Labour’s “period of reflection” must be deeper than Brexit versus Corbyn

Labour cannot hope to win back these voters if it fixates on a tiring debate about Brexit versus Corbyn.

A tedious and reductive debate has been underway since the exit poll first dropped at 10 pm last night.

Is it Brexit or Corbyn that is to blame for Labour’s biggest defeat since 1935? The leadership’s script sought to pass the blame solely onto Brexit while moderates pointed to Corbyn’s unprecedented unpopularity with voters and the stories from the doorstep of disdain for Labour’s leader.

The truth is that both have an element of truth to them yet neither provide a full explanation of Labour’s failure to win a majority at the fourth time of asking. The problem runs far deeper than Corbynism although his period at the helm of the party has clearly exacerbated existing trends.

In examining the Brexit argument, it is clear that Labour lost most badly in Leave seats while it picked up Putney in wealthy Remainia. Yet across the country, Labour’s vote share fell in both Leave and Remain areas: by 10.4% in strong Leave areas and a more modest 6.4% in strong Remain areas. The victory in Putney owes more to a dramatic collapse in the Tory vote than anything else. 

The biggest problem for Labour on Brexit was that its eventual position did not bear scrutiny and left Labour’s front benchers squirming whenever they were confronted – unable to say whether they would support a revised deal or Remain when they put the choice to the country. What was needed was a clearer position, confidently defended.

On leadership, Corbyn’s numbers were truly atrocious. On the eve of the election, just 29% of voters thought that he would make the most capable Prime Minister, down 7 percentage points on where he had got to in 2019. If voters were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that summer, they were not now. As Nick Cohen wrote last night:

“A vast poll of 12,000 voters, released tonight, showed Jeremy Corbyn was by far the single biggest reason voters gave for deserting Labour. Of those who voted Labour in 2017 but were less than 50 per cent less likely to vote Labour now, Deltapoll found the overwhelming reason people gave was they ‘don’t like Jeremy Corbyn’ with 46 per cent agreeing with that blunt statement.”

But there is a bigger issue, beyond the short-term issues of Brexit and Corbyn: the long-term decline in Labour’s support among working class voters. At the high water-mark in 1997, Labour had 59% support among DE voters and a healthy 38 point lead over the Conservatives. Both these figures have fallen at almost every subsequent general election. Yes, there was a small upward blip in 2017 but Labour’s performance with that group is now worse than it has ever been.

Ipsos MORI’s eve of election poll which predicted a 42%-34% lead for the Conservatives, shows the Tories leading in every social class including, for the first time in a general election, those from social class DE.

If the party does anything during its “period of reflection” it must understand how it can win back its working class voters. What are these communities most worried about and what can be done to allay those fears? Which of its shopping list of policies genuinely appeal and which are seen as fantasy? And most crucially, which of the roster of potential future leaders most resonates with this group of voters? 

Labour’s task is unenviable. Like most social democratic and democratic socialist parties it is struggling to knit together a coalition of university graduates in cities and working class voters in former industrial areas. But it cannot hope to win back these voters if it fixates on a tiring debate about Brexit versus Corbyn.

Will Straw is the founder of Left Foot Forward

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11 Responses to “Labour’s “period of reflection” must be deeper than Brexit versus Corbyn”

  1. Anthony baldwin

    The whole of the Corbyn was unpopular excuse is exactly that: two Labour Party leadership elections prove that and if were to stand against anyone else he would win hands down.
    What we can’t change, unless we take them to court, are the liars a, slanderers and libellers who live through the Tory Press.
    In effect, Chris Williamson was right and failing to tackle the above in Court just gave them free reign to continue for five years unchallenged even though their duplicity was clearly to be seen.
    So the first thing will be to make sure that those who planned and plotted the AS and IRA accusations are ‘sorted’. Some may ned to have the whip removed and others, particularly in the Lords should also be detached from the Party, as well as others who have moved to lucrative pastures new.
    The policies we had were the right policies and unfortunately the disgruntlement over Brexit was allowed to make this into a one issue election, essentially a second referendum.
    Once the error of their ways becomes obvious to those who deserted us then perhaps they will start to campaign for a Real Labour Party unsullied by those who wish to bow the knee to LFI and JLM and their fellow travellers.

  2. Julia Gibb

    Labour just not listening! The didn’t listen to Scotland before Brexit. They are still not listening to Scotland. The Scottish Labour Party needs to become SCOTTISH. If the LibDems in Scotland are truly European then become a Scottish Party like the Scottish Greens.

    Independence is certain and Please, please don’t try the Federal lie AGAIN.

  3. Albert Greenberg

    Keep ignoring Jewish concerns as just some right-wing sop, and you will go nowhere.

  4. Chester Draws

    Like most social democratic and democratic socialist parties it is struggling to knit together a coalition of university graduates in cities and working class voters in former industrial areas.

    No, it isn’t struggling. It has, under Corbyn and Momentum, given up on trying to knit the two groups together.

    The Labour Party is all about Climate Change and so loves Extinction Rebellion, St Greta etc. That climate change is not a concern for working stiffs doesn’t bother them. They want to take the cars off people who don’t live in big cities with nice public transport, because the Labour Party is ruled by people who live in big cities (and don’t take public transport). When electricity rises as coal and nuclear shut down it affects the rich London socialists rather less than the poor, so they are all for it.

    Labour opposed Brexit. They had to choose between the hatred of the university educated for Brexit and the general Leave of the working class. And they so they tried all they could to repudiate the referendum result.

    The continual bleating about the NHS didn’t help. No-one actually thinks the Tories are going to sell the NHS (even the US is inching towards a European system with Obamacare, so the chances of a European country going the other way are zero). The rich can get by without it, but the poor need the NHS. So instead of just throwing more money at it, why not actually fix it? Rather than grandstand about “austerity”, why not do what governments are supposed to do and govern — look at where it isn’t working and do something about it — rather than just pretending it’s perfect.

    A rash lot of promises to spend money that isn’t there wasn’t good enough — everybody knows that the Labour manifesto spending was impossible. The actual decisions and direction of the Labour Party are consistently away from working class.

  5. David Griffin

    “The whole of the Corbyn was unpopular excuse is exactly that: two Labour Party leadership elections prove that.” That only proves his popularity with a majority of LP members. Unfortunately, you can’t replace the electorate by Labour Party members!

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