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Why UK Labour lost? Part 9: What the party needs to do now.

Written By: - Date published: 10:37 am, January 17th, 2020 - 12 comments
Categories: Austerity, Brexit, International, Jeremy Corbyn, labour, politicans, Politics, uk politics - Tags: , , , , , , , ,


UK Labour lost the general election. A new leader needs to be elected. The Labour Party is now consumed in this process.

Much has been said and written about why Labour lost, the quality of which varies considerably. The broader context of this defeat is that over the last century, UK Labour has won 8 out of the last 28 general elections. Overall the Labour Party is not a successful electoral force in the UK. What makes the 2019 loss harder, is that the party lost sections of its historical base in the North of England and the Midlands.

But being honest isn’t just about focussing on the negative. Many have compared the 2019 election to 1983. Labour in 2019 did well in London, with many MPs being returned with staggering majorities. By contrast in 1983 Labour’s result was no where near as strong in London.

Also Labour performed strongly with younger voters. The below map shows how voters under the age of 40 voted in the 2019 election:

Image result for Map of UK election if only under 40s voted
Above is the UK electoral map if only voters under 40 voted. Source: Election Maps UK

Labour and parties of the left did significantly well with young voters. By contrast back in 1983 the Conservatives enjoyed a much higher support from younger voters. During the election I discussed the impact younger voters were having on UK elections, and that this is part of a global trend. Younger voters have been hit hard by a decade of austerity. For many under 40 the middle class aspirations of their parents generation are far beyond reach. For this reason, trying to pitch Labour to the aspirational centre will likely alienate rather than inspire younger voters. But if the Party can hold much of this support, it give it a good base to build on for the future.

The problem Labour faces is the UK is now a polarised electorate. Generational divides have seldom been so stark. The Brexit vs Remain division runs deep, and trying to win support from both sides is damn near impossible at this time. The other major issue that I’ll discuss in a future blog is the future of the United Kingdom. The future of Scotland and Northern Ireland as members of the United Kingdom is far from certain.

The SNP’s success in the general election effectively wiped out Labour in Scotland, and continues a decade long decline of Labour as a political force there. Many in Labour still see winning back Scotland as the path back to government. The prospect of this happening seems increasingly unlikely. For Labour, their focus needs to be on winning support in England and Wales. Scottish independence isn’t certain, but Scotland being a separate nation wanting seperate representation is now a fact of life. It is now unlikely that any English dominated political party will gain the majority of seats in Scotland ever again.

The current Labour Leadership race is gearing up. Underlying this race will be a debate between two waring factions within the Party. One supports a return to a 3rd way Labour like Blair led in 1997. The other, supports Clement Attlee style Social Democracy. these are two distinctly different political ideas, both trying to operate within the same political party. While many 3rd way supporters may feel more comfortable in the Liberal Democrats, under First Past the Post their chances of gaining government are limited. Likewise for socialist or social democrats, forming a new left party would likely struggle in the current electoral system. So these two political perspectives are forced to share the Labour Party.

I’m not going to pick the upcoming leadership election, or do analysis on any particular candidate at this stage. But understanding the context in which this race takes place is crucial. The reasons for Labour’s defeat weren’t just about leadership. The challenge for Labour is trying to win power in a small c conservative electorate. Also an electorate that is deeply split over the question of Europe. An electorate that is four seperate nations, where in Northern Ireland and Scotland there are growing calls to leave the UK. An electorate where there is a generational divide more stark than ever. And an electorate where the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. But most importantly, an electorate that traditionally has not voted Labour and where trust in the party and its politics is lacking. Despite all this Labour can win the next UK election. But it will need to do a damn sight more than just elect a new leader.


Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Oooo Jeremy Corbyn

Why UK Labour lost? Part 5: Antisemitism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 6: New Labour and Blairism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 7: Momentum and the Corbynistas

Why UK Labour lost? Part 8: what it takes to win?

12 comments on “Why UK Labour lost? Part 9: What the party needs to do now. ”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    The part of Blairism that wasn't actually banal or deceitful was the tacit support for enterprise. Since enterprise is the psychological drive that powers business, it is essential to the economy. Leftists somehow remain unable to grasp this elementary fact.

    There's still too much of the politics of envy in leftist political thought (which was what Ayn Rand pointed out so long ago). If leftists continue to expect people they despise to give them jobs rather than create those jobs themselves, how can others not view them with contempt?

    Why spend their whole lives avoiding this issue? It's hardly surprising that those willing to work with business constructively (centrists) can't see any common ground with those who want to pretend to fight their employers as enemy (leftists). Then there's the deceit of the leftists: denial of their co-dependency. Since that exists, better to take responsibility for their personal inadequacies. If they do, next step is to see that the employer is not the enemy. Potentially a partner in enterprise.

    Instead of remaining conceptually stuck in the 19th century, why not reinvent capitalism in the 21st? Plenty of people working on that project already. It's common ground that both Labour tribes could occupy with the intention of collaborating. That’s way better than perpetual warfare.

    • Climaction 1.1

      Because socialist thought hasn’t progressed aince the start of the 20th and capitalism in any form is therefore inherently evil

    • RedLogix 1.2

      Wow. I'm 'envious' that I didn't write that. cheeky The first sentence especially is delightfully concise, thank you.

      But otherwise yes yes yes. My view of 'centrism' is not that it is a political position or philosophy. Arguably that's the mistake Blair made and it ultimately led to the charge of dishonesty you level against it.

      In my view the centre (and it's numerous variants) is better thought of as a process in which the wide range of values and interests that are natural and necessary for a healthy society … are able to negotiate and devise strategic plans.

      • Dennis Frank 1.2.1

        That final paragraph of yours is what I mean by political praxis re centrism. I'm not a typical centrist due to having been radical/eclectic originally, but I eventually learned how to be pragmatic.

        Whereas most centrists are realist/opportunist, a few are progressive. I sometimes use the nautical metaphor even though I'm not a sailor: tack left or right as needs be. You make progress towards your goal inevitable if you use this method. 😎

  2. pat 2

    will say again ….1 in 3 voters didnt bother

  3. Ad 3

    UK Labour won't be rescued by young people.

    They just age.

    Case in point Ardern: saved the party from defeat, but is proving both too young and too old at the same time.

  4. Peter Bradley 4

    Most voters don't understand economics or make the connection between taxing the wealthy and their current standard of living. The electorate is imbued with the idea that successful commerce and business are the only factors governing their own financial position.

    In reality the major economic transformations that occurred in Western countries after the Great Recession in the 1930's driven by Keynesian economic ideas and a 'conscious' working and middle class voting for socialist governments are the factors that gave rise to today's high (relative) living standards. These factors fought explicitly against the interests of capital and introduced the welfare state – pensions for the elderly and relief for those in poverty, publicly funded health care and education and an expansion of government oversight of commerce via regulation and higher taxation.

    The truth is that something like 70% of government tax revenue comes from about 20% of the top wealthiest in the population and it is spent on those who contribute far less. This is by definition socialist wealth re-distribution and without it we would be a third world country with homelessness and poverty rates among the elderly at an unprecedented scale and an uneducated and exploited working class that would suffer from disease, starvation and child mortality not seen since Feudal times.

    Socialism and the constraint of capitals natural instincts is what advanced countries depend on and the fact that this is not recognized or under stood by working and middle class voters is a tragedy that I suspect our children and grand children will pay a high price for. It may take another brutal decimation of economic activity equivalent to the 1930's for class consciousness to re-emerge as a dominant and effective political force once again.

    • Dennis Frank 4.1

      Peter, I think the problem is that all that is now part of history and few folks read history. Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it, as the old saying goes.

      Sensible reasoning like yours is what Corbyn & Sanders have needed to issue to rehabilitate socialism. I'm puzzled that they don't see the need. The notion of received wisdom seems to lie in the tacit part of the psyche. Perennial wisdom cannot be perceived as such by younger generations unless oldies articulate it.

  5. Marcus Morris 5

    Can you expand on that?

  6. Marcus Morris 6

    "The truth is that something like 70% of government tax revenue comes from about 20% of the top wealthiest in the population and it is spent on those who contribute far less". I presume that by this you mean income on earnings and not all the other taxes that generate revenue for the government i.e the GST that is paid by everyone on every purchase. Are you also implying that the wealthy do not use any of the multiple services that the state provides.

    For me the real issue in the "wealth gap" is the value of land which has become a tradable commodity in itself. A case in point is an acquaintance and his wife who have recently moved to a retirement village. They have sold their family home at a price they would once only have dreamed of, paid cash for their brand new unit and have a goodly sum in the bank. For the first time in their lives, and now in their eighties, they have a lot of discretionary cash. My friend did not make this move intentionally but went with the flow. Many others have traded property knowing they will not pay for any capital gain. In my opinion the one false move that Jacinda Adern has made was ruling out a Capital Gains Tax while she is in charge.

  7. DS 7

    I'm not sure where you get the 8 out of 28 figure. Since the end of the First World War, Labour has won 11 out of 28.

    11 Wins: 1923, 1929, 1945, 1950, 1964, 1966, 1974 (twice), 1997, 2001, and 2005.

    17 Losses: 1918, 1922, 1924, 1931, 1935, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2019.

  8. Mad Plumber 8

    It is interesting reading your thoughts but and I do not mean to be rude but Do you really know what the voter wants not what you think the voter wants and to do that you need to talk to the voter maybe face to face. My work place's age distribution has changed where I am and depending on the conversation I am the old fossil, you where alive for the first world war etc, we are a plumbing drainage and roofing company so political correctness does not stand a chance. Most are between 20-30 and their needs are different to what you think and what you are talking about would go over their heads but these are the people the Labour / Greens need to reach. It is surprising the twaddle that comes out and a lot of it comes from facebook etc.

    For some it is the cost of rent,tuition fees,why do we have to go to Christchurch to attend poly tech and find somewhere to stay for a week or two and of course the cost of a house. Surprisingly as a group they are for leagalising cannabis ( they all know where to get it) but are very concerned how it is going to affect their employment and driving. This group is not interested in theory wealth distribution etc but if you can reach them with a simple message and gain power then you will be able to do the bigger things

    [Changed the user name again to the one you have used here previously if that is ok with you]

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