Why Labour keeps losing

Connor Tomlinson

May 14, 2021

Following unprecedented defeats in stronghold seats, Britain’s political pundits have been declaring the impending death of the Labour party. The recent by-election saw a 16 per cent swing from Labour to Conservative in formerly left-leaning constituencies; with even the projected-landslide London mayoral election coming ‘too close to call.’ A red wall that large hasn’t fallen since Berlin’s.

Sir Keir now must gain a greater electoral victory than Clement Atlee did in 1945 if he hopes to take power from Boris Johnson. Concurrent YouGov polls show that task has grown increasingly insurmountable with each day since his ascension. Talks of a course-corrective cabinet reshuffle were short-lived, with Angela Rayner retaining more titles than before her ‘sacking’, and Corbyn-era holdovers like Naz Shah and Cat Smith still shadow ministers.

With Starmer shouldering the blame, and prominent MPs consolidating power at this party’s moment of electoral weakness, it appears another leadership change is inevitable. (Perhaps, as I suggested in a recent article for 1828, Sir Keir should’ve shown more moral fortitude…)

Labour’s recovery prospects mightn’t be so dire if it weren’t for the constant condescension to its former working-class base. Their attitude that every election loss is because ‘the voters have let us down’—which Rayner rightly identified as a key reason the base is becoming increasingly alienated—is based on a presupposition that Labour’s positions are infallibly correct, and that any vote against them is an act of class-treachery. This belief is equal parts dysconnectivity and arrogance; and it’s why Labour were among the only ones surprised that Brexit-voting Hartlepool rejected their non-residential remain candidate.

The heel-dragging of Labour MPs and activists to move with the Overton Window—instead blaming the electorate for failing to recognise that they’ve ‘won the argument’—is rooted in Marx & Engels’ foundational socialist texts.

The pair were enamoured by defining communism as a scientific calculus; granting their desired revolution a pseudo-authority of being an inevitability. French socialists followed the same trajectory after Stalin’s crimes were exposed by his successor in 1956. Then postmodernism developed to identify a new oppressor class after Marx’s international proletariat revolution failed to materialise: women, and sexual and ethnic minorities displaced the working class as those now expected to unite and violently overthrow capitalism.

This inverted the scientific method: their non-falsifiable conclusion of communism remained the same, but the hypothesis of the origin of revolution changed. This absence of humility meant goalposts moved continually to justify the socialist utopia theorists believed was an inevitability.

The late Roger Scruton identified this circular logic as a core component of cult ideology. When one presupposes themselves to be correct, the opposition is no longer honourable: they’re just impediments to the utopia. That’s why Corbynite true-believers like John McDonnell seem to treat the alienated working-class electorate with such scorn. The purity-test monster Starmer’s Labour is wrangling with is of the Party’s own making.

With the 2019 conference replete with identity politics, it’s evident the same socialist animus possesses the modern Labour party. Given the party’s political trajectory is a combination of French and German ideological imports, is it any wonder that the British electorate roundly and repeatedly reject it?

This also aids in explaining why Labour’s base have become increasingly cosmopolitan, metropolitan, and university [re-]educated. Judging by voting patterns, it seems the ‘spectre’ of Marx & Engels hasn’t left Soho, long after their deaths.

However, entrenching their foothold in university towns isn’t broadening the party’s appeal. In fact, such a strategy may be diluting their vote share further: the 18-25 voting block is less centralised in 2021. Universities closed for lockdown, and students moved home to attend online classes. In committing to a base who can barely be bothered to get out of bed to cast a ballot, Labour has lost its perception of holding north-of-London values; allowing Boris instead to maintain his image of “football fan forced to attend Eton.”

Labour now appears to represent an Orwellian Anglophobia: a bourgeois sweater-dressed socialism, flanked on either side of their income bracket by an intuitive blue-and-white-collar social conservatism. If we’re counting colours, that’s a 2 to 1 ratio of our Union Jack leaning Tory.

It seems Labour cannot shake the stench of Corbyn’s socialism, and are tepid about reverting to unpopular neoliberal positions of Blairism. But it appears the party isn’t having an identity crisis so much as it’s simply managing a steep decline. With big-spending Tories to their right and Europhile Greens further to their left vacuuming up their apathetic voters, Labour is at risk of being rendered redundant so rapidly that they should be entitled to furlough.

Blair has warned Starmer that Labour will be cannibalised by woke activists in its midst. Now, Momentum are baying for blood, threatening to use their sway in the party to put Starmer ‘out of a job’ unless he returns to his socialist roots and makes Labour’s ideological trajectory overtly Marxist again.

In attempting to be everyone’s friend, it appears Keir’s invite to the Party has been lost in the first-past-the-post. Unless a fundamental philosophical restructuring is made, this ideological infection will continue to spread through every party apparatus, well past Starmer’s ousting, and will ensure Labour’s collapse is more inevitable than any socialist utopia.

Author

Written by Connor Tomlinson

Connor Tomlinson is the Policy Director at the British Conservation Alliance and a Young Voices Contriubtor

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