Saturday, 14 December 2019

What went Wrong for Labour?

In all honesty, no one expected the 2019 general election result. Even the most optimistic of Tories believed they had a fight on their hands, however much they may now claim otherwise. We saw a huge voter turnout, record numbers of young people voting. The official figures don't seem to add up, but while we can cry foul, some things certainly did go wrong for Labour. Things for which we only have ourselves to blame.

Our biggest obstacle was Brexit - and it was our biggest error. We didn't know if we were a leave or remain party because in truth, we were both. This means that while we initially campaigned for remain, we didn't get the pro-immigration argument out. We let the Tories drive a narrative that immigrants and the EU were responsible for the terrible problems they caused.

Many people were so willing to believe this lie because in their minds, they should get preferential treatment over anyone they perceive as an outsider. They don't like to see a person of a different colour or religion or ethnicity using the NHS or being housed by the council, regardless of circumstances. Yes, I'm calling them out on their racism.

Labour, whatever the press write about us, whatever our views on Brexit, are a passionately anti-racist party. We can never win by being Tory-lite on immigration because we'll repulse our own side. There can be no middle-ground on bigotry. The rules should be fair, yes, but discriminatory? Never.

Our only option is to passionately make the case for fair and sensible immigration rules, and fight the white supremacist mindset that would happily let my immigrant wife go without NHS treatment, or even be deported, given half the chance. (Let me tell you, the Spouse Visa process caused us absolute hell.)

Labour should have proudly fought the case for immigration from the beginning, rather than falling silent. By doing so, we simply became a punchbag. We were the party that was weak on immigration, and the Tories were going to keep us safe from those terrible immigrants. Indeed, if we'd argued our case, we might never have had the Brexit problem in the first place.

That's not to say I'm a cheer leader for the EU. I recognise the problems with the EU and its draconian competition rules. But once Brexit happened, we should have chosen a position and stuck with it. If we wanted to fight for PV, fine, but we needed to come out swinging from the beginning, strongly and passionately.

If we weren't going to have a PV, and instead honour the referendum result, we could and should have stuck to our guns. We should have said loud and clear that Brexit is absolutely happening and the remainers (such as myself) needed to accept that.

For most of the general election campaign, our Brexit message was weak, apologetic, nervous. But I reject the notion our PV message was unclear - it was perfectly clear, it just wasn't delivered with enough conviction.

In the final week, I noticed a sudden confidence in our PV message, but it was too little, too late. We'd allowed the Lib Dems to convince many we were pro-Brexit & we'd allowed the Tories/Brexit Party to convince the other side we were going to steal their Brexit.

Our timidness on the Brexit issue meant we were hurt from both sides. If we'd stood strongly by one position, we would have lost votes the other way, but we wouldn't have lost votes from both sides.

In Labour heartlands, there was an almost perfect correlation between Brexit Party gains and Labour losses. In some metropolitan remain seats, we lost votes to the Lib Dems. In pro-EU Scotland, our perceived weakness on Brexit was the final nail in our coffin.

It's also worth mentioning that in 2017 when we stuck by our message to honour the referendum result, we performed much better in the general election that year.

Make no mistake, Brexit was the key reason for Labour's defeat, but not the only reason. There was a huge generational divide, driven by two factors - the first was news sources. The older generation, who mostly read newspapers and watch TV news are overwhelmingly opposed to Labour. The younger generation who mostly rely on social media and the internet are overwhelmingly behind Labour. If only under-50s voted, Labour would've won by a landslide. But the over-50s do vote, of course, and they vote in much higher numbers than the young.

A left-wing Labour is never going to have the backing of the mainstream media, but as people keep pointing out, the mainstream media is slowly dying. Newspaper sales are falling through the floor. TV news is an irrelevance to young people. And there's no reason why their news habits should change as they grow older.

This suggests the future might actually be bright for Labour. As the older generations pass on, and the mainstream media's influence shrinks, and Brexit is no longer an issue, you would expect Labour to bounce back. Not least because the Tory Brexit and coming trade deal with Trump are going to devastate the working class.

I firmly believe the bulk of our message was on point. It was powerful, it was passionate, and it offered the right solutions for our country and our planet. I also believe we had the best possible leader in Jeremy Corbyn to make those arguments, but circumstances meant our message was drowned out. And those circumstances were driven by a centrist remain element of Labour who played tug of war on the Brexit issue. These people will use our failures as justification to return to their brand of politics, but they own our failures - and their brand of politics pulled in far fewer votes in three general elections prior to Corbynism.

We have a tough few years ahead, and we face genuine threats to our democracy. In the general election, we saw flagrant violations of electoral law - from Laura Kuenssberg declaring postal ballots looked grim for Labour, to Tory buses parking outside polling stations - we've seen that the Tories and the establishment have contempt for democracy.

Already, there is talk of gerrymandering, of seeking revenge against the Supreme Court for the prorogation ruling, of John Mann declaring war on left-wing media like The Canary, but despite these threats to our democracy, we are not powerless. We can mobilise, we can take to the streets, we can lead the fight back.

Expect a resurgence from the Labour Party as the public get lied to, as our NHS and public services are sold piece by piece, as our workers' rights, consumer protections and health and safety laws are slashed. Soon, enough people will be directly affected to become angry and demand change. And once we reach that tipping point, there will be no going back.

Labour will rise again, but only if it remembers its roots. Only if it fights for the working class. Only if it refuses to return to the days of Blairite middle-class politics, because that kind of politics is never going to appeal to the vulnerable in our society. It's had its day.

The choice of the future is socialism or conservatism. And conservatism won't be allowed to hurt people forever.

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