Why Labour deserved to lose

It has grown to loathe the people it is supposed to represent.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Deputy Editor

Topics Brexit Politics UK

On the night of 23 June 2016, an early result from the north-east of England let us know that we were in for an extraordinary night, when Leave triumphed in Sunderland, way beyond expectations. So it was again last night, when Blyth Valley, an old coalmining town that has been Labour since 1950, fell to the Tories, in the first big result of last night’s historic election.

Then the other dominoes began to fall. Bishop Auckland. Wrexham. Great Grimsby. Leigh. Sedgefield. Workington. As the night went on, the ‘red wall’ continued to crumble. The Tories even took Labour Leave seats that were some way down their target list. In North West Durham – the seat previously occupied by Corbynista Laura Pidcock – the Tories came from 8,000 votes behind to claim one of the biggest scalps of the night.

But Blyth Valley felt particularly symbolic – not least because of some Labourites’ shameful treatment of the former MP for the seat, Ronnie Campbell. Campbell – an outspoken socialist and veteran of the Miners’ Strike – represented the seat from 1987 to 2019. (He stepped down before the election.) But he was also a committed Leaver. And when he was mulling over backing Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, to uphold the will of his constituents (60 per cent of whom voted Leave), he was attacked.

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams called Campbell, who was leading picket lines while Williams was still at private school, a ‘scab’. Corbynite keyboard warrior Paul Mason accused him of ‘lacking moral fibre’. Mason has long argued that working-class northern Leavers are basically a lost cause. He said at an event in May that Labour should ignore those who he caricatured as the ‘ex-miner sitting in the pub calling migrants cockroaches’.

This – in a nutshell – is why Labour was defeated last night, and defeated so badly. Its betrayal of its millions of Brexit voters, its embrace of a second referendum, proved decisive. It was strategically stupid (401 seats voted Leave in the referendum, including most Labour seats). But it was also shameful: the party that was founded to give the working class a voice set out to silence that voice. At their most charitable, Labourites saw Brexit as a cry for help from the left behind. And in place of political power – over the laws and people who govern them – all Labour offered voters at this election were handouts.

In this colossal miscalculation, both the right and left of the party are culpable. In the hours since that exit poll, Corbynistas have tried to blame their failures on their Brexit policy as if they had nothing to do with it, as if it was forced on them by recalcitrant Europhile Blairites. But they were in control of the party. They chose this path. They decided that chasing middle-class Remainers was more important than holding on to working-class Leavers. They assumed the plebs either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care.

What this tells us is that Labour no longer takes ordinary people seriously. At best, it pities them. And what we’ve seen so vividly since 2016 is that pity is often the flipside of hate. Labourites’ detachment from their heartland voters has bred a remarkable contempt for them, which takes various unseemly forms – whether it is faux-sympathetic MPs telling Brexit voters they got it wrong and must vote again, or their more excitable outriders smearing voters as racists and insisting they should just be dispensed with.

One of the tragedies of last night is that those in Labour who stood against this bourgeois, anti-democratic drift reaped the whirlwind that their colleagues had created. Caroline Flint lost her seat in the Don Valley, despite fighting tooth and nail for her Leave-voting constituents. Dennis Skinner, another Brexit-backing ex-miner, lost his seat in Bolsover, which he had held since 1970. What is left is a party that is a shell of what it once was, its numbers depleted and its moral authority shot.

This is why Labour deserved to lose last night. It has grown to loathe the very people it is supposed to represent. Just ask Ronnie Campbell, and his former constituents – who for the first time ever will now be represented by a man in a blue rosette.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty

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Mike Dorey

18th December 2019 at 8:04 pm

This is a good article and just about sums it up. However to say that leave Labour voters were treated with deliberate contempt or even hatred by the party I think is a bit strong. Remember that earlier in the year the received wisdom and general media commentary was that everyone was now better informed about Brexit and a large proportion, if not the majority of leave voters had switched to remain. So for Labour to try to represent their views with a second referendum and to give them more say, not less doesn’t seem unreasonable. You say that this was interpreted as an affront to democracy with Labour arrogantly telling voters they had got it wrong first time round. Yet many voters were admitting themselves they had got it wrong and would vote remain if they could do so. Others were saying that “Labour would walk the election if it fully backed remain”. So If events had taken a different turn, Labour would have been accused of not listening. As it turned out, they probably did too much listening and should simply have said they will honour the referendum and leave it at that which is probably why they did better in the 2017 general election.

Your article stops short of considering why so many people wanted leave. What do they expect from it? I can accept that on one level it doesn’t matter. They got what they voted for – Leave. We don’t need to ask anything further. On the other hand, though, did they vote leave because they don’t like the customs union? Did they vote leave because they want out of the environmental protections and workers rights? Did they vote leave because the EU banned formaldehyde in shampoo which causes cancer? The motivations are important and what comes after is important. Or is Brexit all “On principle” – like refusing to watch certain sports even though you might turn out to like them? Could it be people saw “Get Brexit done” as just an advertising campaign to get behind? I’m reminded of “The futures bright, the futures Orange” which became a talking point and generated interest long before it was revealed what it actually related to. It could have been anything. Is that what people voted for ? “Anything” ? The shocks are yet to come and they won’t be pleasant.

Ann Ceely

20th December 2019 at 4:08 pm

A couple of major things are:-
(i) Being able to vote for (or against) the people who make up your government. I, for one, had too much of my Ministers – including PMs, regretfully saying they could nothing to change xxxx. Unfortunately, the bartering between EU Commissioners had changed things.

(ii) EU committees discussing future regulations are a magnet for lobbying by global corporates which gives smaller companies an unacceptable overhead of red-tape thus reducing competition and slowing growth.

Gerard Barry

18th December 2019 at 11:04 am

Can anyone tell me why there are two people in what appears to be fancy dress behind Corbyn in the picture above?

George Orwell

16th December 2019 at 1:08 pm

It looks like it was the Brexit Party splitting the Labour vote that allowed the Conservatives to win so many Labour seats
Conservatives up by less than 2% whilst Labour dropped by about 10% on average.
That balance of 8% went to the Brexit Party.
In some cases, the reduction of the Labour vote was not quite enough to let the Conservatives win and on first glance it looks like the Brexit Party kept them out but on closer inspection one can see that if the Brexit Party had drawn off a few more Labour votes the Conservatives would have won those seats as well.
There is no guarantee that if the Brexit Party had not been standing that the dissatisfied Labour voters would have voted Conservative. Many might well have simply not voted at all.
Farage made decisions in the National Interest that won the election for the Conservatives. He insisted that he would draw votes away from Labour and that would help the Conservatives.
And so it was. Boris owes him as do we all.

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