Losing an election could just be the beginning of Labour’s woes.
When the BBC reported last Thursday that the Labour Party were to change electoral strategy, with just two weeks to go until polling day, it represented an extraordinary moment for the primary left-wing party in the UK.
This was partially a response to unfavourable poll predictions with YouGov — one of the only polls to correctly predict a Conservative minority result from the election of June 2017 — that put voter intentions for the December election at 43 per cent Conservative and 32 per cent Labour, going into the last two weeks of campaigning.
However, the bigger concern for Labour will undoubtedly be in its inability to find that balance between holding on to its traditional working-class constituencies while being convincing on a Brexit policy that so far has proven to be far more indecisive than its more strategically focused Tory equivalent.
The door is open, so: could the Conservatives sweep Labour aside and leave them in an existential political wilderness?
The Left’s lack of focus
Many left-wing commentators have disregarded links between Brexit and the working class, yet have proved ignorant in doing so.
Statista polling on the day of the 2016 referendum found that 64 per cent of the ‘upper working-class’ and 64 per cent of the ‘lower working-class’ had voted to leave the European Union. While the 36 per cent who voted Remain in both camps still reflects a credible number of voters. The Labour Party have clearly missed the disillusionment of their traditional voter base with the current Brexit gridlock. In framing the issue in terms of the Westminster elites blocking the democratic will of the British people and expressing a strong desire to rectify this, the Conservatives have made strides in Labour’s traditional heartlands in the Midlands and the North of England.
Wrexham (Labour majority 1,832) and Derby North (Labour majority 2,015) are the two flagged in the polls — the former changing hands only twice since 1922 and the latter only twice since 1950. Corbyn has continually and consistently failed to bring down a Conservative Party flagging in its leadership of the country this decade, and his misunderstanding of the class differences on the Brexit issue will cost both his leadership and the future of Labour if the party is not careful.
The Labour Party’s official Brexit policy states that they will negotiate a Brexit deal and then put it to the people in a ‘legally binding’ referendum, with a Remain option, six months later.
There are two dangerous paradoxes here. Firstly, in the phrase ‘legally binding’ which seeks to undermine those who voted for the result of the last referendum, and in Labour’s potential campaigning against its own deal in favour of Remain. Under the guise of this farcical policy, Labour is prepared to ignore a sizeable part of its voter base by offering a Remain option with Corbyn himself saying that he will stay neutral on the most contentious issue in recent British history. Their original campaigning strategy, which reportedly overestimated the threat of the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats, is testament to Labour’s lack of understanding of just how prevalent the issue of Brexit truly is in this election. In trying to appeal to both ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’, the Party looks lost and confused on its strategy. The Conservative Party’s consistent and assured pro-Brexit policy, while likely producing losses in some marginal pro-Remain seats to the Liberal Democrats such as in Richmond Park (Tory majority 45) and St Albans (Tory majority 6,109), seems to have propelled the party forward in many more constituencies which could produce a workable majority.
So where does this leave the Labour Party?
Divided by Brexit, divided by ideology. What was once a broad church of left-wing socialists and moderates has now become suffocated by the Brexit issue. As a result, talented politicians such as Chuka Umunna have felt compelled to leave the party.
The Labour Party must not risk alienating its voting core as it has done with many of its longstanding politicians. On the political spectrum, The Liberal Democrats have taken the position of the most decisive pro-Remain party, exposing Labour’s indecision further. Scotland, once a traditional heartland for Labour that often helped in producing majority Labour governments, has been lost to the Scottish National Party since 2010 who want to use Brexit themselves to justify another referendum.
The leadership has proved weak in its ability to convince and reconcile the country. It has likewise failed to offer a credible alternative to austerity, the lacklustre Theresa May, and the flawed and chaotic Boris Johnson. If Labour were to deliver a Remain result, provided they secure a workable majority in this election, they would forever lose the trust of that voter core in a similar way that cost them Scotland – by missing the issue entirely and being overtaken by another party which is more in touch with the people’s will.