Labour hubris equals Tory hope

Labour hubris equals Tory hope

Socialism is on the march and about to seize power in the UK, so many on the Labour left believe. This, argues Joff Wild, should give the Tories hope

Socialism is on the march and about to seize power in the UK, so many on the Labour left believe. This

If I were a Tory I would be loving that faint smell of Labour hubris in the morning. As I contemplated the wreckage of the general election, that grubby-looking deal with the DUP and a shambolic Brexit strategy, I would be consoling myself with the thought that the Labour left may be in the process of coming to many of the wrong conclusions about why the party did did so unexpectedly well on 8th June. It could just be, I’d be saying to myself, that Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues are setting themselves up for a big fail when the government finally gives up the ghost and is forced to go to the country once more.

To begin, how should we define big fail? Well, from where Labour is now, and with the Tories in the state that they are in, at a minimum Labour should win most seats in the Commons when the next election does take place. But really it should be looking at an overall majority. After all, the electoral map has now been transformed – a swing of just 2% will gain Labour an extra 38 seats; make it 3.5% and that rises to over 60. Not doing at least the former of these would be a major setback for Mr Corbyn and his team.

Back in May, I honestly thought I would never see another Labour government in my lifetime, now the prospect is so close you can almost touch it. But, let’s not forget, the extra seats still have to be won, while those gained earlier in the month all have to be retained.

As I wrote on here just after the election, Jeremy Corbyn deserves huge credit for what Labour achieved earlier this month. It is doubtful that any other leader could have delivered the result the party secured. He galvanised young voters, ignored the right wing press and focused on delivering a positive message aimed squarely at those who feel left behind and ignored. Like the Tories, many Labour moderates thought that Corbyn would be horribly exposed during a six weeks electoral campaign. But he wasn’t; instead it was Theresa May whose standing collapsed.

However, Labour did not win. Despite May’s meltdown and running what is generally considered to be the worst campaign in living memory, the Tories won dozens more seats, hundreds of thousands more votes and a higher vote share than Labour. They are in government; Labour is not. For that to change, more people have to be persuaded to vote for the party than last time; a lot of seats that are currently blue have to turn red. That will not happen unless the Labour leadership and its cheerleaders come to understand that although Corbyn and the manifesto were a significant part of the reason why the party’s vote surged, they were not the only one.

First off, the Tories ran an abysmal campaign. In a two party, first-past-the-post system, if you do not like option number one, your only choice is option number two or not voting at all. And while we now know that more young people voted this year, we also know that fewer older people did. Labour cannot rely on that happening again. There’ll be no Dementia Tax in the next Tory manifesto.

Then there is Europe. My own constituency – Warwick & Leamington – turned Tory in 2010 and went even further blue in 2015. Then it voted Remain in 2016 and returned to Labour in 2017. It could be that voters here have now embraced red-blooded socialism and decided that, as per the Labour manifesto, the UK should leave the single market; or it might just be that a lot of them were voting against what they considered to be the destructive Tory line on Brexit. I don’t know which it is (though I have my suspicions), but as Warwick & Leamington was not the only Remain area that saw a big swing to Labour, it should surely be something for the party to give a great deal of thought to.

This takes me back to the hubris. For instead of delving deep into the electoral data to work out exactly what happened on election day and why, all the indications are that the Labour left has

decided that for victory to be secured next time it merely requires one more heave; that 12.8 million votes are now in the bag, and that many others are on the verge of taking the plunge. The idea that moderates may have voted Labour, that those who merely did not like the May campaign did so or that convinced Remainers joined them seems to have been dismissed. Instead, a Labour vote on 8th June is being regarded by the Labour left as an unequivocal endorsement of socialism.

You can see this viewpoint in Corbyn’s failure not only to reach out to moderates and those from the soft left when he announced his new shadow cabinet, but also in his decision not to expand the wider shadow front bench because doing so would inevitably involve calling on members of the parliamentary Labour party closer to the centre. Then there is the re-emergence of stories about firing Labour general secretary Iain McNichol and purging the staff at Labour HQ because they are not perceived as Corbynite enough; while it is unmistakeable in the articles, speeches and Tweets of left-wing commentators close to the Labour leadership. On Saturday, for example, Paul Mason was advising Labour moderates in Progress to go and form their own party; in Monday’s Guardian Owen Jones wrote that the election showed “that socialism can convince both middle-class and working-class voters alike”.

It is beyond dispute that the left is now in charge of Labour and that all decisions about party policy and strategy will be made from the left for the foreseeable future. The upshot of that is that Labour should no longer be seen as a coalition; instead, it is unashamedly left-wing. That is fair enough: Corbyn and his supporters have won that right. But with the leader they want, a party united behind him, the Tories in turmoil and the economic storm clouds gathering, there can be no excuses for failure. It’s time to deliver.

So, to return to the opening line of this piece: if I were a Conservative, I would not be in despair or sorting out my assets to keep them from John McDonnell’s grasp just yet. Instead, I would be asking myself whether places like Leamington and Warwick, Peterborough and Lincoln, Canterbury and Ipswich have irrevocably decided to pledge their allegiances to the red flag, and whether others such as Hastings, Hendon and Milton Keynes really are about to join them.

Having done that, I might just permit myself a smile. Surely, I’d conclude, if the Tories ran a better campaign next time, with a more engaging, confident leader and some positive policies that appeal to voters in the centre, they might just have half a chance. After all, they will be facing a party that gives every impression of having convinced itself that at the next election the British are set do something they have never before done in peacetime: turn dramatically to the left.

Joff Wild posts on Political Betting as SouthamObserver. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpaJW

Joff Wild

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