Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Why the 2016 Labour leadership election was totally pointless.

Source: The Mirror

This whole leadership election, in my view, was totally pointless.
Neither candidate looked like they could really grasp the scale of the electoral challenge now facing Labour. And here's why:

Whenever there is an internal schism within the Labour Party, it is not because of mere internal disagreements, but also because of external factors. In the early 1930s, when the social democratic and radical left factions of the party ripped each other apart, that was because of the legacy of the first Labour government and the fact that we had just been kicked out of office. In the 1980s, the arguments were caused by low poll ratings for the party, and a general swing to the right that was occurring across the developed world. The civil war again started once Labour had been kicked out of office in 1979. This time, in the 2010s, the argument has been triggered by a mixture of the same. Labour was kicked out of office in 2010. The election of Ed Miliband in the immediate aftermath, a compromise leader who was just about able to keep the party united, satisfied none of the factions. Therefore it was inevitable that when he lost the general election, the "soft left" collapsed and the blairite faction and radical left once again had the chance to rip each other apart. The threat that Labour faces this time, however, is far more serious than it has ever faced before. In the 1930s, Labour was growing as a party. It had no major rivals, with the old liberal party totally disappearing. It had a guaranteed future even if it was kicked out of power. In the 1980s, when Labour slumped to a terrible, terrible defeat, working class Wales, Scotland, and the North of England remained solid for Labour. Though it would take the party another 14 years to get back into power, there was a solid foundation of support to build upon.

Now, however, the situation is different. The "Core vote" of the Labour Party itself is slowly abandoning Labour. Labour slumped from 48% of the vote in the C2DE demographic to just 30% in 2015, and that number is now continuing to decrease all the time. In Wales, Welsh Labour managed only 32% of the vote in the Welsh Assembly elections, its worst ever result while in opposition in any Welsh election. In Scotland, the Labour Party has all but been vanquished, and in England, especially the North, a combination of right wing populism and increasing apathy of workers from established politics looks set to hand many of its heartlands to UKIP or (In larger numbers) the Conservative Party. Simply put, there is a divide that now exists between social democratic parties in Europe and the people who they used to represent. The reason social democracy is in crisis is not because of a simply left or right agenda, but primarily to do with issues of identity. Parties of the left have slowly become increasingly liberal, and have slowly become more concerned with identity issues and liberal politics than economics, thus alienating them from the traditional working classes, who have historically tended to be slightly more conservative than the norm.

There was some interesting research in the New York Times recently about the difference between the support which Donald Trump, the right wing populist candidate for American president, received from unionised and non unionised workers. The NY times found that unionised workers were far more likely to support the Democratic Party and far less likely to support Donald Trump than non unionised workers. This trend held up across all demographic, educational and income groups. What sustained parties of the centre left and left in the 20th century was the growth and maintenance of massive trade unions, and public services such as council housing. Today, everything that social democratic parties were built on has evaporated. The unions now represent a slowly decreasing proportion of public sector workers, and are basically non existent in the private sector. The miners of the past are the retail workers of today, most of whom have no cultural connection to the left as their parents may have had. It is this, combined with natural cultural resentment and economic fears, which is driving these voters who "Should" be Labour or of the left in the rest of Europe to the populist right.

 I have been longing to write this rant for the entire leadership election, but I have held my tongue. Reheated Milibandism that is preached by Owen Smith will not win us the next election. How is Owen Smith going to go to Nuneaton or to Sunderland, both places which backed Brexit by huge margins, and tell your average voter that he thinks that the vote they cast on June 23rd is invalid, and that they are stupid, and therefore a second referendum on the EU is needed?

Neither will reheated Blairism. The left has a point when it talks about the "Missing 4 million" mainly working class and lower middle class voters who abandoned Labour between the course of 1997 and 2010-this is not, however, due to a simple economic reason but due to the liberal positions of the Blair government on migration and the widening gulf between New Labour and ordinary people.

To rebuild from what is inevitably going to be a pretty big defeat on Saturday, the centre left needs to take a look at itself, ask itself what its purpose is, and then move forward to create a social democracy of the 21st century. One that is open and internationalist, but is also patriotic and open to different cultural tradition. A centre left that is not an apologist for globalisation, but a centre left that focuses on redistributing the benefits of it and mitigating the negative effects.

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