The Conservative landslide has not only changed the dynamics of Britain’s position in the world, but it has also left the future of the Labour Party lies on a knife-edge. The choice for Labour, however, is unclear and unpredictable. Whether the parliamentary Labour party and Labour party members back a Blairite or a Corbynista one could argue that neither have the credentials to reunite the loosely connected coalitions of voters, which were shockingly fragmented under the rise of Boris Johnson.
The so-called Labour Leaver, or ‘Workington Man’ is the first would be Labour voter, and it was this voter who swayed the election but putting their tribal party politics aside and backing the Conservatives for the first time in almost a century. However, to blame either Corbyn or Brexit for this realignment would completely overlook the evidence. Despite polls indicating that the main reason for defecting was Corbyn, closely followed by Brexit, the pattern of voter change began as early as 1997. Since Tony Blair’s success, the British voters have felt that the parties were too similar and as such the nation experienced a disenfranchisement of working-class voters. The first man to capitalise on this was Nigel Farage under both UKIP and the Brexit Party.
In part, it is thanks to Farage breaking Labour’s control of their former heartlands that has enabled Boris Johnson to reap the rewards of a stonking majority. The concern for Labour should come in three constituencies, that have all backed Labour in all elections since 1935 in Bassetlaw, Sedgefield and Wrexham, whose constituents have just returned Conservative MPs. According to YouGov, 33% of Labour Leavers defected to the Conservatives, and when one factor in the 6% who flocked to Farage, one cannot possibly fathom how Labour has a future if they lose over 1.5 million voters.
To win back these voters the Labour Party could attempt to imitate the successes of Labour in 1918, where their hard-left Leader was advised not to attend campaign trails and instead patriotic parliamentarians ran the show. Examples of these were Jack Jones and Tom Shaw, who proposed a blend of Toryism and socialism that would appeal to the working-classes. Labour changed tact from 1900 to 1918, and removed itself from anti-British republicanism and instead wished to win over the Daily Mirror reader, who was perceived as patriotic, decent and left-leaning men. If Labour really want to win back the Labour Leavers then they must do something quite similar, but to do this they risk alienating their two other factions.
The other two groups are more metropolitan and tend to support Remain. The first is the Blairite voter. Labour’s only gain across the entire United Kingdom was in the London seat of Putney. They tend to hold reservations about the economic policies adopted under Jeremy Corbyn and will ignore their impact on losing the election. Some of Corbyn’s policies, according to polling, were popular, including nationalising the railways. Furthermore, the pro-Remain stance damaged Labour’s position in Leave-voting seats which was where the election was indeed fought.
Finally, Labour will need to pander to their hard socialists, including students. Unlike both of the factions above, these voters completely endorse the hard-left economic policies adopted by the Labour Party in both 2017 and 2019. The issue facing the two former factions is that this group controls the reins of power within both the NEC and the membership. It would, therefore, be difficult to imagine any faction, other than the socialists controlling the Labour Party in opposition to Boris Johnson.
An issue facing the Labour Party is that these factions are mutually exclusive. While the former heartlands tend to be more patriotic, Leave-voting and lean towards social conservatism, both metropolitan factions hold more liberal views, including on law and order, and have made quite disparaging comments about their would-be co-supporters. The Conservatives made a great success of tampering into some social conservatism and patriotism and as such command their first majority among C2DE voters.
The biggest threat to the Conservatives would be a leader who has accepted that the future of the United Kingdom is outside the European Union and one that can have empathy with the concerns of some voters on issues such as crime and immigration. As Michael Gove quipped on Sky News that somebody like Caroline Flint, would pose the biggest threat to them winning again in 2024.
In order to win in 2024, Labour needs to win all of these voters, which seems all but impossible. Since Labour lost their stranglehold on Scotland in 2015, the only route to winning a general election is for Labour to win among Leavers and Remainers, northerners and southerners, and socialists and Blairites. An excellent indicator for the future of the Labour Party will come in Wales at the Senedd Election of 2021. Labour has taken control at Cardiff Bay in every election since devolution was granted to Wales in 1999. In the general election Wales still returned a majority of Labour MPs, but their lead over the Tories was cut from around 15% to just 4%. If Labour manages to lose Wales, then they have entirely lost their former heartlands. The Tories will not expect to win this election, but whatever happens, the pressure is on the Labour Party, no matter who the leader is.
If Labour fail to mend the wounds of division within their party then the Tories will win their fifth consecutive election, which is completely unprecedented in the post-war period.
By J Walters