How Did Labour Lose the Election — And Where Do They Go From Here?
After the Conservatives won the 2019 General Election with their biggest majority since the Thatcher years in 1987, Jeremy Corbyn has announced he will resign as the Labour Party Leader, after two failed attempts to get into number 10. Vast waves of seats usually secured in the bed of the Labour heartlands were shattered yesterday as the Tories hunted down voters in the north and midlands, using the desire to ‘Get Brexit Done’ as a major factor. With the working classes in the north seemingly abandoning Labour, it is clear that change is needed, with Jeremy Corbyn standing down a necessity.
The Brexit Effect.
When it boiled down to Election day, it was clear the public used it as a second referendum. The Tories and the Brexit Party’s pact to not contest Tory held seats would have been a huge factor in Conservative Held seats. No doubt the targeting of fierce leave constituencies is what ultimately won the election for Mr. Johnson. Labour’s lack of clarity and lack of voice on the debate left them in the lurch, too middle of the road to claim either remain or leave votes.
The ‘strategy’ adopted in the manifesto was to secure a new deal within six months then put the vote back to the British people in another referendum. This failed as, ultimately, if the British electorate were not certain about Brexit this time last year, they definitely are now. Corbyn’s unwillingness to take a side in this issue has ostracised voters from both sides of the debate, rather than bringing them together, as was hoped.
Typical Labour safe seats such as Blyth Valley, and Heywood & Middleton both fled to Conservative stewardship. Interestingly, both constituencies are resounding leave areas, which seems to be a trend in the North of England. Labour failed to have a strategy when it came to isolated northern towns, for whom Brexit is a priority issue. The difference in stance since 2017, where Corbyn’s Labour did, in fact, support leave, has meant that all the inroads and momentum taken from the last election has faded into the abyss.
The reaction to the Labour heartland being shattered has been somewhat controversial. In the wake of the exit-poll, Conservative MP Mark Francois told Andrew Neil, “There’s talk of the red wall. In 1989, Russia’s Berlin Wall came down. In 2019, Labour’s red wall came down.” Neil then asked Francois if he was “hallucinating” by likening Labour to a totalitarian state.
Seeing such traditionally Labour northern seats change to Conservative has been staggering to witness. Industrial and mining towns no longer feel represented by Labour, regardless of the past record of the Tories in these areas, where cuts and closures of mines has led to devastating effects which are still felt to this day. 11 point swings to Conservatives in mining towns like Sunderland also contest the political norms, with voters looking ahead to life outside the EU, rather than dwell on the past. Conservative gains in these areas are a cold, stark warning sign to the left that they have failed these towns, and change is needed.
Jeremy Corbyn — A Figure mired in Controversy
In many campaigning efforts and online political discourse, the figureheads of the parties, Boris Johnson, and Jeremy Corbyn, came to the forefront in a way in which we have not seen in this country in recent history. Mr. Johnson, a xenophobic, misogynistic figure, against Mr. Corbyn, a terrorist sympathiser and anti-semite — if all claims and allegations were true. The smear in this election campaign was rife, with online stories published daily, calling Corbyn an IRA sympathiser, or a radical anti-semite. The cold, harsh truth is that no matter what the policies that Labour displayed during the campaign, the reputation that Corbyn holds meant that it was impossible for him to win.
The murmurs of antisemitism in the Labour Party date back to when Mr. Corbyn was elected leader, and still, four years on, those claims are still just as loud, if not, louder. The failure to eradicate this rampant issue meant that, for all the rhetoric of hope, a fairer society for all, that Corbyn was hiding from an issue which may have made him look a hypocrite to the opposition. Despite clear protocol in place — the only party to have such procedures- the claims of antisemitism have not faded, with high profile celebrities such as Rachel Riley beginning anti- Corbyn campaigns.
This rhetoric amplified across the nation has turned the public against the man who has fought for social justice since the 70’s, offered hope, and had progressive, fully-costed policies ready to go.
The other claim made against Corbyn during his Labour stewardship is that he is a Marxist and a Communist. Two terms which of course convey negative connotations to the electorate who strive for greater prosperity. The claim that the Labour policies were unrealistic and barbaric are refuted by the fully costed manifesto which sets out how the socialist regime would be funded. Despite national debt rising and borrowing increasing under Tory leadership, voters were still put off by a Corbyn led government, due to fear of recession.
Those afraid of higher taxes are well within their right to be. Tax increases are never fun, in fact we all fear tax increases. However, when looking at how those rises can help those in need, it is hard to justify. With rough sleepers and food bank usage by an astronomical amount, and billionaire numbers rising, it is difficult to argue that society in the UK is not fair, and offers no support to those most vulnerable. Sure, no one really wants a tax rise, but as the old saying goes “You’re only a bad month away from homelessness”.
The simple fact of the matter is that Corbyn could never have won the election. He offered socialism, and an opportunity to help those in the most vulnerable positions of society but the country flatly rejected it. The ‘Corbyn-Mania’ which swept the nation in 2017 had evaporated and in the wake of such failure, Corbyn just was not as popular as Johnson. It is time to admit defeat, and take Labour in a new direction, one that appeals to all sectors of society.
What Happens to Labour Next?
With Corbyn standing down imminently, it is a time for Labour members to decide who they want to become the next leader. The Guardian offers a small guide here to those at the forefront of the odds to be the next leader, with some frontbenchers and some backbenchers being mentioned.
With the socialist project deemed a failure, Labour must now put their faith in a leader who can bring socialist ideas, but merge them with more centrist ideas, becoming a much more soft-left party, in order to prosper in future elections. It is essential to keep core left-wing ideologies, not only to keep Labour’s identity intact but to keep voters away from the shambolic Liberal Democrats.
Achieving this, and also managing to gain back traditional Labour votes are essential to the future of the Labour Party and mean that whoever takes charge next, must be willing to be much softer in their left-wing politics. This does seem shame from the option of having a true socialist government, however politics is a series of compromises, and unfortunately, Corbyn was not willing to compromise on his admirable policies and beliefs.
The next leadership contest just might be the most crucial contest in modern Labour history. The tide is switching in the north and the midlands, towards a new Tory heartland, and Labour cannot afford this to continue in upcoming elections.