Submitted by George Callaghan…
Labour has just gone down to its worst defeat in decades. What did it? Brexit and Corbyn. There were other issues but the foregoing are by far the most consequential. To paraphrase Bill Clinton: its Brexit, stupid. The party had no coherent policy on the issue. Labour tried to hedge on Brexit. This was the worst of both worlds. It neither satisfied the ultra Remainers not the Leavers. That is why the Lib Dem vote went up by half since Remainers flocked to them. Labour’s refusal to accept the result of the Brexit referendum and the result of the 2017 Brexit election meant that Labour cut its own throat.
The Labour policy on Brexit was to seek to renegotiate with Brussels. Brussels would probably say go forth and multiply. The EU is fed up to the back teeth of the Brexit issue. It is take it or leave it. If the European Union did offer another agreement it would be more unfavourable than the current one. Labour’s genius plan was to get a new deal from the EU and hold a second referendum. The options would be to stay in the EU or leave the EU on the basis of the new agreement that Labour has just negotiated. Labour would campaign against its own deal. You couldn’t make it up! This asinine policy would hand all the bargaining power to the EU. The European Union would have every incentive to make its deal as horrific for Britain as possible. Labour would have obviated the option of leaving the EU without an agreement. This would strengthen the EU even more and emasculate the UK in negotiations.
The Labour position on Scotland was also myopic and dangerous. Corbyn was going to agree to North Britain having another referendum on breaking up the UK. Partition within Great Britain was explicitly disowned by the Scots in 2014. We were told that that referendum was to settle the issue in perpetuity. Jeremy Corbyn was willing to abandon hundreds of thousands of Labourites north of Hadrian’s Wall. It was all for the sake of flirting with Nicola Sturegon. This meant that for those who wished to save the Union there was only one serious option in Scotland: vote for the Conservative and Unionist Party. Labour once reigned supreme in Scotland. For decades Labour had the lion’s share of the seats there. For the past three Westminster elections Labour has come third in Caledonia. The Tories were detested in Scotland not long ago. Now they are seen as reasonable. Labour is reduced to a solitary Westminster parliamentarian from Scotland. You may say Scotland needs a second referendum on leaving the UK due to Brexit. No. Brexit was a possibility in 2014 – the Tories and Lib Dems had already committed to a referendum on it. Staying in the UK was unconditional. If Scotland chose to stay part of the United Kingdom it was no matter what.
Labour’s convoluted and moronic Brexit policy achieved the impossible. It alienated both Leavers and Remainers.
In March 2019 the United Kingdom was due to leave the UK. A combination of Labour, Lib Dems, the SNP, the SDLP and a few Tory Remainers delayed Brexit by six months. That six month postponement was crucial. Hats off to the small number of valiant Labour Leavers who agreed to the UK departing the EU in March 2019. But 9/10 Labour MPs voted to delay Brexit. There was a further delay imposed in September 2019. Had it not been for these delays then Labour could have won a 2019 election even with Corbyn as leader. Could have – it was not likely but Labour might have had a fighting chance. More probable would have been for Labour do sufficiently well in an election to be the largest party and cobble together a coalition or a confidence and supply arrangement with the minor parties.
The majority voted for Brexit in 2016. They meant it. In the 2017 election over 90% of people voted for pro Brexit parties. Even Labour was committed to Brexit in 2017 just a softer Brexit. Even the Lib Dems agreed to Brexit in principle but wanted a second referendum on the final agreement. It was the chicanery of the Remainers that did for them. They said in public that they agreed to Brexit but in private conspired to thwart the will of the people.
Had the decency, wisdom and honesty of Labour Leave prevailed then Labour would have the keys to 10 Downing Street. But notwithstanding Brexit and Corbyn Labour should have done much better in 2019.
The NHS is screaming. Schooling is horrendous. The gulf between the rich and poor is growing wider by the day. Housing is ever more unaffordable for the majority of people. Crime is rising. The environment is a disaster. Public transport is overcrowded and extortionately overpriced. By so many metrics life is getting worse. After 9 years of Tory or Tory dominated government these disasters can be laid squarely at the door of Conservative Central Office.
How has Labour failed to land a glove on the Conservatives? The Conservatives have underperformed time and again. Boris Johnson is a snarling, narcissistic, flagrantly lying, race baiting, philandering fat toff. He is a hate figure for a considerable number of people. He is even loathed by many in the Conservative parliamentary party. It bespeaks of Labour incompetence that they did not more effectively expose Bo Jo for what he is.
Jeremy Corbyn has been nothing short of cataclysmic for the Labour Party. He consistently polled less well than his party. A good leader pulls his party up in the polls. Corbyn dragged the party down. He was the sort of weird with beard who does not play well with Middle Britain. He has been savaged by the press since the day he declared that he was seeking the nomination for the Labour Party leadership. Several Labour MPs defected to other parties. No defection on this scale has been seen since 1981. MPs decamped to the Liberal Democrats and to the Independent Group for Change. Notably none became Conservatives.
Labour is left reeling from being smashed by the Conservatives. The party may well be in a state of catatonic shock for several months. Labour seats have fallen like nine pins.
The red wall was well and truly smashed. Labour lost some seats that it had held for a century. These were proletarian constituencies that had returned Labour members in thick or thin for twenty-five consecutive elections. Take Sedgegfield. This was Tony Blair’s old seat. Blair once polled 71% in that seat. It was as safe as the Bank of England – or so it seemed. The word ‘Tory’ was once a particularly cruel insult in County Durham. The Conservatives scored only 10% of vote in Sedgefield in 1997. They are now on 47%. Labour has only 35%.
From a Tory perspective Corbyn was the gift that kept on giving. Even in the 1980s when Corbyn was a backbencher he often featured on Conservative campaigns. He was a poster boy for the so-called loony left. That is why Corbyn was such a feature of the Conservative campaign. Labour policies under him have been introspective. He vowed to bring the United Kingdom back to the failure of the past.
Yet if you are a Labour supporter there are reasons not to slit your wrists. Labour is on 33% of the vote. This is better than in 2010. It is better than in 2015. But the vagaries of the first past the post system meant that Labour lost seats. The two issues that sunk Labour – Brexit and Corbyn – will not pertain next time.
Cast your minds back to 2001. The Conservatives polled a measly 32% of the vote. They had only 166 seats. The party’s base was composed of elderly whites – a group that was declining in both relative and absolute numbers. The Conservative brand was toxic in swathes of the country. The party was blamed for social dislocation, mass unemployment, rising crime, racial hatred and collapsing public services. But only two elections later the Conservatives won. Labour’s position today is much rosier than the Tory position in 2001. Labour has a higher share of the vote and a much higher number of MPs than the Conservatives had then. Labour has time on its side. Consider the demographics. The younger you are the more likely you are to vote Labour. Ethnic minority are not as heavily Labour as they were but nonetheless break in favour of Labour. The ethnic minorities are growing.
Like or loathe it the Brexit issue is simply not going to exist anymore. The United Kingdom is leaving the EU in six weeks if not sooner. Once out of the EU it would be very difficult to get back in. The Treaty of Lisbon provides for a state which has left the EU to apply for readmission. It does not guarantee acceptance. But if the European Union entertained British readmission it would be at a price. The EU would say the UK would have to pay more, would have to adopt the Euro, would have to join Schengen, would have to promise to rule out ever leaving again, would have to hand over Gibraltar and on and on. In theory it
Corbyn will never lead Labour again. Labour’s next leader is going to be better than him. He or she could scarcely be worse!
Even as an ardent Conservative I recognize there were some sound policies in the Labour Manifesto. Abolishing Ofsted and SATS are long overdue. Labour was doing to tackle climate change.
There were also some wrongheaded policies. Labour was going to retrain Trident. But Corbyn is a longstanding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He would never launch a nuclear missile in self-defence or retaliation. Why have nuclear arms then? Scrapping the nuclear arsenal would at least save money. Labour was all over the place. Its policies were a complete dog’s dinner. The manifesto was self-contradictory and self-defeating. Buying back all the public services was likely to be very costly. In the case of railways it might still have been worth doing. The Labour Party had no credible plan to address public concern about excessive immigration.
Labour was unclear on NATO membership. The UK Armed Forces are already severely depleted. Corbyn spoke of slashing the budget even further.
The Conservatives negated Labour’s NHS pledges by almost matching Labour spending pledges on the NHS. Labour is always more trusted on the issue. After all it was Labour that established the NHS. As the Conservatives have let the NHS go to seed then the Tories have no credibility on the issue.
There is a dearth of talent on the Labour benches. Some of the leadership hopefuls were sent packing by the voters. One of the more telegenic Labour MP’s turned his coat: Chuka Umunna. After a brief and inglorious career as a Liberal Democrat he has been turfed out of Parliament.
Who could be Labour leader?
Sir Keir Starmer is credible, presentable, cerebral, experienced and has a track record in public service. He is someone who seems prime ministerial. But this sharp minded barrister is too closely associated with the catastrophic Brexit policy.
Emily Thornberry is another respectable candidate. She is a middle of the road person who is a consummate media performer. This chubby mumsy type might appeal to the ordinary woman – she could be me. She is a barrister but does not come over as the greedy fatcat type. However, Miss Thornberry is rather uninspiring.
David Lammy is approachable, seasoned and down to earth. He has years in Parliament behind him. As a black person he will appeal to many ethnic minority people and to whites who are eager to see an ethnic minority MP. His downsides are his foolish gaffes and his tendency to false accuse people of racism.
Jess Phillips is young and relatively new in Parliament. She has a high media profile. She hails from an identifiably working class background. This uneducated woman is deeply unimpressive. Her boast about having an abortion will disgust quite a few voters. Unfortunately, her Brummy accent is off putting to some prejudiced people. She does not passing the Downing Street test: picture her outside 10 Downing Street about to go in as prime minister. Are you content with that? She is not someone most people would be proud to see them representing them.
Yvette Cooper has been in Parliament since 1997. This former Blairite cabinet minister has oodles of experienced and is married to a former MP Ed Balls. She is a seasoned media performer and is hard to dislike. She is achingly PC and is perhaps an unhappy reminder of the disasters of the Gordon Brown years.
It is a shame for Labour that Sadiq Khan is not in Parliament. The London Mayor took that job in 2016 just after Bo Jo vacated it. Khan has no skeletons in his closet. He is affable, experienced and has achieved some good results. His approval rating is very high. There have been 5 mayoral elections in London. It looks like in the 6th Khan will win by more than any previous candidate. He has name recognition more so than any other Labour politician.
Do not think that electing a young leader is necessarily an astute move. The Lib Dem leaders was merely 39. Look what happened there!
It is fascinating that most of the papabile are women. Labour is the only UK party never to have been led by a female. Labour is supposedly the most feminist party. It is a disgrace for it to have only been led by males.
Labour is going to have to ditch regressive semi-Marxist polices on nationalization. There are social justice issues to address. Labour’s ideas on public services were decent. Its environmental policies were also credible and costed. The minimum wage policy was also laudable. Although Labour needs a major rethink some of its policies played well on the doorstep.
Can Labour win next time? That is a big ask. But yes, it is doable. Labour must start with a leader who seems like PM material.
Labour needs to increase its vote share by 11% points. That is a tall order but it is achievable. Labour managed that from the 1992 to the 1997 parliaments. If the Lib Dems do poorly or people finally get fed up of the SNP that is all the more likely.
The Conservatives have set themselves some impossible tasks. Economic growth has slowed to a snail’s pace. Boris threw around impossible to fulfill promises like confetti. Where are those 40 000 nurses coming from? Don’t make me laugh. Throwing money at it will not fix it. Even if the funds are there recruiting and retaining the staff will be all but impossible. With Brexit out of the way people will no longer speak about constitutional matters and national identity. Immigration is slowing. With these ideas out of the way people will speak about bread and butter issues. This is Labour’s natural habitat. It is about public services and cost of living. Labour must concentrate on quality of life issues.
Labour needs a sensible defence policy. There must be no talk about reversing Brexit. The public are bored to tears of the subject. It is the third rail of politics. Touch it and die. Labour needs to accept the people have spoken and move forward. Conservatives do not drone on about undoing Scottish devolution which they opposed.
No one says that Labour is about to shrivel up and die. In 1983 some thought it would happen. The Lib Dems are nowhere near Labour in number of votes or MPs. Therefore, Labour can rest assured that it is part of the duopoly. Another Labour Government is simply a matter of time. But is it next time? That is Labour’s to decide.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.