Lindsey German on Labour’s privileging of Remain, Trump’s arrival, and double-standards
People really can’t say they weren’t warned. Labour’s decision to abandon its people’s Brexit position and go for a second referendum is clearly damaging it among voters in some of the strongly Leave-voting areas. The combination of the YouGov poll predicting the loss of dozens of Labour seats and a Tory majority, plus the claim that Labour is reorienting its campaign towards Leave voters in the Midlands and north, should not be a complete surprise. Personally, I think there are many flaws in the poll, not least that it was conducted before Labour’s manifesto hit home and before its recent rise in the polls. But any report of canvassing in some of these areas tells a story of bitter disillusionment among Leave voters, all too often combined with the belief that some traditional Labour voters will switch to the Tories.
I have been aware for some time of how important this issue is. I have heard of people who were pickets in the 1984-5 miners’ strike in the Yorkshire coalfield now voting Brexit party in the Euros. If that seems completely counter-intuitive, given the hatred for Tories in the area, and in places such as South Wales and Durham, we have to place it in the context of two developments. One is more long term and it’s about the industrial and social decline of those areas not just under Thatcher and Major but under Blair and Brown as well. Instead of spending money on decent jobs and services in those areas, building infrastructure which would improve lives, they supported the deregulation of the economy and the creation of very low paid and unorganised employment. More recently Tory and Lib Dems austerity has been implemented by Labour councils who have presided over the decline of housing, education and facilities such as libraries.
The other development is of course the fallout from the 2016 referendum. These areas tended to vote Leave at least partly in protest at decline, and against the perception of being ignored and taken for granted by politicians. Lots of Labour MPs have behaved as though these voters have nowhere else to go, but the ties with Labour have been loosened and may not be restored.
The weakening of Labour on some of these seats predates the referendum. We shouldn’t forget that Ed Balls lost his Yorkshire seat in 2015, nor that some of these seats - like the former seat of Blair, Sedgefield, has gone from being very solid Labour to a marginal, or that Hartlepool, Peter Mandelson's old seat, is now threatened by the Brexit party. None of this can be blamed on Jeremy Corbyn.
But the poll underlines the damage Labour Remainers have done with their relentless drive towards ignoring the vote of three years ago in favour of an new referendum in which they would want to back Remain. Jeremy Corbyn has been vilified for sitting on the fence, being neutral and so on, but his stance has been a response to precisely the feeling in the Leave areas. What has happened in this election is simply that Labour has found it much much harder to win back Leave voters than Remain voters.
Even some people who voted Remain are furious that Labour is ignoring the referendum result - and certainly that has been my impression in talking to people from different parts of the country.
How does Labour turn this round? Firstly by addressing the issue and possibly not boasting that it would campaign for Remain as so many shadow cabinet members seem to be doing. Secondly by not treating these former Labour voters as one reactionary mass in some sort of culture war with the ‘metropolitan areas’. This sort of cheap sociological approach ignores that even in London 40% voted Leave, and that there are class divisions which should unite former miners in Yorkshire with IT workers (or indeed bus drivers and shop workers) in London.
These class divisions, the fact that Johnson will sell the NHS to Trump, the gross inequality which pervades the country, the destruction of industries to be replaced by lousy jobs, the parlous state of public services - these are the issues which Labour has to seize on and use its huge army of volunteers to get this message across.
I am sceptical that the Tories will get the sort of majority they want, and there are still two very important weeks to go. Labour’s policies are popular and, despite the unprecedented attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, the more he puts his arguments the more he can challenge this. I’m obviously not the only one thinking this. The effort being put into claiming Labour’s policies will lead to huge tax increases - based as far as I can see on pure prejudice that this is what always happens - or that it would be dangerous to allow the Waspi women compensation, tells you how frightened Corbyn’s opponents are. There is everything to play for.
Solidarity with the climate strikers today, who represent a generation that will be hugely affected by environmental change. Next week Donald Trump arrives in Britain for the NATO summit and will be opposed by anti-war and peace activists, the climate campaigners, anti-racists, Latin American solidarity groups and many others. Sadly all main parties support NATO, a militaristic and aggressive organisation. The left really needs to understand this role and not run away from it because the right attack. And a remain and reform perspective for NATO really is delusional.
There are racists and racists
A Tory candidate for Ludlow is under fire for saying that his Labour opponent who is a Sikh was ‘talking through his turban’. Meanwhile, Dominic Cummings referred to Remain supporters getting money from Goldman Sachs - surely an antisemitic trope similar to talk of Soros money. Will they be forced to resign or publicly hounded? Doubt it because the establishment has decreed that Labour is the racist party. And they don’t want any inconvenient facts getting in the way of that narrative.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Born to rule over us? – weekly briefing
- Lip service to the left, but moves to the right - weekly briefing
- Do not be fooled: Trump is the problem
- Soleimani assassination is an act of war
- Past mistakes, future opportunities - weekly briefing
- What we should take from the election and what we do next
- Where do we go from here? – election briefing 13 December