It is time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election

by Jonathan Todd

Labour doubters should become believers about our general election prospects. Here are five reasons for optimism:

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019

Labour misfired in enabling the December 2019 election and in the campaign, proving that something (Get Brexit Done) beats nothing (Labour’s implausible Brexit policy).

Johnson was fortunate in his opponents but ruthless in seizing the opportunities that they afforded him. He will never be so lucky or commanding again.

“All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.”

Patrick Radden Keefe opens his bestselling book about Northern Ireland with this quote from Viet Thanh Nguyen.

We have all fought on the battlefields of Covid. These painful memories now meet the troubling reality that our sacrifices were not matched in Downing Street.

Johnson secured this residence by telling a battle-weary country that he would end the Brexit wars. Now Lord Frost has resigned from his government because Brexit is not done.

  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit

Liz Truss has added Lord Frost’s Brexit responsibilities to her Foreign Policy portfolio. She might come to the same conclusion that Johnson came to when holding that office: the best way to promotion is to resign and attack the prime minister from the right on Brexit.

This manoeuvre might work for Truss with the Conservative Party. It won’t work with the rest of the country.

We are tired of Brexit. We do not want to refight old battles. We just want things to work properly.

Covid is now, of course, the biggest barrier to normal life and Johnson’s inability to meet this challenge is central to his diminishment. It remains to be seen whether Covid will be the core issue of the next general election. Hopefully, because we will have decisively moved beyond Covid’s pandemic phase, not.

But Brexit, the issue that galvanised the Conservatives 2019 voting coalition, won’t be.

  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader

John Major could take the rough edges off Thatcherism and win in 1992. There are plenty of rough edges for a Tory successor to Johnson to polish. But little coherent mission.

The future of the Conservative party is contested. Industrial policy to level up or small state to complete the Brexit revolution? Culture wars or one nation unity? The A595 to Workington or the road to serfdom?

It is time for the Tories to spend some time in opposition to have a rethink.

  1. Liberal Democrat revival helps Labour

The Conservative Party does not know what it is, but the Liberal Democrats do: a repository for anti-Tory support. Which can take Tory seats in parts of the country where Labour MPs have never existed – including in Brexit-voting seats like North Shropshire.

This byelection showed that anger with the government is now a bigger driver of voting behaviour than fidelity to the Brexit cause.

  1. Labour strength across the UK builds Labour recovery in Scotland

If Scots assume that the Conservatives will form the UK government, a vote for the SNP is not necessarily a vote to breakup the UK but to defend Scotland’s interests as aggressively as possible within the UK.

This calculus is disrupted when Labour appears a viable UK government. Tory malaise and Liberal Democrat recovery makes it more likely that Labour can achieve this status. Labour, obviously, must play our part too.

We began the journey of doing this when we elected Keir Starmer as leader. David Cameron invariably polled ahead of Ed Miliband. Jeremy Corbyn was even further from out-performing Johnson. Starmer’s plausibility as a prime minister fulfils a condition of Labour general election victory that has been unmet for over a decade.

This credibility is enhanced with a strengthened frontbench – with the likes of Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper, and Wes Streeting capable of landing big blows.

But there is much further to go. It is a mistake to think that the next steps exactly conform to those taken the last time Labour moved from opposition to government. 1997 is now as distant as Harold Wilson’s victories were from the 1990s or Clement Attlee’s from Wilson’s.

Labour’s frustratingly long periods in opposition tend to be broken by conjuring a new, inclusive national project. This can happen again in 2024 but Labour needs to find a language to resonate in a country battered by austerity, bored by Brexit, and scarred by Covid.

Given the scale of Labour’s defeat in 2019, the idea that Labour could win in 2024 might be as unlikely as Liverpool overcoming Barcelona after a 3-0 defeat in the Camp Nou. The starting point for that famous victory in May 2019 was that 60,000 believers arrived at Anfield, determined to back their team to the hilt. Even Lionel Messi doubted himself in this context.

Johnson is no Messi. He just benefitted from the highly unusual circumstances of 2019. 2024 will be as different as Camp Nou is from Anfield.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut  


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9 Responses to “It is time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election”

  1. Anne says:

    Well, being in danger of sounding clever may I say I told you so. Agree with all of the article and most of it was blindingly obvious from Johnson becoming PM. Labour now has a credible shadow cabinet to build on the advances made.

  2. The Libdem revival?

    They were getting ex Tories like Michael heseltine Matthew Paris backing them in 2019
    Yes they had labour people like Michael cashman back then who’ve come back, I know others who won’t come beck think labours too obsessed with Palestine
    And the libdems are on a lower point, in the polls now, than 2019

    There’s a inquiry in to 7 alleged Xmas parties of which 5 at least never happened and Rees Hogg was cleared of being on the fiddle

    The council elections are in May, 4 years ago labour accepted brexit did pretty good in that election
    4 months from now will be the first test out of London of the key instigator of labours 2nd referendum for remain as party leaders , record ,when the party leader that tried to stop brexit
    Is put before the electorate on how they feel the 2nd referendum man
    As leader reflects their first view in leaving the EU
    and his they’ll vote in the council elections to tell him what he’s done by disrespecting their view on them wanting brexir when he tried to stop it

    And as you admit about 2029 yourself that wasn’t Corbyn, that was Starmer

  3. Vern says:

    I don’t think there is anything remotely worth voting for within Labour at present – just being the opposite of Conservatives and hoping that they fail isn’t enough to grab a victory. Please prove me wrong and outline what you think Labour stand for now and what their vision of the future is and more importantly does it sound “credible”….
    Being a “credible” opposition should be the first measure of success (long way to go) but you need to be “incredible” to win and govern the UK and that is wholly different – very few of Starmers front bench pass the first test.
    Despite what the mainstream media might say on a now yawningly boring daily basis there is huge investment pouring in to the UK, a booming jobs market, and the levelling up and investment into the North (now Blue Wall) is actually happening.
    Many will remember that Boris and the Conservatives paid their wages, increased their Universal Credit and protected as many jobs as possible. The same people will remember that Labour wanted more restrictions, more lock downs and were mostly attempting to thwart the UK’s efforts to get going again.
    The Conservatives have added brilliant relatable MP’s in the form of Lee Anderson to their ranks, he genuinely gets it, he understands Britain and our potential. Labour have added the likes of Nadia Whittome (enough said) and Stella Creasy who is struggling to do what millions of Mom’s (and MP’s) have previously managed in juggling childcare and a career.

  4. Tafia says:

    Johnson will not be leading the Tories at the next election, so planning to defeat him is a morons position.

    The Tories will win the next election – of that you can bet money.

  5. Tafia says:

    At this stage of the Parliamentary cycle, Miliband was 20 points in front. The Tories won the folowing election.

    Corbyn, on both occasions, was over 10 points in front. And lost both times.

    Starmer was higher in the Opinion Polls on Oct/Nov/Dec 2020 and Jan 2021.

    As Prof Curtis points out – “The big difference now is that Starmer (still) isn’t seen as a leader-in-waiting. Indeed, that Labour performs so well in the polls is more due to Conservative collapse than a resurgent Labour.”

    And likewise Justin Ibbett, chief executive of Focaldata ““We are talking about a collapse in the Tory vote not a revival of the Labour party.”

    In depth reveals that less than 2% of voters have switched from the Tories to Labour. 7% have gone to Reform (the new UKIP/Brexit Party) and will probably return come election time.

  6. Tafia says:

    5. Labour strength across the UK builds Labour recovery in Scotland

    At GE2019 Labour got 18.6% of the Scottish vote and at the Holyrood election earlier this year they polled 21.6/17.9%. They are currently polling at around 18.5% for a Westminster election and 19/18 for a Holyrood one.

  7. Anne says:

    Offering good governance for starters.

  8. Ann Onnimus says:

    1. Irrelevant – Johnson won’t be Tory leader at the next election.

    2. Doesn’t help. It will be about whatever issues favour the Tories, because Starmer has let them get away with setting the terms of political discourse (just as Miliband did in 2010-15 and Corbyn did in 2019 on Brexit – and just as Corbyn DIDN’T do in 2015-17, hence Labour’s relative success in 2017).

    3. It doesn’t have to – see 2.

    4. No it doesn’t – it means the Tories are losing votes to the Lib Dems instead of to us. Anyway, Tory seats going Lib Dem doesn’t make a Labour minority government or Labour-led coalition more likely unless lots more are going Labour.

    5. What recovery? Labour had our worst result ever in the Scottish Parliament this year.

  9. Landless Peasant says:

    Labour has nothing to offer at all, other than the fact that they’re not Tories, though they might as well be judging by Starmer’s hatred and disgusting mistreatment of all the true Socialists in the party. Starmer and his cronies are offering New Labour 2.0, they won’t get my vote.

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