Why UK Labour lost?  Part 7: Momentum and the Corbynistas

The previous post looked at how those who opposed Corbyn contributed to the election loss. Corbyn’s allies also contributed to Labour’s loss. The factional organisation Momentum was formed after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader in 2015. It is headed by longstanding party left activist Jon Lansman. Jon’s role as Chair of Momentum is not elected, something that has raised the ire of both friend and foe within Labour. It is particularly galling when Momentum’s stated aim is to democratise the Labour Party.

Jon Lansman at the 2019 Labour conference made the clumsy and damaging error of calling for the Deputy Leader position to be abolished. This was in response to Tom Watson using the position as a platform to voice factional views as outlined in the previous post. But Jon Lansman putting up a last minute motion at the NEC to scrap the whole position was infantile and divisive. The fact that Corbyn had to come out and oppose the move and side with Watson demonstrates the level of ineptitude of Lansman’s actions.

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Jon Lansman, Chair of Momentum

Jon also serves as a member of the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC). As part of this committee he supporter the Trigger ballots compromise regarding open selection of MPs. Basically the so called compromise was instead of every Labour MP facing open selection before every election, members would have the chance to vote to Trigger an open selection if they felt there was the need.

Many other social democratic parties throughout the world have open selection. In fact it is fairly common in many major political parties operating in an established democracies. In most cases the MP or representative will be re-selected unopposed. Generally for a sitting MP to be deselected the following criteria would or should apply:

  1. The MP does not represent the Party’s policies or values
  2. The MP does not represent their constituency or community
  3. The MP is not considered electable, and an alternative candidate would stand a better chance.

Generally to deselect an MP, all three of the above are in play.  Added to these factors,  there needs to be a strong candidate who demonstrates that they are viable alternative.

Trigger ballots process meant members wanting to trigger a selection, had to try and demonstrate the above 3 in order to gain support. Further, the rules forbade other party members declaring their intention to stand prior to a successful Trigger ballot. So in effect you have a full on campaign to try and deselect and MP, without being able to (openly) promote viable alternative.

Many in Labour, even those not aligned to Momentum or the left, support the concept of open selection prior to each election. Many felt betrayed by the NEC and in some cases by Momentum for accepting this compromise.

In the weeks leading up to the general election being called, a number of Constituency Labour Party’s (CLP’s) were in the midst of these bruising Trigger ballot campaigns. Few were actually successful in forcing open selection, but they did successfully divide local Party’s and cause distrust and hurt. The result was that by the time the election was called, many party members couldn’t stand to be in the same room as each other.

One of the other weaknesses or errors of the Labour left was that they fell into the trap of personality cults. Whilst many felt a strong sense of loyalty to Corbyn and his leadership of the party, this should never have been the primary focus. The right and the media were quick to smear Corbyn, some of it justified, much of it not. While a defence of an elected leader is important, the more important task was to sell the policy manifesto and vision of the Labour left. It would be wrong to suggest the latter didn’t happen, but often personality and loyalty got in the way of actual politics. This in my experience happens a lot in politics, and can often lead to poor judgement and being blindsided.

Labour’s position on Brexit was confused and unclear. Momentum’s membership were generally from the remain camp, or at least the more active or vocal members were. Certainly paid officials and those in the inner clique were more sympathetic to a remain position. So while the likes of Owen Jones knew that calls by Progress and Labour First MPs for a second referendum were electoral folly, they eventually succumbed.

For factional leaders and the party as a whole need to understand that it is not just what the policy is. It is as much if not more about how you present the policy and engage and win over the public. Constantly framing the Party Manifesto as Radical in a country that is traditionally conservative is not clever politics. Especially when most of the policies are just mainstream social democratic positions. In short, it is not just what you are debating, but how you conduct the debate.

An example of an important debate being conducted poorly was the private schools remits at the 2019 Party conference. Many would agree that private schools should not get the state support that they do in the UK. But the way this issue was raised at the 2019 UK Labour Party conference in Brighton wasn’t clever. At the conference policy remits were put up and passed which would effectively abolish private schools, and force them to integrate into the state system. Many voters have sympathy for this, but also recognise that this is a significant change to the way education policy has been in the UK.

Timing wise, by September 2019 it was clear an election was imminent. Trigger ballots were happening throughout the Labour Party. Parliament was in dead-lock over Brexit and little else was getting discussed on a national political level. The 2019 conference would have been an opportunity to show unity and support for the popular policies in the 2017 Labour Manifesto.

Yes conference is the chance for active party members to debate policy at the highest decision making body in the party. But it is also an important PR event for the Party, especially at a time when Boris Johnson had Prorogued Parliament. Throwing private schools into the mix at this time was naive and foolish. There was not the proper opportunity to discuss and debate this policy. The media were generally dismissive  and didn’t take the debate seriously. The private schools debate was framed as the Labour Party left being detached from reality – ie they are debating “weird left stuff” while the country is in crisis over Brexit. The optics of it were rubbish.

Putting forward remits at a Party conference should come after a long debate both within the party and outside. Broad support should be won for a position, so that Labour (or any other Party) can feasibly gain support by taking this position. For example the campaign to bring British Rail back into public ownership had been rumbling on ever since the Conservatives sold it in the 1990s. When Labour included it in the 2017 manifesto, it won them support.

To win support for ending state support of private schools there needs to be a campaign involving teachers, students and the broader community. This campaign should be focussed on the type of education system thats needed in the 21st century, and part of this would be questioning and challenging the role of private schools. From this Labour could then pick up the mantle and take a position opposing the current private school set up.

Momentum played an important role in 2017 producing some every clever social media content and winning over a layer of young voters. In 2019 it tried to do the same, but in a much tougher climate with limited success. As a movement within Labour, it still seems to be in its infancy. It cannot seriously change Labour’s democratic structures with much credibility until it fixes its own. And in winning political battles, Momentum and its supporters need to find a way of selling genuine social democratic politics to a conservative English public.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Oooo Jeremy Corbyn

Why UK Labour lost? Part 5: Antisemitism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 6: New Labour and Blairism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 6: New Labour & Blairism

In 2017 Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell and those in Labour who had never accepted Jeremy Corbyn being elected party leader had their speeches prepared. Worst defeat since 1983. “Look, this just shows that Labour can’t get elected if you move too far to the left. You need to have a leader who is moderate, sensible and can win the centre.”

On election night in 2017, UK Labour’s vote increased significantly, getting it to within a stones throw of government. The 9% increase in Labours vote was the largest in the Party’s history, and got Labour to within a percentage point of the Conservatives. The Blairites were in total shock.. Those sanctimonious, condescending speeches about the virtues of centrism never got made. Not on election night. But those who opposed Corbyn, still never accepted him as leader, and used every tactic they could to undermine him. Even tactics that would do long term harm to the party. 

December 13 2019. Labour is defeated in the general election. As the election results come in Alistair Campbell is on the BBC saying this is a defeat not “just for Corbyn, but for the politics he represents.” Campbell’s analysis does not explain Labour’s increased vote in 2017. Nor does he show any atonement for the fact that he and his allies were the primary advocates of Labour taking a more remain position on Brexit.

A few days later Labour Tony Blair made a speech saying Labour had become “a glorified protest movement” with no chance of being elected to government. He added that Labour would be replaced as an electoral force if it didn’t change. This was nothing new from Blair. Again he failed to acknowledge the increase in votes in 2017, and the fact that even in 2019 Labour won more votes than the Party had under his leadership in 2005. Blair’s critique of Corbyn and Labour’s indecisiveness on Brexit is justified. However the remain position Blair advocated Labour take on Brexit was not one that Labour could ever win on.

For those who had been part of the New Labour project, the election of Corbyn never made any sense. In fact for most MPs, or people who had held leadership positions in the party prior to 2015, Corbyn’s leadership and the change within the Party was treated with distain.

The 3rd way crew within Labour had an agenda to push. Since Corbyn’s election they have been working overtime to get rid of him, but more importantly the political change he represented.  The 2019 election loss has given this wing of the Party an opportunity to repeat their tired message with renewed vigour. But their analysis wilfully ignores the 2017 election result, or the impact the 2nd referendum position had on Labour’s vote. After an election people often interpret the results the way they want to interpret them. But to judge the 2019 result without atoning for the 2017 outcome, their arguments lack credibility.

Fact is that the world has moved on from the 1980s and 90s. Politics certainly has. The types of 3rd way or centre/centre right positions that Blair and Campbell think will win just won’t anymore. Change UK, formed by 3rd way MPs from both Labour and Conservative Parties sunk like a stone after being formed in early 2019. The Liberal Democrats result in December 2019, though increasing in votes, was still a very distant 3rd place on 11.4%. And in terms of seats the Lib Dems lost ground, with Party Leader Jo Swinson losing in her own Constituency.

Labour need to accept that after an election they got things wrong and things need to change. But there is little evidence that going back to pre 2015 Labour/New Labour policies and tactics will work. If anything, it’s that which would really harm Labour’s viability as an electoral force.

As a major political party in a democracy, it is normal that there are differences of opinion within Labour. Further there is a place for those more centrist members within the party. However that many of them have showed a) an inability accept the 2015 leadership result and b) have undermined both the leader and party policies do also shoulder much of the blame for the election loss.

In particular, former deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson spent the last few years acting like the faction leader for Labour First, and not a deputy. It was fine for Watson to support a stronger remain position within Labour. It was fine for him to hold different views to Corbyn on various issues. It was not ok for the Deputy leader to act as a faction leader rather than do his job. But thats what he did. Watson recently did an interview with the Guardian talking about the pressure he was under, causing him to leave parliament just before the election. In particular he talks of a death threat he received. Nobody should have to go through that. However, Watson acted in a divisive manner as Deputy Leader and upset and demoralised many Labour supporters.

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Labour’s former Deputy Leader Tom Watson

Progress and Labour First factions within the Parliamentary Labour Party need to accept they contributed to the loss, as much as Corbyn and his allies. They have been unable to adapt or evolve their politics to the realities of 21st century Britain.

They have failed to understand how a decade of austerity has meant the aspirational or radical centre positioning of the 1990s won’t work. Specifically for younger voters who are now considerably worse off than their parents generation, a social democratic or Keynesian manifesto has considerably more appeal than the 3rd way. They still cannot understand the youth-quake of 2017, nor indeed the strong support for Labour with voters under 40 in the 2019 election.

The 3rd way factions of Labour have also failed to understand the rise of English Nationalism. Specifically, that the positions they have advocated regarding membership of the European Union have been rejected by the electorate.

Progress and Labour First MPs and members in the Party are as much to blame for Labour’s fortunes as those on the left of the Party. But Momentum, and those on the left of the party who predominately backed Jeremy Corbyn, also made a number of mistakes which contributed to the loss. The next post in this series will look at this.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Oooo Jeremy Corbyn

Why UK Labour lost? Part 5: Antisemitism

 

Why UK Labour lost? Part 5: Antisemitism 

For UK Labour antisemitism has been a festering sore. This issue could have and should have been dealt with earlier on in a far better way. As I said in my blog post about this during the election Jeremy Corbyn is not antisemitic. But this issue was poorly handled. By everyone in the party.

There have been cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Had Labour taken stronger action back in 2016 when former Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone made some ill judged comments regarding Jewish people and Israel this may have helped. It is possible to support Palestinians, oppose and even condemn the actions of the Israeli state without being antisemitic. But Ken failed, and should have faced consequences much earlier.

It is no secret that Progress, Labour First and other involved in factional struggles used the antisemitism row to attack Corbyn’s leadership. In turn, Momentum and those supportive of Corbyn often responded to Antisemitism accusations saying it was a beat up by the right, and denied the problem. Neither faction come out of this looking good. Many of those on the NEC or senior roles in the Party who were investigating Antisemitism, were in fact from the right/anti-Corbyn factions. For those on the left who in some cases denied Antisemitism was an issue were in denial. Others dismissed it saying racism in the Tory Party was worse – which maybe true but in no way excuses it in Labour.

The UK’s Chief Rabbi’s intervention in the election may will have cost Labour votes. But the antisemitism row goes beyond Corbyn, or a left vs right of the Party struggle. It will now take years for Labour to regain the trust of the UK Jewish Community. A change of leader or factional power struggle won’t fix that. Further, the risk is that Labour activists may now shy away from expressing views on the situation in Palestine for fear of being labelled antisemitic.

The Board of Deputies for British Jews have asked current candidates for the Labour Leadership to sign up to 10 pledges which aim to end Antisemitism in Labour. Some of these pledges have caused concerns. Specifically pledge 8 about engaging with “the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not fringe organisations or individuals.” Many Labour members are concerned that it is not clear what a fringe group is. When 50% of those with Jewish heritage in the UK do not belong to a synagogue for example, could many secular Jewish organisations be considered ‘fringe’.

10 pledges the UK Labour leadership hopefuls have been asked to sign up to regarding Antisemitism

Another concern is that the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which many supporters of Palestinians in the Party and else where are critical of. It is essential that a serious and respectful discussion occurs about the deadly conflict  between Israel and Palestine. This  can and must occur without fear of being labelled antisemitic for criticising Israel (just as one should be able to criticise the actions of the Palestinian state without being called Islamophobic).

This issue continues to be hotly debated within UK Labour. It played a negative role in the 2019 General Election and throughout the last term of parliament. Whoever is the next UK Labour Leader will too face considerable challenge trying to address this issue.

 

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Oooo Jeremy Corbyn

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Ooooh Jeremy Corbyn

When a party loses an election, the leader has to take responsibility. Many cite Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of popularity as a key reason for Labour’s loss. These calls have been made particularly by his opponents on the right of the UK Labour Party.

Few expected Corbyn to win the leadership election in 2015. From the start Corbyn was a polarising leader, and never very popular. Corbyn built up a core support base within the Labour Party membership, though always had fierce opponents within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Jeremy, though polarising had strong supporters. Who can forget 2017 Glastonbury festival, where Corbyn was greeted by thousands of festival goers with the chant Oh Jeremy Corbyn” loud cheers after he recited Percy Shelley’s poem The Masque of Anarchy. After the 2017 election, where Labour’s support increased after the Manifesto was released, Corbyn’s personal popularity also rose significantly. But he remained polarising and continued to have many detractors. Corbyn’s support was and remains much stronger with young voters

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Jeremy Corbyn addressing the Glastonbury Festival in 2017

To those who say Jeremy Corbyn could never have been Prime Minster I respectfully disagree. The 2017 result got him close. However, to get him across the line he and the party needed to keep building support around the manifesto. And they needed unity of purpose and not division within the party, particularly within the parliamentary party. In an earlier post I suggested that Boris removing the Party Whip of Tory MPs who voted against him over Brexit, showed strength and gave the public confidence that the Tories would be united. By contrast Labour showed signs of deep divisions. Corbyn as leader had two options 1) try to bring the detractors into the tent or 2) cast them out.

But I believe there were two other issues that ultimately undermined Corbyn’s leadership after 2017. One was Brexit and the other was Antisemitism. The earlier smears that Corbyn supported the IRA or terrorists resonated with some Conservative voters, but never really harmed him politically. Later when he was being seen as indecisive on Brexit or not strong enough on Antisemitism, this alienated voters including some who earlier had supported or at least tolerated his leadership.

Once people have been turned off your leadership, they become open to other critiques or smears against you. These issues weren’t just about Corbyn, but as the leader he was the figure head and he took the hit for them. Further, on both Brexit and antisemitism he and those close to him could have handled these issues considerably better.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

 

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit innit

Many commentators say that the election result for Labour was about more than Brexit. It was, but Brexit was by far one of the major reasons for the result. 43 of the 47 constituencies Labour lost in the 2019 election were leave constituencies. To argue that Brexit was not a major factor, or that perhaps Labour could have won with a stronger remain position, is utterly deluded.

In his concession speech Jeremy Corbyn said Brexit had been one of the main reasons for Labour’s loss. This sentiment was shared by Momentum leaders Jon Lansman and Laura Parker during election night coverage. Others in the party and in the commentariat have dismissed this as too simplistic or a way of avoiding other issues (eg Corbyn’s leadership). 

As one of my earlier blogs post alluded to, this election was about Brexit. The Tories won on a policy of get Brexit done. The election was called because parliament was in deadlock over Brexit. The election was to break the deadlock and get a new direction set.

For Labour Brexit was not good ground to be fighting an election on. In 2017 Labour’s increase in support happened when the election debate moved beyond Brexit onto other policy areas.  Trying to use the same tactic in 2019 was not possible. Therefore to win Labour had to have a clear position on Brexit, and find a way to win both leave and remain voters. It was much like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat when there is no rabbit or hat to be found.

In 2017 both Labour and the Conservatives stood on a platform of respecting the 2016 referendum result. In 2017 both Labour and Conservatives had leave and remain MPs, happy to deviate from the party line and express opinions in the media. In short neither party had a real advantage over the other on Brexit. Also negotiations with the EU had only just begun, and whoever won in 2017 would have to negotiate the withdrawal agreement and subsequent ongoing relationship with the EU.

For Labour it would have been better having lost the 2017 election, to let the Conservatives get Brexit done. If it went wrong it would be on the Tories watch. If it went ok, then the debate would move onto other issues that were potentially better ground for Labour (eg NHS funding, education etc). For Theresa May, the Brexit negotiations bogged her government down and resulted in her losing 3 votes in the House of Commons attempting to get her Brexit bill through. Ultimately it was the end of her leadership. But for Labour, the last 2 and a half years of Brexit paralysis was as damaging.

The party opposed May’s deal, but was split over what should happen instead. Some in Labour wanted a second referendum. Some MPs wanted a Norway style arrangement where Britain left the EU but stayed in the customs Union. A few MPs from mainly leave voting constituencies thought it best just to vote for May’s deal. It quickly became a factional issue. For those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn had since 2016 condemned his refusal to call for a second referendum. Others argued against taking such a position and called for the Party respect the referendum result – as it has promised to do in 2017. Former Labour MP Laura Piddock in her letter to voters after losing her constituency of North Durham put it this way:

I repeatedly argued, inside my party, that we should respect the result of the referendum and avoid a second one. Of course, when you are in the Shadow Cabinet, you are bound by collective responsibility and I respected that.

Laura, who prior to the election has been considered a potential future Labour leader, had respected collective responsibility. Contrast this with former Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who was in the media on a daily basis calling for a second referendum and for Labour to adopt this as its strategy. A number of other high profile remain MPs did similar.

The UK Labour Party needs to seriously consider the way it presented itself to voters over Brexit. 

The eventual change in position came after months of pressure, and a polling bounce to the Liberal Democrats after Jo Swinson became leader (a poll bounce that did not last up till the election). Internally those aligned with Progress the New Labour/Blairite aligned faction within Labour really pushed the second referendum. However the left of party struggled with this issue. Momentum aligned Guardian Columnist Owen Jones started 2019 opposing a second referendum, but by June was supporting a second referendum. After the General Election Owen Jones claimed Labour’s second referendum position had cost Labour the election. Momentum, and Corbyn supporters generally were split on Brexit. Just as EU membership had been a minefield for Harold Wilson in the 1970s, so too was it for Corbyn and Labour in the 2010’s.

Labour appeared incoherent on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn, a former Eurosceptic was trying to balance a line so not to alienate leave or remain voters. His opponents in and out of Labour could use this against him. And to the general public it was not clear how a Labour Government would resolve the crisis. The 2019 position of negotiating a new deal where the UK remained in the Customs Union then putting this deal to a referendum where remain would be the other option, alienated traditional Labour voters in leave constituencies.

43 out of 47 constituencies Labour lost voted leave in 2016. Had it not moved to a second referendum position, the party may have had a tougher time in London (where it did quite well in 2019). But when 52% of the country voted leave in 2016, and with little sign of public opinion shifting since then, taking a stronger remain position was not wise.

The question of Brexit and the European Union was a huge challenge for Labour from 2016 onwards. After this defeat Labour will have to seriously reconsider its position. This will not be easy for the Party. But only with a viable social democratic position which respects the 2016 referendum result will it return to government.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

 

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s Strange loyalty to First Past the Post. 

I’ve made the point a number of times before, during and immediately after the election on this blog about the First Past the Post electoral system. I’ll make it again, the results in parliament DO NOT reflect the true vote. Labour won 10,269,076 votes in the general election. In terms of vote count this is its second best result since 2001. As a percentage of the vote labour received 32.2% in 2019. By contrast Labour’s percentages were 30.4% in 2015 and 29% in 2010. That the party had its worst results in terms of seats in parliament exposes the electoral system as not delivering results that represent public opinion.

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Graph showing Labour’s total vote in each election since 2001.

The Attlee Government lost power in 1951, despite increasing its vote and winning more votes than Churchill’s Conservative Party that took office in that election. The government that created the NHS was brought down by First Past the Post. Yet Labour and many of its supporters in the UK continue to oppose electoral reform. Unite the Union, Labour’s largest affiliate union, recently took the position that electoral reform was not a priority instead wishing to focus on getting Labour elected. Because UK Labour continue to support First Past the Post, on its own terms it did suffer a terrible loss.

Electoral reform wouldn’t have won Labour this election. That the Party lost 2.5 million votes in two years makes it a bad election under any voting system. Yet for the Conservatives to have increased their vote by just over 1% between 2017 and 2019, yet this resulted in them gaining 48 seats in parliament shows how strange the FPP system really is.

For Labour, part of their analysis needs to be looking at how the current voting system does not serve their supporters or democracy as a whole well. And hasn’t for a long time. Proportional representation doesn’t guarantee left wing governments, both New Zealand and Germany have had many years of right wing government under this system. But it does mean the make up of parliament reflects the will of the people.

See earlier posts in this series:

Why Labour Lost Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 1: historical context

Before Christmas I posted about the UK Election result and did an analysis of why the Conservatives won. I will now turn to the the UK Labour Party. Given my own history with NZ Labour I’ve followed the UK Labour Party with interest, especially since moving to the UK. My next few blog posts will explore some of this reasons for Labour’s loss and what the party needs to do now.

Fact: Labour lost the 2019 UK General Election.

Why: Some people blame Jeremy Corbyn. Others say Labour moved too far from the mythical centre. Many cite Brexit as the main problem. There has now been much written about Labour’s 2019 performance. To really understand the defeat, its worth getting a bit of historical context.

A brief history of the UK Labour Party:

Interesting fact I learnt recently at a pub quiz. Since it was founded in 1901, the British Labour Party has spent a total of 32 years in government.

The history of the British Labour Party has been one of a constant struggle to break through a (small c) conservative electoral system and a conservative public. After some not so glamorous attempts under Ramsey McDonald, its first real go at public office implementing a social democratic policy platform was in 1945. The Attlee government established the NHS, nationalised rail, nationalised electricity and gas and created the post war welfare system. The policies of this government lasted a generation.

Clement Attlee – UK Labour Prime Minister 1945 to 1951

After this Labour won again in the 1960s and 1970s under Harold Wilson, whose government abolished capital punishment, legalised homosexuality and kept Britain out of the Vietnam War. Wilson’s legacy has been much maligned since leaving office, both by the right and those within the Labour movement. Many felt his government didn’t do enough to implement a planned social democratic economic model that had been promised by Wilson before being elected. Probably most damaging to Wilson’s legacy, was his position on membership of the European Union. Anne Perkins in her article defending Wilson’s legacy makes the following point:

Perhaps most damagingly, he twisted and turned on membership of the old European common market, finally conceding – in a piece of brazen internal politicking – a referendum held in 1975 when he was back, for the final time, in No 10. It earned Wilson the undying hatred of the pro-Europe Labour right, without pacifying the anti-Europe left who scorned him as a traitor and hated him in a way that they never hated his successor Jim Callaghan, an overt right winger.  

This was not to be the last time that membership of the European Union would split the Labour Party

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Harold Wilson, UK Labour Prime Minister 1964 to 1970 and again 1974 to 1976.

After its defeat in 1979, Labour spent 18 years in opposition. Its return to government in 1997 was under the re-branded New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. With some early wins such as the Northern Ireland Peace agreement, the introduction of a national minimum wage and the sure start policy supporting parents and children under the age of four living in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. Overall though, New Labour subscribed to the economic free market model of the Thatcher Conservative government that came before it. Though winning 3 consecutive terms, its vote share fell throughout its time in office. But the lasting legacy of this government will forever be its support of the Iraq War.

Tony Blair, UK Labour PM 1997 to 2007

So come 2010 Labour are back in opposition. In the face of austerity cuts by the Tories and Lib Dems, Labour adopt an austerity light position in the 2015 general election. They lost. What happens after a party loses an election? Generally they do a lot of naval gazing and soul searching, oh and you have a leadership race. Labour had one of these in 2015. Some random socialist candidate stood by the name of Jeremy Corbyn. No one took him terribly seriously at first, in fact the right of the party encouraged him to stand to split Andy Burnham’s vote and help the right get their candidate through. Well Jeremy stood, members liked what he said and he won. Wow!

Most in the Party and the political commentariat believed this would be a disaster for Labour. It would be a repeat of 1983 where it is believed that Labour moved left and lost badly. Labour MPs weren’t prepared to wait that long, trying to oust him after the 2016 Brexit referendum. Their attempt backfired and Jeremy was re-elected with an increased majority. Oops. Oh well not to worry, at the following election they’d be proved right when Labour suffered a humiliating defeat and the New Labour/Blairite faction would take back over. Except oops, that didn’t happen either. Labour’s vote increased its share of the vote by 9%, and the progressive social democratic policy platform was cited as the main reason for this. In particularly Labour saw a significant increase in young people voting for them which I blogged about prior to the 2019 UK election. .

So after a decade in opposition, it seemed in 2017 Labour were on the brink of coming to power. Labour could soon form a government on socialist/social democratic manifesto that would build on the earlier achievements of the Attlee government of 1945-1951. So what went wrong in 2019? My next few posts will look at what happened.