UK Labour lost the general election. A new leader needs to be elected. The Labour Party is now consumed in this process.
Much has been said and written about why Labour lost, the quality of which varies considerably. The broader context of this defeat is that over the last century, UK Labour has won 8 out of the last 28 general elections. Overall the Labour Party is not a successful electoral force in the UK. What makes the 2019 loss harder, is that the party lost sections of its historical base in the North of England and the Midlands.
But being honest isn’t just about focussing on the negative. Many have compared the 2019 election to 1983. Labour in 2019 did well in London, with many MPs being returned with staggering majorities. By contrast in 1983 Labour’s result was no where near as strong in London.
Also Labour performed strongly with younger voters. The below map shows how voters under the age of 40 voted in the 2019 election:
Labour and parties of the left did significantly well with young voters. By contrast back in 1983 the Conservatives enjoyed a much higher support from younger voters. During the election I discussed the impact younger voters were having on UK elections, and that this is part of a global trend. Younger voters have been hit hard by a decade of austerity. For many under 40 the middle class aspirations of their parents generation are far beyond reach. For this reason, trying to pitch Labour to the aspirational centre will likely alienate rather than inspire younger voters. But if the Party can hold much of this support, it give it a good base to build on for the future.
The problem Labour faces is the UK is now a polarised electorate. Generational divides have seldom been so stark. The Brexit vs Remain division runs deep, and trying to win support from both sides is damn near impossible at this time. The other major issue that I’ll discuss in a future blog is the future of the United Kingdom. The future of Scotland and Northern Ireland as members of the United Kingdom is far from certain.
The SNP’s success in the general election effectively wiped out Labour in Scotland, and continues a decade long decline of Labour as a political force there. Many in Labour still see winning back Scotland as the path back to government. The prospect of this happening seems increasingly unlikely. For Labour, their focus needs to be on winning support in England and Wales. Scottish independence isn’t certain, but Scotland being a separate nation wanting seperate representation is now a fact of life. It is now unlikely that any English dominated political party will gain the majority of seats in Scotland ever again.
The current Labour Leadership race is gearing up. Underlying this race will be a debate between two waring factions within the Party. One supports a return to a 3rd way Labour like Blair led in 1997. The other, supports Clement Attlee style Social Democracy. these are two distinctly different political ideas, both trying to operate within the same political party. While many 3rd way supporters may feel more comfortable in the Liberal Democrats, under First Past the Post their chances of gaining government are limited. Likewise for socialist or social democrats, forming a new left party would likely struggle in the current electoral system. So these two political perspectives are forced to share the Labour Party.
I’m not going to pick the upcoming leadership election, or do analysis on any particular candidate at this stage. But understanding the context in which this race takes place is crucial. The reasons for Labour’s defeat weren’t just about leadership. The challenge for Labour is trying to win power in a small c conservative electorate. Also an electorate that is deeply split over the question of Europe. An electorate that is four seperate nations, where in Northern Ireland and Scotland there are growing calls to leave the UK. An electorate where there is a generational divide more stark than ever. And an electorate where the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. But most importantly, an electorate that traditionally has not voted Labour and where trust in the party and its politics is lacking. Despite all this Labour can win the next UK election. But it will need to do a damn sight more than just elect a new leader.
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