It sounds counter-intuitive, but better for Labour’s survival to lose seats to the Tories than the Lib Dems or Ukip

by Atul Hatwal

The future seems bleak for Labour. Catastrophic local election results, Mayoral losses in heartlands like the Tees Valley and West Midlands and a general election wipeout in prospect. It’s hard to think how things could be worse.

But they could.

There are three ways to lose: on points, knocked-out and retired from the ring.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, the last of those three options has been a real possibility. A defeat so total and damaging that it will be lethal to Labour’s chances of ever returning to power.

A beating of this scale would involve the long term fracturing of Labour’s coalition of voters with a mushrooming of Ukip representatives in the North and Midlands and losses to the Lib Dems in parts of London, the South West and university towns

This is the road to retirement.

Both of these parties thrive as vehicles of protest against the status quo, whether the metropolitan elite or establishment elite or both.

Labour campaigners have years of experience of how difficult it is to dig out Lib Dems once they have taken root locally. A combination of effective organisation and the ability to always promise that grass is greener, made them political knotweed (that’s not a criticism).

It’s no coincidence that Lib Dems were only removed from places like Bermondsey and Southwark, islands of orange in Labour territory, after the Lib Dems threw their lot in with the Tories, entered government and had to defend government policies.

Ukip’s strategy has been explicitly based on the traditional Lib Dem approach and after the Lib Dem’s 2015 electoral experience, Tim Farron has taken them back to basics in their local campaigns.

If Labour’s collapse in the local and Mayoral elections had been synonymous with Ukip and Lib Dem gains, it would have been a portent of an extinction level political event on June 8th.

Beyond the immediate catastrophe at this general election, any future fall in Conservative support would likely be dissipated across Ukip and the Lib Dems making a majority Labour government all but impossible.

Instead, it’s Ukip that are on the verge of extinction and the Lib Dems remain confined to small pockets of viability across the country.

The scale of Tory gains in June will knock out Labour but as long as the party remains the main alternative under a first past the post voting system, it can get up off the canvass.

The notion, widely trailed in the media that the Tories will establish a long term grip on these gains in Labour heartlands over the coming decades is over blown.

The economic and electoral pendulum will swing. Twenty years ago, when I worked for the Labour party, unprecedented gains were made in the 1997 general election in rock solid Tory seats.

Almost all were kept four years later in the 2001 election when talk about a fundamental realignment in British politics began to seem more plausible.

But as Labour’s fortunes waned – as always happens for whatever reason – these gains largely fell away.

The negatives associated with Labour’s brand in these areas soon returned and politics looked a lot more normal just four years later, after the 2005 election.

The Tory brand is over 150 years old and when the economy dips and Theresa May’s manifold weaknesses are pored over by the media, the old toxicity of that brand, in Labour areas, will return. What happened to Labour in the early 2000s will happen to the Tories in the early 2020s subject to one essential condition: Labour picks someone vaguely electable as its leader after Corbyn.

Under first past the post, the choice is only ever one of two. Restive moderate MPs looking enviously over the channel at Macron’s surge to power would do well to remember this iron law of British politics. Given the Tories are going to win, the other option needs to remain Labour, even if trailing far behind.

To understand how bad the situation could be, just look at Scotland.

The SNP appear to be falling back slightly in the polls and local election results, but Labour is not the alternative. Unionists worried about the extent of SNP power are reverting to the Tories as the bulwark against Scottish nationalism. Progressives worried about Tory control are sticking with the SNP as their defence against English nationalism.

Labour in Scotland is now in the same position as the Lib Dems south of Hadrian’s Wall.

This is one of the bitterest paradoxes that Jeremy Corbyn’s uniquely catastrophic leadership has created: better for our survival to be beaten by the Tories than give Ukip and the Lib Dems footholds in seats that Labour will one day need for majority government, even if that means a bigger Tory majority this year.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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12 Responses to “It sounds counter-intuitive, but better for Labour’s survival to lose seats to the Tories than the Lib Dems or Ukip”

  1. Ian says:

    I am beginning to wonder whether this site is black ops by the Tory Party?

  2. daodao says:

    I agree that if Labour survive, they do have a future. What remains of UKIP is dead in the water and as for the LieDems, they are not socialist, but LibCons (as were Cameron and Osborne) – hence the 2010 coalition.

    However, Labour have lost Scotland, and if required the Conservative & Unionist party (alias the MayKip party) can rely on 10 unionist MPs from the 6 counties (whose left-wing representatives mostly don’t participate). Therefore, I doubt if Labour will ever regain power at Westminster until Scotland and the 6 counties leave the UK. SNP support for a working electoral arrangement with Labour at the last GE was a poisoned chalice. Labour need to have the potential to win on their own, not as the leading party in a rainbow coalition.

  3. John P Reid says:

    Shame that bermondsey has never been Tory then

  4. paul barker says:

    A refreshingly honest admission that Labour exists only to protect The Tories from the threat of a real Opposition emerging.

  5. Madasafish says:


    “I am beginning to wonder whether this site is black ops by the Tory Party?”

    This site is so far off the radar as to escape any interest..

    On the other hand Corbyn is the Tories’ secret weapon. He could be a sleeper for them. No doubt they will do everything to ensure he remains as Leader after a crushing defeat.

    Man in election gold – for the Tories.

    The Labour Party membership must constitute the largest number of political dunces ever to re-vote him as Leader.. Judging by some of his supporters’ posts they know nothing about politics and want to learn even less than they already know..

  6. uglyfatbloke says:

    Not sure that the nats did offer a working electoral arrangement in any seriousness or maybe even at all. It would be kind of tricky since Scottish Labour was supporting Tory candidates against the nats – as indeed they are just now. Mundell and others will be elected on the back of the local CLPs campaigning solely against the nats to help get conservatives elected while the broader party campaign to get Tories out.
    Funny old world.

  7. ad says:

    Under first past the post, the choice is only ever one of two.

    And that is why this election has made me a supporter of PR. A system that forces you to vote for someone whose rule you think would be disastrous is clearly a bad system.

  8. Anne says:

    Not sure about this theory Atul – there is a Prof Noam Chomsky writing in the Guardian saying that he believes the future of the Labour Party lies with Momentum – guess the means change is coming from the grassroots. This maybe true but I feel this does needs a framework and direction. There are many factors which make a successful party – sustainability is important – the downfall of UKIP is an example of where this was absent. The rise of Marcon in France is an example of leadership being the driving force.
    Teresa Me and her party are certainly not the answer – my feeling is that her period in office will be a total disaster for the country and this, unfortunately, will be recognised too late.

  9. Jo says:

    Annoy a Blairite. Vote Labour!

  10. Tony says:

    “Labour in Scotland is now in the same position as the Lib Dems south of Hadrian’s Wall.”

    This is not the border between England and Wales.

  11. john P reid says:

    Jo, where as if labour lose millions of votes, that won’t annoy corbynistas as they don’t care about winning,
    what if your local MP is a blairite

  12. Rallan says:

    There’s a lot of truly stupid analysis going on regards both UKIP and the LibDems at the moment.

    The current political situation is unique and temporary. The Brexit vote has put British politics into a temporary state of shock but the underlying discontents that’s grown over the last 30 years has not been addressed at all.

    The Tory pre-Brexit promises often seem insincere and are “best endeavours” at best. The Labour manifesto is tied to the Corbynite tendency at a time when a final battle for the soul of the Labour Party is already in sight. It’s all going to come to a head sometime in late 2018 or early 2019.

    So in about 18 months or so from now millions of people will feel seriously betrayed by the Labour and the Tories (for a variety of different reasons). At that point both UKIP and the LibDems will be back in the game.

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