Labour’s crisis is even worse than it realises

None of the leadership candidates can fix the severe problems facing the party.

Paddy Hannam

Topics Brexit Politics UK

The Labour leadership race rolls on. Two contenders have already pulled out in somewhat comical circumstances. Clive Lewis failed to get more than five nominations from fellow MPs. Jess Phillips’ claim that Labour needs a female leader (ie, her) now looks odd considering she has withdrawn and endorsed not only Emily Thornberry but also Keir Starmer… who’s a bloke.

When thinking about the Labour leadership election, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a Brexit Party supporter after a local social event a couple of months before the General Election in December. After much discussion of the politics of the time, and speculation about what would come next, he predicted that, once Brexit was over, I would return to Labour, the party of which I was a member until 2019. Indeed, a few friends have now asked me the same question: with Corbyn gone, and our exit from the EU apparently safe, will I go back to my original party?

The short answer is no. But what’s interesting is that Labour seems to be working on the same assumption that my fellow Brexiteer was: with Brexit out of the way, those who left Labour, or who stopped voting for it because of its Brexit policy and other related issues, will now come back. This strikes me as at best idealistic, and at worst arrogant.

The evidence that this analysis is at work is abundant. All six candidates who entered the leadership race are Remainers. Three of them were key members of the shadow cabinet that made it party policy to call for a rigged second referendum. Clive Lewis said racism was ‘at the heart’ of Brexit, Jess Phillips pledged to campaign to remain in the EU, and Lisa Nandy took the opportunity to warn about ‘divisive nationalism’ in a thinly veiled critique of what she thought had motivated Leavers. All the candidates voted against Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, except Nandy, who backed it at its third attempt, only to oppose Boris’s deal after the election. Meanwhile, the party leadership appears to be trying to make John Bercow a peer. I mean, come on.

And get this: Rebecca Long-Bailey, one of the favourites, gave Corbyn’s leadership, presumably including his vacillating and comical Brexit policy, a rating of 10 out of 10. Not much hope of moving on from the failures of Corbynism if she wins, then. For her, Magic Grandpa literally couldn’t have been better, and therefore the very best she can do is to do as well as him. I hate to break it to you, Rebecca, but you’ll have to do a whole lot better than that if you are to have any hope of getting a sight of power.

The other favourite, Starmer, was directly involved in drafting Labour’s dreadful Brexit policy. That alone should rule him out of contention for the leadership. But, if anything, it has probably given him a greater chance of success – which only goes to show how unrepresentative the party membership is.

There are two things Labour is failing to recognise. The first is that Brexit is an issue over which much of Labour’s traditional support base feel totally betrayed. Such people don’t just feel a bit let down by a lack of clarity, or mildly disappointed that Labour chose the wrong policy. They feel that their votes have been ignored by those claiming to be their political representatives. They feel that their democratic rights as equal citizens have been put under threat. And they are right.

The second is that the Brexit vote is not the only thing separating Labour from its traditional support base. People have been drifting away from Labour for years. Many stopped voting during the New Labour years, put off by the rise of a middle-class managerial elite in the party, which promoted a new social liberalism at the expense of any substantive radicalism. For example, there was the green light given to mass immigration by Tony Blair’s government without consulting or even informing the public. Labour has actually been losing working-class votes, both generally and to the Conservatives, since 2005. Brexit clearly wasn’t the cause of this deep-rooted break between Labour and its traditional base.

Labour lost huge amounts of its ‘red wall’ territory in the December election. Now that many of these constituencies have broken with the habit of a lifetime and voted Tory, it will be easier for them to do so again. December was not a one-off. As such, Labour is wrong to think that Corbyn himself was the only problem and that a new face with similar policies will solve the problem. Much as Corbyn was a liability, his out-of-touch leadership was only a reflection of the transformation of Labour into a party for middle-class activists and virtue-signallers. Yes, there are still many good people who campaign for Labour and vote for Labour. But ultimately, Labour can no longer claim to be the party of the working class. And barring a major change of direction – the like of which no current candidate is offering – this situation will get worse.

Paddy Hannam is a writer. Follow him on Twitter: @paddyhannam

Picture by Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Michael Lynch

29th January 2020 at 1:48 am

I’m afraid that the ghost of Jezbollah will continue to haunt the Party for sometime to come. Labour are finished for the next two elections at the very least.

Neil McCaughan

28th January 2020 at 8:51 pm

Labour didn’t get anything wrong in the last general Election. At least, according to Labour and its deluded allies. The country was inspired by Labour’s chaotic, ridiculous leadership. Believed in its preposterous policies. And loved its poor spavined candidates. So the only way forward is to elect Miss Long Bailey, endure a yet more cataclysmic train wreck, and see if they can learn from that experience. Somehow, one suspects not.

Matt Ryan

28th January 2020 at 8:02 pm

Best £25 I ever spent voting in Corbyn. Its saved me 10s thousands of pounds by not allowing Labour near the levers of power.

Tim Wheeler

28th January 2020 at 6:56 pm

It’s been a couple of decades of disillusionment for me. First Blair with this faith schools, globalisation mania, and trickle-down economics; then Brown with selling off the gold reserves, trashing pensions, and the “British Jobs For British Workers” fiasco when he reversed course & recanted at lightning speed. (Btw It was Brown that lost Scotland when he sacked Wendy Alexander instead of taking her advice – no one talks about that.) Finally Corbyn who (just before the referendum) decides to abandon the supremacy of British citizens’ votes for rule by E.U. diktat & corporate lobbyists. Even after loosing the election he couldn’t refrain from writing a love letter to the Ayatollahs and their butcher Soleimani. Lite the writer, I can’t see myself re-joining Labour any time soon.


28th January 2020 at 6:44 pm

At root, the problem facing the Labour Party is quite simple, although that doesn’t mean that it is soluble. It is that Socialist economics do not work. From the Soviet Union in the 1920s to Venezuela in this century, governments have tried time and again to construct Socialist economic systems. Some may have had a brief and partial flowering but none have matched free markets for economic growth and the general, broad, improvement of living conditions. In consequence, if and when applied for long enough, they have led to social repression and authoritarianism, generally by preventing the citizenry leaving to seek a better, freer, life elsewhere.

What is probably most remarkable about Socialism is that despite it being tested to destruction time and again, its advocates invariably protest that: ‘next time it will be different! Next time it will be “real” Socialism and so it will work!’ They’re not unakin to the alchemist perpetually seeking to turn base materials into gold.

Obviously the free market has its cruelties and injustices. In – relatively – well governed countries it is moderated and policed in order to shelter the weak, vulnerable and simply unfortunate. It will never create a utopia in which the lion will lie down with lamb.

The Labour Party hasn’t thrown off the fantasy that Socialist economics can succeed. Blair and Brown – for all their follies and failings – sought to lead it into a new age of managerialism, but the party has since returned to its philosophical roots and the new, young, members take their lead from the small rump whose only boast is that they didn’t fall for Blairism, while not understanding that they haven’t learnt anything either.

Phil Ford

28th January 2020 at 6:53 pm

Absolutely agree with this analysis. Well put.

Linda Payne

1st February 2020 at 4:14 pm

you can only have socialism through revolution; State socialism does not work because capitalism is still the dominant system in the West.

Eva Prior

28th January 2020 at 4:48 pm

Whilst most of the reasons stated for Labour losing a lot of its traditional voters are correct. The article infers that the Tories will redress these problems. Not a chance.

Johnson et al mistakenly think that throwing a few crumbs to these ‘small cornflakes’ will keep him and his ilke at the top of the box. His honeymoon period will soon come to an end.

By the end of this year there will be as much disillusionment with the Tories as there was with Labour and for basically the same reasons. The self proclaimed ‘big cornflake’ will soon be ‘stale crumbs at the bottom of the box.’

In Negative

28th January 2020 at 4:07 pm

Speaking of my class at the present, I’m starting to feel like they are behaving like a bunch of useful idiots. They are buying wholesale this idea that Labour no longer represent them (and they’re in many ways right) but as yet I see no sign of them creating anything else to replace Labour.

Right now, over the passed 20 years, I’ve seen the conditions of my class worsen – their work is more unstable (short-term contracts, agencies, zero-hours), their pay has worsened, the obligations of their employers to them are weakening (agencies again), their retirement ages are rising, their living costs are going up, their savings are depreciating, their housing is more precarious, their living spaces becoming less safe, their unions almost irrelevant and their social services (health care, welfare, etc.) weakening both materially and ideologically. At the same time, billionaires are getting richer as homelessness has more than doubled. This is structural. It is built into our economy and it is against the real material interests of ordinary people.

So what are ‘ordinary people’ doing about all this? Well, they’re bitching about PC and the Islington set whilst voting for Boris Johnson. Talking to a mate of mine t’other week banging on about how much Corbyn hated the “aspirational working class” – directly referencing a mate of his who’s making a killing at the moment out of inflated property prices and high rents. Apparently, this was a good thing and Corbyn was the devil for threatening to put a spanner in the works.

We have steel worker poet/comedians from Redcar noww bitching about Corbyn in verse as they move from the working mens’ clubs to the Fringe or whatever, hoping to make a living out of a faux-self-flagellating middle-class, but we’re doing nothing to meaningfully identify or defend our own interests. In fact, we’ve somehow let ourselves be persuaded that our interests have something to do with transgender or feminist activism and appear more involved in a ‘culture war’ against Labour than any meaningful economic resistance to our depreciating material conditions.

The ‘culture war’ is a fantasy; a distraction. Left and Right, it’s an illusion of capital created by capital. By its very nature, it does not represent those without capital – how could it? It is there to create an illusion of political struggle, to set the terms of that struggle and make sure no struggles that depart from those terms can enter it.

The working class need to start saying to themselves: “I want x much leisure,” “I want to retire at age y,” “I want z much health care.” How much education do we want for our children? What kinds of support do we want for our sick, out of work and disabled? ‘Cos seriously, writing poems about how shit Labour are and goin’ ‘yeah, fuck you the red wall!’ ain’t gonna get these things back. Nor will the middle-class give them to us on our terms (though they’ll almost certainly try to control the terms by which we ask). Nor will the institutions of capital ever encourage us to make these kinds of demands.

The middle classes will tell us that these things must be paid for, the system must be secure, your living standards must be depreciated in order that, well, what? So Jo Coburn can keep her job? I don’t care about Jo Coburn or her job. Let Jo Coburn think about her living standards, let us think about ours. Ordinary folks need to start demanding things, not just accepting what they are given. They need to demand a certain quality of life and need to organise to secure and defend it. I see no meaningful evidence anywhere that this is happening and I don’t see anyone trying to make it happen. All I see is distraction and self-interest. Oh, and bitching about Labour. There’s a lot of that too.

Labour may not represent us, but we are hardly representing ourselves either.

Geoff Cox

28th January 2020 at 1:24 pm

There’s another threat to the Labour Party coming down the tracks. In due course a Muslim Party will be formed which will be locally and regionally significant robbing Labour of thousands of votes in their “safe” seats.

Forlorn Dream

28th January 2020 at 1:18 pm

I’m a lifelong Tory voter so this is music to my ears, long may it last. It probably will last a while as it’ll be a very long time before people forget all the nasty, underhand and deceitful tricks Labour did while trying to cancel Brexit.

My favourite was when they blocked the 31st Oct leave date then forced BJ to beg the EU for another extension of time. All while threatening BJ with imprisonment if he didn’t do as he was told. They then had the nerve to go on TV to mock BJ for not keeping his pledge to get us out.

Who did they think they were kidding? Did they think no one knew what was actually happening? I wonder how many seats that stunt cost them a couple of months later?

Filbert Flange

28th January 2020 at 4:36 pm

I’m another “sensible” lefty, reluctantly standing just inside the rear flap of the big blue tent. If I might offer a little advice to my new, true blue fellow travelers: don’t count your chickens quite yet. You need to treat Labour like a wounded moose — seemingly down for the count, but still capable of stomping you into a pulp.

Put a couple more rounds into it before even thinking about taking triumphal trophy pictures.

Ven Oods

28th January 2020 at 7:22 pm

Thing is, Filbert, it’s shooting itself…
At this rate, it’ll soon be deader than a Norwegian Blue.

Filbert Flange

29th January 2020 at 3:01 pm

Can’t argue with that Ven. But soon enough saner heads will resurface and things will get real ugly, fast.

The time to fight the misanthropes is now, while you are strong — not later when you are weak and when they are getting stronger. They may be completely mad at the moment. Absolutely. But in the blink of an eye they’ll be breathing down your collar.

Ken Bowker

28th January 2020 at 12:20 pm

“Labour is wrong to think that Corbyn himself was the only problem …”
Sorry, Paddy, even you haven’t spotted that most Labour activists don’t think Magic Grandpa was any kind of a problem at all.

John Reic

28th January 2020 at 11:24 am

Yes they were all remainers
Everyone from Rod middle to Iain Dale literally decided to vote leave a week before hand based on a 50.5% reason to leave
Boris Johnson being similar
And there were reluctant remainers Like Caroline flint

People like Chris tartan tea s hodges rven Ash Sarker who votes remain who then said the way remainers acted afterwards they’re strong Brexiters now
Or Piers Morgan a remainer eho was dead against a second referendum

And Jess Phillips now backs Lisa nandy

regarding nandy only voting for mays deal
What did the ERG group or the DUP do
And nandy voted with providions for Boris deal
So RLB loyal to the front bench wasn’t going to vote for Mays BRINO or boris deal without precautions in union rights
Even anigel garage not liking Boris deal abstained in the general election
I take your point but to compare RLb and alisa nandy too the other 2 is silly if they win they may denounce Clive lewis and Phillips quotes

a watson

28th January 2020 at 10:31 am

Local branch activists keep it small and tight. Local Campaign Forums are selected by these small groups who also control the Constituency parties. These undemocratically selected LCFs then prepare shortlists for council candidate selection and MP selection. If you are not part of the middle class property owning elite or not university educated or a working class male you will be excluded from having any meaningful influence on representative selection in the Labour Party.

John Reic

29th January 2020 at 2:06 pm

I know this happens in chunks of South East and East London
You have to have the right sort of views
Remain for instance in south east London even if you like Corbyns identity politics
I get the idea these cliques work to stop momentum taking over but really
It’s so off putting for members who just want a labour government

a watson

28th January 2020 at 10:04 am

How they despise and fear the working class male.

Ven Oods

28th January 2020 at 9:59 am

“Labour’s crisis is even worse than it realises”
Not according to Toynbee, P in the Grauniad. And, remember, she nailed the last election result well ahead of time, so…. Oh, no, I’m misremembering; she got it completely wrong.
So, perhaps Labour’s crisis really is worse than it realises.

Puddy Cat

28th January 2020 at 9:38 am

Because of the tortuous selection process the uniformity of candidature is assured. Labour have been shown the real needs of their historic electorate and choose to ignore it. Even now, the proposal by the Government to reverse Beeching is rounded on by the leaderless party, so the Guardian reports, which, I think, demonstrates a headless chicken, how it would behave. They are willing to be seen as running democratic elections amongst themselves but in the background the actual policy forum is immutable and persistent. If they are only to be the carping gnomic party they will only ever appeal to carping incendiarists of the old school. Never originate anything novel or progressive. In every utterance the rule book dominates and that was formulated on the back of 1917.

Phil Ford

28th January 2020 at 8:05 am

The Labour Party face an existential crisis. As usual, the threat to their very existence comes from within – namely, from their extreme far-left radicals. This is a well-rehearsed scenario for Labour, but here we go again.

In 2017 Corbyn led his party to electoral defeat against Theresa May – one of the weakest, most ineffectual PMs ever to occupy Downing Street. The problem was that the Labour Party – particularly those Inner Party apparatchiks closest to The Dear Leader – somehow imagined they had (at least in spirit, if not in fact) won the election. They acted like winners. Their media wing went into overdrive, wasting little time on the fact that despite making modest gains Corbyn actually lost the election – rather, they talked-up ‘the mood of the country’ and spoke about ‘transformation’ and a ‘set of policies for genuine change’. Theirs was truly a government in waiting, poised for electoral triumph… next time around.

Delusion and wishful thinking set-in.

In 2019, still convinced their revolutionary moment had come, and perhaps confident that the Party’s baffling, radical Manifesto had somehow, despite its incoherence, ‘connected with people’ and was ‘popular’, the comrades rushed towards the ballot box – straight into absolute catastrophe. The Labour Party suffered it’s most complete and utter electoral defeat since the 1930s – the Party was hammered into irrelevance by a clearly unpersuaded electorate, whom duly voted Boris Johnson into Downing Street with an emphatic, incontestable majority.

More telling – and perhaps indicative of the truly hopeless situation Labour bow finds itself in – has been the Party’s response, post-2019 election. It appears to wish to double-down on Corbynism. To maintain the radical, far-left agenda, to ratchet-up the same identity politics and political correctness that so turned-off the electorate. It sees nothing wrong in its 2019 Manifesto (indeed, it sounds quite petulant in defence of what it still considers a ‘great’ Manifesto, which it thinks still contains ‘popular policies’).

Momentum still sits at the ideological heart of the Party, Corbyn is still its Leader. The indifference to circumstance is quite breathtaking. Nothing needs changing, despite the two election defeats. Everything is fine – a simple change of Leadership (but not until Chairman Corbyn is confident of his chosen successor’s ideological purity – and one can see how reluctant The Dear Leader is to vacate his current position) will surely mean next time, comrades… next time.

Unless it undergoes some dramatic intervention, finds a way to eject the radical left and return to the Party to a moderate middle-ground, the Labour Party will be out of power for another ten years. Personally, that makes me happy (and relieved), but if I were a Labour Party member or supporter I’d be very unhappy with the prospect. The entire point of a political party, after all, is surely to make itself electable to win real power so that it can enact the change it wishes to see.

Steve Roberts

28th January 2020 at 8:56 am

Phil Ford ,obviously this is a very large discussion one of importance for many reasons,and yet many commentators and indeed the article are missing the main question which you allude to
“The entire point of a political party, after all, is surely to make itself electable to win real power so that it can enact the change it wishes to see”
This raises the question of whether the role of a party, i don’t just mean the LP, is to “represent” or to make a principled stand on ideas that it unequivocally believes is at least the beginning of making a radical, transformative progressive and democratic change that is needed, and is prepared to fight for those principles and challenge the predominant ideas in society.
The former results ,often,in the possibility of gaining ” power” and for many generations we have seen where it leads.
The latter would likely very much lessen any possibility of “power” would be a battle of ideas,serious ideas to change the status quo,not tinker at the edges, a start of a new social movement.
Most political activists in some form or another align themselves,directly or indirectly with the former,effectively believing that the wider public cannot be won over to the latter, its akin to blaming the public.
What it is really is political cowardice to begin to develop the vital and necessary change, one seeing and putting the demos at the centre of that change.Until this begins we will continue to have this perpetual roundabout of failures across society where we are all contained,constrained,managed by this managerislist political class of all hues and when crises continue to arise and society continues to spiral downwards in so many ways,it is us the demos that pays the price,always.
Which way to go,continue to have a very limited choice where we are ,sometimes”represented “by the evil or lesser evil, or make a start to build anew where clearly “power” will not be achievable for some time.
But think of this,who would have thought 4 years ago that the demos would have demanded fundamental change, albeit only regards the EU,and be prepared to be steadfast in defending basic democracy against those in power ?
People have always been the agency of change, that belief is relatively weak,humanity is underrated,we could reestablish that agency,threaten the status quo,take society forward in all areas ,who else will do it ? Any of all those that “represent” us now?


steve moxon

28th January 2020 at 8:03 am

To normal folk, Wrong-Daily sounds as angry as she is deluded and confused while Keira sounds like a gay luvvie. Good luck with that one.
Little lovely Lisa-no-chance comes across so reasonable and nice as to sound desperate to hide her Liebore credentials so as not to scare the electorate, but even if this doesn’t somehow point up the chasm between Liebore and the voters, she seems like a lamb for the slaughter if she ever gets to pose at the despatch box.

Jerry Owen

28th January 2020 at 7:48 am

Little Jonnie
..’Boris Johnson is so representative of the working class isn’t he’…
Clearly more than Corbyn was as they voted for Johnson you have a point to make?
But then we wouldn’t expect you to know the politics of our country anyway.

Stephen J

28th January 2020 at 7:45 am

I can’t make up my mind whether Ms. Wrong-Daily is a real person, or something worked up by Nick Park for one of his features?

Ven Oods

28th January 2020 at 10:03 am

That would be a gross waste of Plasticine!

james bradley

28th January 2020 at 7:42 am

I wonder if Labour are playing the long game. More and more young people identify with the extreme left. They refuse to refer to history which catalogues the disaster that is communism. Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao all butchers in the name of their unachievable ideology. Labour can see its franchise growing and by the time we get to the next election the left leaning kids will be able to vote.

steve moxon

28th January 2020 at 7:52 am

But balanced not just by former kids wising up simply with a little extra age, but the demographic skew, whereby young people are relatively few whereas the very large cohort of the baby boomers (born 1945-1965) are now all mature and as such can be relied upon overwhelmingly to be anti-Liebore, especially as the notion of a Liebore-voting tradition has died with the collapse of the ‘red wall’.

james bradley

28th January 2020 at 8:29 am

Point taken Steve but there is growing evidence through the woke movement that school and university students are increasingly shunning facts via de-platforming and banning anyone who says anything that potentially hurts feelings.The next generation are showing symptoms of collective arrested development and I’m not sure this lot will ever mature and face the facts.

Ven Oods

28th January 2020 at 10:02 am

“..I’m not sure this lot will ever mature and face the facts.”

Possibly not, but they’ll likely acquire property and family and responsibilities; all of which tend to reduce a cohort’s ideologues to a rump, generation after generation.

Jon Barrow

28th January 2020 at 3:26 pm

In most of Europe the young have turned away from the left. The UK bucks this trend for now but there’s no particular reason for it to continue to do so. After all, one nasty encounter with a social justice type and your idealistic leftie student can soon change tack.

Jonnie Henly

28th January 2020 at 12:52 am

“All the candidates voted against Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement”

The key players of the Brexit Party all opposed it too, so you don’t really have grounds to complain there.

Mark Williams

28th January 2020 at 12:22 am

Lady Nugee and Sir Ken, representatives of the working class. I imagine Lady Nugee might even employee a few working class people to maintain her £2 million house in Islington.

Rebecca Wrong-Bailey (Corbyn in a skirt) looks intensely confused whenever she attempts to explain anything.

Sir Ken should self identify as a woman. Intersectional problem solved. I predict an even more overwhelming majority for Boris at the next election.

Jonnie Henly

28th January 2020 at 12:50 am

Ah yes, because Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is so representative of the working class isn’t he…
Well, at least he’s never lived in Islington….. Oh wait.

steve moxon

28th January 2020 at 7:27 am

The very sort of thinking that sinks the Left from the Hen-pecked-by-his-own-ideology one here.
The dumb notion that you cannot speak for anybody but your own supposed ‘group’.
Ordinary people have never and will never buy that crap.

T Hauxwell

28th January 2020 at 8:19 am

The English got a taste of the so called ‘class struggle’ during the Civil War, and quickly realised it was all a lie, promulgated by people who have no interest in social justice and only want power for themselves. English society may have classes, but it is not classist. Something else the Labour Party don’t get.

K Tojo

28th January 2020 at 11:26 am

Perhaps it is a bit of a tall order, Wee Jonnie, asking you to think before responding but I will have a go. See if you can answer this without resorting to Momentum activist troll-think:

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a notorious Eton educated Tory toff and man of privilege who is loathed by the Left and despised even by sections of his own party, manages to attract sufficient working class votes to gain a good working majority in Parliament. His main opponent was a man from the far Left promoted as a champion of the underdog (please, let’s not get into a stupid activist argument about who is / isn’t a true socialist). Although the boss of Unite is desperately struggling to convince himself and the shell-shocked Labour membership that the election defeat was just about Brexit, Corbyn and his “for the many not the few” posturing and policies were essentially a flop. My question is, why did the alleged victims of “the savage Tory cuts” vote for a party led by a Tory toff if the alternative was supposed to be their champion?

Jim Lawrie

28th January 2020 at 11:03 am

“Rebecca Wrong-Bailey (Corbyn in a skirt) looks intensely confused whenever she attempts to explain anything.” As is so often the case when people who parrot a line are asked to explain it.

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