How Labour lords it over the working classes

The party has been parachuting implausibly posh candidates into deprived communities for decades.

Lisa McKenzie

Topics Politics UK

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Over the past few weeks, Labour leader Keir Starmer has been accused of executing his own Night of the Long Knives. He and his close supporters seem to be purging sections of the left from the Labour Party and blocking Corbynite candidates from standing in the UK General Election.

This purge included Lloyd Russell-Moyle, MP for Brighton Kemptown, who was suspended from Labour last week after complaints surfaced about his behaviour from eight years ago. Faiza Shaheen, who planned to stand as the Labour candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green, was also deselected last week, after she liked some questionable anti-Israel social-media posts. There was a great deal of fuss over whether long-standing MP Diane Abbott would be allowed to stand in her constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington (ultimately, it was decided she would be).

It seems clear that Starmer is shaping his government-in-waiting after his own bland and unremarkable image, as well as seeing off any headaches to his premiership in advance. Starmer’s actions have sparked outrage among Labour’s left wing. Much of this hysteria has been online, but there have been a few small rallies calling for Starmer to allow ‘communities’ to choose their own candidates.

This all seems fair enough. After all, you might expect local Labour parties to choose who they want to represent them during an election. And generally they do. But Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee, still exercises a great deal of control over local candidates. It can demand that a certain candidate be taken off the long list. It can insist on shortlists composed of all women, of all BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) or of whichever identity group ticks the virtue-signalling box this week.

This is exactly what happened in Nottingham East in 2019. The party demanded a BAME, women-only candidate list. As a result, it threw out popular candidate Louise Regan, who was ‘just’ a woman, and instead picked the 23-year-old, privately educated, painfully woke Nadia Whittome instead. Poor Nottingham East’s previous MP was Chris Leslie, who was parachuted in by Gordon Brown in 2010. Apparently, he had been a very good photocopier when he worked for Brown as a researcher.

A similar story played out in one of Stoke-on-Trent’s constituencies in the Midlands. Stoke-on-Trent Central has traditionally been a Labour safe seat, with a large working-class population as a result of the once booming pottery industry. Yet in 2010, the people of Stoke got Tristram Hunt – a Cambridge graduate and grandson of a diplomat who was privately educated in leafy Hampstead, north London. He left politics in 2017 to become director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington. What on Earth made either Hunt or the Labour Party think he was the right candidate for Stoke-on-Trent? Perhaps they simply thought the people of Stoke were so loyal to Labour they would vote for anyone wearing a red rosette.

Sadly, this is nothing new. Under the leadership of Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson was parachuted into Hartlepool, County Durham, in 1992. Somehow Mandelson, who rarely left Knightsbridge unless for foreign travel, was deemed the perfect candidate for the deindustrialised and hollowed-out north-east. There is a story that he once spotted some mushy peas at a chip shop in Hartlepool and thought it was guacamole.

The Labour Party has always done this in safe Labour seats. Political friendships, agreements made in Westminster and promises made in the pubs and clubs of SW1 have always trumped the interests of the people they’re actually supposed to be representing.

Labour has been taking working-class voters for a ride in this way for at least 40 years. Its leaders have always made sure their mates get into safe seats, while hoping the working classes are too thick to notice. No wonder that votes for Labour in the deindustrialised communities have been falling since Blair’s 1997 landslide, when the party’s focus shifted to middle-class voters in the Home Counties. This culminated with Boris Johnson’s 2019 landslide, when Labour lost nearly 50 seats in the so-called Red Wall in the Midlands and the north. Starmer’s current poll lead owes far more to dissatisfaction with the governing Tories than any enthusiasm for Labour among its traditional working-class base.

Working-class people have clearly had enough of being taken advantage of by Labour. And no wonder. The party has effectively abandoned the needs of some of the most disadvantaged people in the country.

Yet it is only now that the Labour left is up in arms about communities not being able to choose their own candidates. Few cared when working-class voters of left-behind constituencies were having London-born, privately educated candidates foisted on them by the party that was supposed to represent them. It is only because Starmer’s purge now threatens Labour’s left wing ideologically that it has suddenly taken up this cause.

We certainly can’t look to Labour to give working-class people a voice.

Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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