A lot has happened in the last decade. Labour took a hammering for the war in Iraq, the Conservatives (with the help of media moguls) have cleverly blamed the entire global financial crash on the left – despite it originating in the neo-Conservative policy of deregulation of banking – and the media have been willing to help UKIP polarise every political issue into a story about immigration. Whilst, in Scotland, exactly the same media moguls have helped the SNP to push out Labour, through an almost exact opposite of what they have been printing in England. Governments across the UK have, as a result, swung right.
There have been little intricacies to this story; the SNP’s out of character willingness to accept the polls at the last election, helped paint a story of them as controlling the UK parliament, and as a result pushed further votes from the left in England. And the Conservatives fear of losing seats to UKIP has meant they adopt as many UKIP policies as they can; the far right influencing what has previously been the centre ground.
The above table has been the result: if we ignore Northern Ireland, which appears to be entirely separate, the political sphere is roughly split toward the right: 49.5 of eligible voters are voting right every time. When mixed with unfair splits of votes to seats, this leads to a huge right-majority in parliament.
The reaction of Britain’s biggest left-wing party has been to oppose the wishes of its supporters. Whilst Labour’s supporters continually elect a leftist leader, in Corbyn, the members of parliament see the swing to the right and say we should be fighting not just for a share of that 39% of left votes, but also for the 7.9% in the centre, and a wedge of that 49.5% on the right.
However, things aren’t quite that simple. Short of the Labour party hugely switching its stance to become anti-immigration (and alienate their current voters), or pro-tax evasion (which again alienates their own voters), then most of those winnable centre and right votes are completely unachievable.
There are, though, several things which Labour can do to stop the British swing to the far right.
See the public’s concerns on the EU.
Whilst it is the right of the Labour party who are most willing to accept the UKIP-narrative of British politics – that everything is the fault of immigration – Corbyn is actually their strongest weapon on this point. Corbyn is widely seen as having been lukewarm about the EU, and having opposed it earlier during his career. So to actually publicise that Corbyn wasn’t sure, and that he sees the concerns and the benefits, would do wonders for Labour. It allows the public to trust them on Brexit, in a way which current polls do not allow.
This is something which the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs, which is most of them, ignore: they try to paint Corbyn’s lukewarm attitude as a negative, as something which is problematic for Labour and led to use leaving the EU. Yet, realistically, he was a party leader with no support from his MPs – what he said meant little, and he trod the middle line well. Labour MPs need to get behind this and see the pragmatism he has given them, to support certain aspects of the EU, whilst being able to see people’s problems with it rather than simply eulogising for it.
I agree with the economists – Brexit will be a disaster – but unless Labour does something other than whinging, they are going to lose even more seats at the next election.
Quit the rebelling; deselect MPs standing in the way of unity.
Corbyn and his team have been desperate to unify all wings of the party, whilst it’s not quite clear how the rebels are actually appealing to any section of the public. These MPs are now often opposed by their own local parties, and week after week are providing a narrative to turn attention away from the Conservatives failures. The Conservatives wanted to stay in Europe, failed, and had to hastily kill off Michael Gove’s political career, whilst making some bizarre political decisions (Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, anyone?). Similarly, UKIP have finally reached their natural end.
These were Labour’s best opportunities to win back core support in years. Yet, they instead used it as a way to vilify Corbyn to try and get rid of him. Thus turning easy opportunities into yet more troubles. It really is not clear how Labour can win whilst the MPs oppose the leader, and thus do not allow focus on the governments problems. It’s not pragmatic, it’s not politically smart, it’s childish and it’s losing Britain to the far-right. Deselection is not something the MPs want, it’s not something Corbyn seems to want, but it’s now necessary. Either they continue for another 3-4 years as an ineffectual left, as the government slides further to the right, or, Labour MPs go up for deselection. The left needs the Labour party to be united, and it needs to provide a consistent narrative.
See how society and politics actually works.
As an ethicist, I have spent a great deal of time looking at the great social movements of the past. The suffragettes didn’t wait until society was ripe for change, for instance, they ripened it. Martin Luther King didn’t postpone the march until the political right was on board, he made them get on board. So why on earth is the discussion on the left about how best to slot themselves into the narrative on the right?
In fact, Tony Blair seems to be the only example the political left give of how leftist parties can appeal to the right in order to change things. It’s seems to be otherwise non-existent in history. Yet, think about Blair for two seconds, and it becomes apparent that the keys to his success were very much elsewhere. He was the first leader that took advantage of modern, stylised politics – opposing old, grey leaders with young, more culturally aware people. That was a huge change in politics.
Secondly, the Tory party were in absolute tatters – Europe split them in the 90’s in the same way that Corbyn has split Labour today. They were seen as a shambles. As a result, the media had no choice but to plump for Labour, because the Tories were giving absolutely no opposition at all (listen up, Labour rebels…)
Thirdly, and most importantly, Blair was the architect of Labour’s late downfall by mistakenly thinking the key to his success was mixing left with right. He allowed the right to control the narrative: toward the end he allowed immigration, foreign policy and economics to veer right, by playing centre-right policies, thinking that it would keep the left in power. It didn’t, and he jumped ship when things were going very wrong. Blair’s massive victory in the late 90’s gave him the opportunity to change the narrative – people genuinely believed he would do things differently, and he had a popular mandate to do so – yet in many areas he failed to do so. And rather than fight for elections after this, from a leftist base, he told people what they wanted here, getting as big a majority as politically possible, before eventually finding that the left had again completely lost its influence.
There is, in fact, nothing simpler than explaining how social change works. Talk about things that are rational and just. Keep talking about them. Don’t stop talking about them. Don’t compromise if something is right. Had Blair done this about immigration in the 00’s, there is no doubt that UKIP would still be unknown. Labour need to get behind their leader who, as problematic as his image and some of his views are (opposing trident is logically ridiculous if you see the evidence about how it has stopped war), is actually doing the right thing: trying to ripen for social change away from the right.
Or…take a divisive else explicitly pragmatic view on the EU.
The EU referendum was a hugely divisive issue, which split the UK right down the middle. Latest polls show Conservative support up and UKIP down, which says the Tories are taking the hard-line voters – they are trying to appeal to that 52% who voted for it.
The Lib Dems, on the other hand, are trying to ‘do an SNP’. The SNP lost the independence referendum, as the majority of Scot’s opposed it, yet they ride to power in Scotland in every subsequent vote as that same 45% of the electorate appear to keep voting for them. The Lib Dems think that this is their way to unlikely power: make the 48% in large part vote for them, which will give victory in almost every constituency, as it does for the SNP.
It has yet to be seen if the EU was as divisive as the independence referendum, or if the Lib Dems previous trust issues are as far in the past as the SNPs – the SNP have been anti-Europe and all kinds of things which they are currently a polar opposite to, but long enough ago that people have forgotten. But the Lib Dem’s may have lost many voters forever when they propped up the Conservatives in government, and that tuition fee promise just never goes away…
Labour could beat the Lib Dems to it, as it’s certainly worked for the SNP in Scotland, and they would surely beat Lib Dems to the vote if that was the choice in most constituencies. But, perhaps there is a smarter way to do this. The Conservatives are desperate to win over UKIP supporters, and be the party of Brexit. The Lib Dems are desperate to be the party of the 48%, the party of Remain. Maybe Labour need to make the case that ‘there are other issues as well as the EU – sensible exit, but open to other possibilities’.
Again, Corbyn laid the ground work for this during the referendum campaign. He stayed pro-EU yet concerned. I can’t say how smart that is. He thus has the position with which to agree with Brexit, but on safe terms, yet to point out all of the issues on which the rest of us think are equally important. The failure of funding the NHS, the championing of the economy and the failure of the Conservatives to run it, the delaying of important decisions, the messing up of the sensitive child abuse inquiries.
The Cons and the Lib Dems can massively overplay how important people think the EU is, by failing to campaign on anything else, and boring people to tears. Similarly, if we leave the EU, within 3 years our economy will be in tatters, and we can tell that narrative of it being the Conservatives fault, in the same way they did for Labour and the economic crash. Similarly, once we’ve left the EU, the Lib Dems have lost their only trump card anyway.
There are ways of winning the next election, but so long as Labour rebels remain, I’m not sure any of them can be successful, as they all weaken and potentially eliminate any narrative that can be weaved. You can’t talk about issues seriously when your friends keep acting like children and pulling your pants down; at some point you have to keep different company.