining access with people they want to re educate rather than reconnecting with the working class who created , A winning coalition of middle class seats in the cities

    Natasha said labour don’t miss the working class and they dont care about winning

    The bbc didn’t dislike Corbyn on his liberal view they disliked him on his socialist views. So it follows the bbc would dislike blue labour for not being liberal but also following Socialist ideals

    The question is why did labour win in October 74 with 36% of the vote in England the Tories got 38% of the vote in England that time, but
    Labour got more votes in Scotland so the end result was 38% in the uk compared to 35.5% Tories got in the U.K. in that election
    Similar labour getting 35% of the vote in Emgland in 2005 the Tories getting 35.5%
    In England yet labour getting more votes in Scotland than the Tories so the end results were 35.3% labour England and the Tories getting 32%

    The real question is in the last 54 years labour has only won England twice in 1997 and 2001 it was the percentage of vote the Tories best labour in 2019 or 1987
    Labour still did fairly well in Scotland and Wales just FPTP didn’t help but the Tories got 15% more than labour in England in 2019 and 1987
    Compared to 1% in October 1974 or 2005

    Maybe people in England vote more on if they think inflation affecting the price of the gas bill low their mortgages not too high, Defence law and order pride in their Country and Education and not letting the trade unions have militancy
    Rather than re nationalising they railways

  9. John P Reid says:

    Billy Bragg said in his book, “when he was Spokesperson for a generation that he reflected the pain of the Working class struggle “ as if being working class is being a viictm, I don’t mention what race of the working class he thought he was the spokesperson for a generation for
    But  if being working class means someone is recoginsed as having a worse life there for should get positive discrimination, then a middle class black person is less a victim, take Afua Hirsch talking about how she feels the pain of black people desite being upper class so suggests ideas to make black people lives beter by taking away police form their area as its oppressive and if eveyones a good un as she knows what it’s like to live on a council estate
     
    Well as the mayor and unions already give grants to BAME people in some Middle cass areas then the white working class had the hump and her view on shes a vicm cos wants to play the victim in the culture war

    it’s a war the left or those who feel they speak for minorites can’t win as most white working class people who aren’t racist , are fed up of the state turning a blind eye to crime by BAME people and fed up of being called racist
     

  10. John P Reid says:

    there’s a skit in Adrian Mole where he Justifies himself , for looking at Porn even though it’s degrading too women by saying as A intellectual he’s allowed to do because he knows he doesn’t have a inner Misogyny for looking at women naked who’ve been exploited and it’s only the filthy working class who hate women who should be ashamed of themselves ,this reminds me of the Labour Party middle class now with their contempt for the Working class with their I was born in a carb board box, its those working class people who moved to areas Where they bought their council homes and thought themselves middle class, but are still common as in they read the Sun and Vote tory who should be ashamed and are probably racist due to being thick as they didn’t aspire to have middle class intellectual hobbies and read posh newspapers ,so are the class traitors by voting tory
    its trying to say, the London middle class liberals are allowed to be middle class by buying their own homes and aspiring to be a intellectual ,who does middle class hobbies but those working class tories who feel middle class and vote tory who still read the sun , must be thick and common

  11. Anne says:

    Thanks for the article Atul – There appear to be many truths in the article – change in demographics etc.Although We are definitely on the right track with Keir in charge.
    What gets me is how bad this government really is and yet people still seem to be hoodwinked into their support. Latest is the Robert Jenrick supposed cash for favours. Here is Minister who is in his late thirties in age caught breaking lockdown rules delivering food to this parents home 150 miles away. Now we hear of him granting favours to Tory donors. The question that springs to my mind is where has he managed to get all his money from? He supposedly has 2 two million houses in London and a One million pound home in Herefordshire. Really! His parents seem to live on a normal housing estate – the name Jenrick sounds Polish. I am intrigued to know how this young man has acquired all this money? Sounds like same old Tories to me – some dodgy dealing going on – feathering their own nest.

  12. John P Reid says:

    Thatcher said the electorate would make law and order a issue in 1979
    In the 2010 election
    the only issue the public thought labour were better than the Tories in was law and order

    In 97 the morning star said Blair was the only sort of labour leader the establishment would tolerate
    They were right
    Now boris is the only sort of Tory leader
    The liberal establishment will tolerate as he’s actually quite a liberal and we have a police force more obsessed with checking the thinking of thought crime non hate incident posts in Twitter

    There was a sea change at the election
    The public and Tories have got to tell rhe liberal establishment is causing rapes and costing lives and driving a wedge between the working class and designer middle class victims

  13. Dave Roberts says:

    Labour is increasingly seen as the party of ethnic minorities and every sector of society that sees itself as “oppressed”. It is in danger of slipping into the irrelevance of similar social democratic parties in Europe as is outlined in an article on http://www.helalabbas.com. All are an interesting read for a former Labour Councillor and leader of Tower Hamlets Council.

  14. John P Reid says:

    When labour loses the next election
    I take it the Corbynites who are blaming everyone Who wasn’t 100% loyal to the Corbyn project for the defeat will take the blame with their criticism of Starmer for sacking RLB as it’ll be them who’s not Loyal to Starmer now

  15. anosrep says:

    Dave Roberts – if Labour doesn’t stand up for the oppressed, what’s the point of us?

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