General Election 2019 Opinion UK Politics

What went wrong for Labour: a knee-jerk reaction

Written by Fraser Innes

As I write this the first results are coming trickling in. They’re not good for Labour. This election the Labour Party has gone up against ten-year incumbents, the past ten years have been amongst the worst in history for the ordinary Briton. However, the face of conservatism – an Oxford- and Eton-educated, upper-class toff – has been delivered into number 10 with an overwhelming majority, leaving a Labour party lead by a lifelong campaigner in its worst position in modern Britain.

After the second world war, Britain fundamentally changed as a nation, the Beveridge report ushered in the welfare state including the crown jewel of modern Britain: The National Health Service. On this manifesto, Atlee evicted the war hero Winston Churchill from 10 Downing Street with a landslide resulting in the second ever Labour Government, and the second time they had gained more than two hundred seats. They had not dropped below this line since. Unpopular, radically left-wing labour campaigns have come and gone but none have ever won less than 200 seats. I will be neither the first nor the last person to make comparisons between this Corbyn campaign and that of Michael Foot, a man who seemed so surprised to be Labour leader he spent the time just making the most of the spotlight, seemingly apathetic to the idea of being Prime Minister. But this campaign, despite a desire to end up in government, performed worse.

In some ways this is due to the radically different political system we live in to the one almost forty years ago. The bases Labour could rely on now lay in waste to many figures, when mining communities like Blyth are retuning Conservative MPs for the first time in almost a century, it is clear that Labour has lost its roots. The pattern repeats across former heartlands with Ian Murray likely to return to his position as the only Scottish Labour MP, and Wales looking less distinctive to England on an electoral map than ever before. This traditional Labour support has collapsed, and the new support has been not nearly quick enough to catch up.

Last time round, the jewel in Labour win while losing was Kensington, the richest constituency in the UK, which voted for Labour by just 20 votes. These were the seats that Corbyn’s new-old-old Labour needed to keep a hold of to succeed; the north would stay red as it always had done and so they could chase these university-educated, upper-middle-class champagne socialists and distance themselves from Brexit. The mining towns would never vote Tory. But this is where Labour’s strategy let them down.

Labour’s policies were hopeful and polled well – to a point. While the idea of re-nationalising the railways was extremely popular with the public, they didn’t support it as Jeremy Corbyn’s policy. Rightly or wrongly, John McDonnell and the Labour left will point to the right-wing media’s smearing of Corbyn throughout the campaign and blame that. But that happened in 2017 too. Corbyn as a leader has become toxic to the British people, whether it is the anti-Semitism allegations – which have done much more damage to him than Islamophobia has done to Johnson – or the belief that Labour weren’t to be trusted on money. Voters were turned off the Labour campaign, and the blame for that has to go to the face of the campaign.

Jeremy Corbyn was first elected to Parliament in Michael Foot’s 1983 campaign. Despite very little time in the spotlight, he has past his sell by date. With these results, Corbyn cannot stay on as leader of the Labour Party. The question Labour members will be asking themselves sooner or later is: what direction should this party be going in? Should it move back to the centre where it enjoyed electoral success at the turn of the century, or should it keep going along their current route at the left of their own party’s politics, under a new fresh face without the baggage of the IRA or Hamas? And with the current system for electing a leader and Momentum’s continued strength, it would be smart money to suggest that McDonnel’s favourite Rebecca Long-Bailey, first elected in 2015, could become the Labour party’s first female leader. But her roommate Angela Rayner’s strong performances in debates from this campaign, could lead to a struggle between allies on par with Blair and Brown or the Milibands.

Either way, I think Labour may not be locked out in the cold for as long as some predict, with a new face offering already popular policies, in 2024 the party could rise again. But an unwillingness to shake itself up for some real introspection, I could be middle aged before roses will grow again in the garden of 10 Downing Street.

[Note: this article was written between midnight and 2am on the morning of Friday 13th December. It refers to seat counts and individual results from the exit poll which may not be accurate.]

About the author

Fraser Innes

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