Labour has lost more than an election

Labour needs to learn lessons from its defeat if it is not to be consigned to electoral oblivion.

Ieuan Joy

Topics Brexit Politics UK

Thursday was a dark day for Labour. To lose by a landslide to a government that has been in power for nine years of economic struggle is unprecedented. Even as we speak, Labour factions are at each others’ throats as they argue over what is to blame for the party’s worst General Election result since 1935. While they blame each other for Labour’s defeat, there is a high chance they will ignore the actual lessons to be drawn from this election. And if they do, Labour will face another decade in opposition.

Let’s start from the top with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. His leadership may have swelled the ranks and inspired almost fanatical loyalty from his mostly young followers, but he was also the most unpopular leader of an opposition party going into a General Election since 1977. His followers accuse the media of carrying out a hatchet job on their dear leader by reporting what Corbyn said and did in the years he was an MP. True stories included: inviting convicted IRA members to the House of Commons days after the Brighton bomb; and laying a wreath at the graves of individuals linked to the Black September terror group and the Munich massacre of 1972. Such actions alienated a lot of Labour voters. They saw not an inspiring leader, but a man who supported those who would do Britain and its Jews harm.

But it is too easy to lay the blame entirely at the feet of Corbyn. Just as damaging to Labour’s electoral hopes was the anti-democratic attitude of Labour’s membership and the majority of its MPs. Their decision to back a second referendum on Brexit may have united a party. But it alienated its Leave-voting heartlands.

The next Labour leader should not be someone who did everything in his or her power to overturn Brexit. Which rules out the likes of Jess Phillips. Instead, Labour needs someone who can take a step back and finally see Brexit for the opportunity it always has been.

Labour needs to choose a leader who can reach out beyond Labour’s metropolitan membership. It wasn’t in London or Manchester that it suffered. It was in towns like Wrexham and Darlington where it was annihilated. These communities want to be respected and listened to. They don’t want to be patronised by their supposed betters, and treated as expendable.

Back in 2014, during the Rochester and Strood by-election, then shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry tweeted a photo of a white van parked in the driveway of a house adorned with English flags. She captioned it with the the implicit sneer of ‘Image from #Rochester’. It exposed Labour’s arch superiority complex. The next Labour leader needs to ditch the snobbery if the party is to appeal to the very voters it once claimed to represent.

Labour last won a General Election in 2005 under Tony Blair. He would not have been able to win if Labour hadn’t won so many seats in Scotland. This is why it is imperative for Labour to rebuild Scottish Labour if it ever wants to get back into power. This means that the next Labour leader needs to challenge SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, and her dreadful record in power, rather than seeing her as a coalition partner. Labour needs to get firmly behind the unionist cause, act like a party that is aiming for power, and challenge its rivals throughout the UK.

Whether Labour can make a comeback in five years’ time depends on what it does now. Corbyn’s toxic leadership and the party’s second-referendum policy were clearly both huge problems. But above all, Labour has estranged those it once claimed to represent. There are lessons for Labour to learn. And it’s a process that could take months.

But Labour does not have much time. Local elections are coming in May. And Britain needs a healthy opposition for it to have a healthy democracy. Let’s hope Labour’s period of reflection is more than just words.

Ieuan Joy is a student journalist based in Sheffield. Follow him on Twitter: @JoyIeuan.

Picture by: Getty.

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Marvin Jones

18th December 2019 at 2:48 pm

They took a mighty beating for their ignorance and lack of intellect, but they got their most fervent wish. Less Jewish members.

Emmett Elvin

18th December 2019 at 10:34 am

The Labour Party died with John Smith.

The moment they began courting the metropolitan middle class instead of the working people they were created to represent was the moment the body began to rot.

It may be beyond resurrection at this point.

jan mozelewski

18th December 2019 at 2:02 pm

I agree. The all-too-early demise of Smith was a sad day for British democracy. (We probably didn’t realise it at the time. (Like when an un-showy central midfielder is injured and only then you realise how much shape and purpose he gives to his team) A thoroughly decent man leading the Labour Party based upon the best aspects of why the party was founded. So needed now and yet so so far away.

Marvin Jones

18th December 2019 at 2:51 pm

The empty carcasses like Heseltine, Major, Blair, Adonis and Cambell seem to be in good health, considering.


17th December 2019 at 8:53 pm

Any half decent Labour leader would have wiped the floor with Johnson. This Tory ‘triumph’ is merely an illusion created by FPTP. We will not have truly representative governments in this country until a form of PR is introduced. It cannot be right, for example, that UKIP received 4 million votes in 2017 and yet only won one seat. That neither Labour nor the Tories support PR is a disgrace.

Charles Stuart

18th December 2019 at 2:12 am

Pure PR is a very bad system in that it wipes out the connection between the people and their representatives. Just remember an election is only a brief affair, governing is what is going on most of the time. Thus the electoral system has to allow for governing. It has to produce a clear result and give people a representative in the government. PR in its pure form does not do that. It does away with constituents so that politicians become unanswerable to the people. This in turn allows for the professional politicans and the civil service to take over the government to the The funny thing is that with pure PR you are bound to get endless coalitions, so no one manifesto is ever going to form the basis of government. This means that you might vote for a party that says it will cut student fees but which forms a coalition with another party that wants to increase them. In other words no voter can be sure of what he or she is voting for. The best the voter for the smaller party can hope for is that maybe a small portion of the party’s manifesto will get enacted.

brent mckeon

18th December 2019 at 7:19 am

My view is a system worth investigating is Germany’s where there is a combination of both PR and 1st past the post. Here in South Africa we have pure PR and it is simply rule by ‘hidden’ party bosses. Any MP who disagrees with the party position, no matter how trivial, is sidelined and next election find themselves way down the party list and effectively kicked out of parliament. Better have a 50/50 system where 50% are elected via PR and 50% are elected on a constituency first past the post way. In PR the bigger the party the more rigid they police their MPs demanding conformity and it works as the party bosses effectively run the whole show, especially who gets on the party list and in what order they appear. ie MPs who toe the party line 100% get put high on the list ensuring election. Better, reform the non democtatic Lords and let it be a real brake on excesses of the house of commons. Yes it would mean being elected and this could be the way to introduce PR into Britain.

Joseph Brown

17th December 2019 at 6:13 pm

Even now, in the face of absolute defeat, the loony left that make up Momentum are in complete denial. Take to any social media and you’ll never see a more accurate definition of ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’.

Unless Labour completely and utterly remove Momentum from their ranks then they are forever destined to fail.

M Blando

17th December 2019 at 5:18 pm

I for one would not shed a tear for the demise of Labour. I have longed for years, for a real alternative to what we have had thus far. I have felt the two-party situation has not allowed the country to progress much at all. Few truly new ideas come from a status quo. If Labour leave a void, then there will be the opportunity, the impetus, for something else to take it’s place… bring it on.

I had hoped TBP were a seed of something. It was not yet formed, but had many of the raw elements present. The two party problem is a monopoly of sorts, keeping real innovation out and the fate of TBP is (in part) evidence of this.

Michael Gilday

17th December 2019 at 10:14 pm

I agree in part The Brexit Party (TBP) through Farage spoke a lot of sense about breaking the present two-party system and mending a broken political system. Part of the reason for his failure I think is not only the first past the post electoral system. More so his poor judgement at times. He might have been right in suggesting that splitting the tory vote could have let in the Liberal Party, but there is little evidence to support this theory. Personally, I believe had he fielded candidates in all seats he would have performed far better. I also don’t think putting Donald Trump on a pedestal is a vote winning strategy either. I did on this occasion cast my vote for TBP by postal vote and I might if voting at a booth cast it differently on the day. TBP in a few seats actually prevented the Conservatives from winning; Coventry South, North West and Normanton, Yvette Coopers seat would have all fallen out of Labours hands, if it had not been for TBP.
I agree there is a deficit of intelligent political thinking and a democratic shortfall due directly to the two-party system. It could though be argued that once a Government commands a massive majority as does Boris Johnson then much needed change is implemented, for the country in the longer term. Many like David Starkey would argue historically our political system only works within a two-party state. I recommend you watch his recent lectures on this subject. and
It has been proven over this past three years than hung parliaments do not function. The electorate do not appreciate coalition governments either such as the one with David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Although you would think politics would be better with compromise and politicians working for the benefit of all the electorate and the UK as a whole. Farage and TBP espoused this view point, it does not seem the electorate agree or politicians are capable, except under dire circumstances, able to even attempt to work together.

Michael Gilday

18th December 2019 at 1:20 pm

I have just read a peice contributed by Christopher Howarth who stood as a Conservative Candidate for Houghton and Sunderland South to Brexit Central. He offers even more examples of where TBP gave Labour a majority in the recent election. His analysis shows Labour would have ended up with 168 seat rather than the 202 they won. This was in part due to those standing for TBP. He claims it is not so much a sweet Conservative home as “Much has been made of the background of a number of high-profile Brexit Party candidates as former Revolutionary Communist Party members and agitators writing for Spiked”. I thought I ought to add a link to this article as well to my previous remarks.


18th December 2019 at 8:28 pm

What kind of democracy would a Tory/Brexit Party duopoly be – right wing nutters versus even more right wing nutters!

Ian B

17th December 2019 at 3:28 pm

What Labour needs is a new Neil Kinnock figure who will purge the entryists. Right now though I don’t see where such a leader would come from.

jan mozelewski

17th December 2019 at 6:33 pm

I would suggest the Kinnock brand of Labour is damaged goods. Unless, of course you don’t mean the Kinnock who, along with most of his family, has had his snout in the EU trough for decades, but another Kinnock?

Jane 70

17th December 2019 at 3:22 pm

The loony left needs a bonfire of its vanities, inanities and profanities.

This might take a very long time, judging by the recent twitter spats, blame games and factional fights.

M Blando

17th December 2019 at 5:13 pm

I think your assessment is correct Jane. There appears to be a large contingent of the ‘fanatical’ and the ’emotional’ clinging to each other. So not only does the party itself need to change, but it needs to disown these head banger fans too, which will be the more difficult thing to do.

Michael Gilday

17th December 2019 at 2:58 pm

The labour Party has first to ditch Momentum, which won’t be an easy task. They must clear out all the Corbyn mindset, again no longer an easy task. Changing the present Labour Party into an electable credible party will take a decade or longer. All one has to do is look back to the 1980’s and see how long it took to wrench the party away from extreme socialists’ attitudes and make it a credible opposition party. Labour is now a party in the wilderness, and I doubt there is any instant solution or a potential leader waiting in the wings capable of forcing the changes necessary to regain voter’s confidence. The big question will be can they ever be credible in the 21st Century again and if so, how many years will it take. Last time it was well over a decade this time may well be much longer.

jan mozelewski

17th December 2019 at 6:36 pm

Impossible task. The sensible members of Labour need to stop with the denial and start a new party. It is what they should have done several years ago when momentum first became the parasitic wasp growing in the party’s gut.

steve moxon

17th December 2019 at 2:33 pm

The Left is as ever is guaranteed to fail to learn lessons. The Left has been and will continue to be all about blaming the masses for not buying their bull, and opposing them.
The massive breaches in the ‘red wall’ will ensure its total collapse: everyone now has ‘permission’ to junk their inertial adhesion to what anyway they’d long ago forgotten why it deserved their allegiance originally.
There is no appetite among hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to join en mass to dilute a Leftist cult only to be derided as misogynistic homophobic xenophobes.
The Liebore membership will remain Venezuelan in outlook, and will elect the next leder entirely over the heads of the PLP, driving still more Liebore ‘moderates’ to quit, switch party or sit on their hands for a quiet life.
Metropolitan areas will continue to spawn oikophobic, hate-mongering obscenities to vie with each other for selection by Momentum invaders of constituency Labour Party organisations.
The Left is set to render Labour even more lunatic fringe in its HoC representation.
Feedback loops of all this will see Labour become ever more unelectable.
The Party’s doomed.

Marvin Jones

18th December 2019 at 3:18 pm

If they elected Tony Blair as leader, we could have another war. Mmmmmmmmm, now who are we capable of winning against and pick a fight with? The Isle of Man?

steve moxon

18th December 2019 at 4:15 pm

Oh the war would as now be with (against) the people. Blair is as big an ‘identity politics’ totalitarian (‘PC’-fascist) as anybody in Liebore.

K Tojo

17th December 2019 at 12:58 pm

The far Left have a constitutional aversion to democracy. They cannot learn from the masses because the masses are deemed to be the unwitting dupes of capitalism who must be rescued by revolutionary leadership.

After repeated electoral defeats during the 1980s the Labour leadership devised a project called “Labour Listens”. This was supposed to reveal what the voters real concerns were as opposed to what the far Left thought they should be. Naturally, that doyen of the far Left Tony Benn, was not happy with this at all. The soon-to-be “national treasure” sneeringly declared that he could not possibly be expected to campaign using an ear trumpet.


17th December 2019 at 1:51 pm

Whatever one thinks of Benn, and I agree that the “national treasure” stuff of recent years is rather sick-making, he would not have campaigned – even half-heartedly – to keep the country in the EU as his disciple Corbyn has been doing. On that fundamental issue he always championed democracy and the sovereignty of the people.


17th December 2019 at 8:54 pm

Only about half the country support Brexit of any kind. Where is your mandate for Brexit?

steve moxon

17th December 2019 at 10:16 pm

Mz Xenophobia need to get back to primary school maths. The Brexit vote was the largest vote in British history, and has been further expressed in every election since. It way exceeds any vote any government has ever obtained in a landslide general election victory.
Never has a mandate been clearer.

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