Labour Voters – the Lost and the Found
By Gwydion M. Williams
Corbyn is being blamed for “the worst result since 1935”.
1935 wasn’t that bad, if you think about political outcomes. If you don’t see Labour existing just to give nice jobs to ambitious MPs.
Labour’s 1930s policies of clear opposition to Hitler and in favour of Welfare were vindicated in the struggle against Hitler. The expected 1940 election being postponed till the war was won, we got a dramatic victory in 1945.
Labour in 2019 certainly lost some traditional Labour voters by being clearly in favour of welfare and public ownership. But it gained millions more, by being clearly ready for radical change.
Blair’s timid performance after his 1997 triumph must have put off many voters. When he twice got re-elected, he still got far fewer votes than Corbyn did in 2017. Blair’s 2nd and 3rd victories were won against an unimpressive and unpopular Tory Party. Had they been led by someone like Boris Johnson, it might have been another story.
We lost old voters, particularly in 2019. We also picked up millions of young voters.
We certainly lost some of those elderly voters by being clearly for racial and sexual equality. But do we really want those votes? Will we cater to the most prejudiced part of the working class? Or should we leave it to the Tories to say ‘if you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour’. Which is exactly what they did in 1964 to win Smethwick, a seat that was normally Labour.[A]
The official Tory candidate denied that this was racist. Just like today’s Tories, with their much more subtle workings of widespread racist and anti-immigrant feeling.
Modern racists are a decaying breed, keen to think of themselves as victims. They lack the self-assured belief in White Superiority that previous generations of Britons had. The Centre-Right known how to work this.
You probably won’t find once-popular works like Sanders of the River[B] or anything by Dennis Wheatley[C] on your library shelves. They were there when I was a teenager, and when open racism won Smethwick. They are entertaining, but their blatant racism offended me less than it should have, though I was already a militant leftist. You can get them via Amazon if you doubt me. Or look at one whose blurb I posted, about Chinese and speaking of ‘slit-eyed intrigue’.[D]
Just as bad was children’s writer Enid Blyton,[E] whose work I never liked. But I don’t recall being offended by her racist gollywogs, who have apparently been replaced by race-neutral characters in modern editions. Modern readers may never have heard of gollywogs, but the Wiki has details.[F]
The amusing thing is that the leading Tories have long since ceased to be sincere racists. Not serious about preserving an All-White Britain, as Enoch Powell was. The entire Establishment had accepted multi-racialism, though with some glitches in the Royal Family.
Justified protests at racism always seem to miss this. Fail to rub the noses of the racists in their own weakness compared to what once existed. Don’t point out that the Centre-Right are using such people, and probably view them with deep contempt.
The dear little moderates who dominate The Guardian don’t accept that Corbyn needed to shift public opinion, and in fact did shift it. Boris Johnson is now saying things that sound to the left of anything that Labour dared say before Corbyn. We may doubt his sincerity, but just to have him junk much of the rhetoric of Thatcherism is a victory. But most Establishment Leftists are certain only a labour leader ashamed of Corbynism can win a future election.
They are not seeing the real picture.
In France, there are two large rival socialist parties, plus a strong remnant of the once-mighty French Communists. The traditional French Socialists got over 30% in the 1980s, and over 20% more recently. Fell to a miserable 7.44% in 2017.
Against them, still small but rising fast, is an alliance called La France Insoumise. Translatable as ‘Unbowed France’, ‘Unsubmissive France’, or ‘Untamed France’: I’d go for Untamed.[G] (Just as I’d translate Zola’s Les Misérables as The Underclass: calling them The Miserables would certainly miss the point.)
France also has destructive rioting. Long-running with the Yellow Vests, and more recently over an attempt to seize the pension rights of ordinary workers.
Similar things are happening elsewhere in Western Europe. Tamed Socialists losing out. Right-wing populists gaining. And riots by people who mostly don’t then vote for a party that might help them.
Western liberalism is widely despised, and deservedly so. But socialists cringing before liberal power share the bad reputation.
Labour reverting to Tamed Labour would lose far more than it gained. And set a bad example for the rest of the world.
The more extreme believers in ‘Tamed Labour’ split from the Labour mainstream in 2019. They tried standing on their own, and got a derisory result.
The previous split, the Social Democrats, were justly ridiculed as ‘keep politics out of politics’.
They were absorbed into the old and corrupt Liberal tradition, leaving nothing behind except half of their name in the current Liberal-Democrats.
Who achieved very little in 2019.
If Keith Starmer wins the leadership, and then takes our party back to the Blair / Brown pattern of Tamed Labour, he will be yet another political failure. Blair did manage some good social-liberal reforms: far more than the Liberal-Democrats ever managed. This included making politics safe for open gays and lesbians – there were always plenty of the undeclared sort. But his vote slumped after his 1997 triumph. He won elections, only because the Tory vote was also very weak. It was a brief triumph for ‘keep politics out of politics’, with many citizens thinking that voting did not matter.
If you look just at England, Corbyn’s Labour got more votes even in 2019 than pre-Corbyn Labour had got since Blair’s first win in 1997. A better percentage of the vote than any since Blair’s third victory in 2005.[H]
|Year||Turnout||Tory Vote||Percent||Seats||Labour Vote||Percent||Seats||Liberal-Democrat Vote||Percent||Seats|
It is correct to look just at England, because Labour in Scotland declined massively in 2015. The Scottish Nationalists jumped from 19.9% to 50%. From 6 seats at Westminster to 56. Labour slumped from 40% to 23.4%, and lost 40 of its 41 seats.[I] Corbyn won back 6 seats in 2017 but lost them again in 2019, with increasing hopes of an independent Scotland that could remain in the European Union.
Scottish voters saw that a Scotland free of England might return to the moderate Welfarism and Mixed Economy that is normal in Continental Europe. The system that actually won the Cold War:[J] all the New Right did was sound militant and then abandon their doctrine to stave off an economic crash in the half-forgotten crisis of 1987.
You get the same picture if you look at the actual voting in the seats Labour lost. In Scotland, the Scottish Nationalists returned. In England, the fall in the Labour vote was always much larger than the Tory gain. And both shifts were more drastic in constituencies that were stronger for Brexit. I’ve got a detailed analysis for each seat posted on the web, for those who want to check in detail.[K]
Blair’s 1997 victory was based on a promise of real change. A promise that was not delivered, and his vote slumped. But so did the Tory vote – people by then had lost faith in them. Total voting slumped, and he won in 2001 and 2005 almost by default.
If Starmer wins and turns out to be a Blairite at heart, he is likely to face a major left-wing breakaway. Face a party of Untamed Socialists of the sort that has emerged in much of Western Europe. It would be harder, unless Britain’s grossly unfair first-past-the-post system gets reformed, which will be hard given the parliamentary majority of those getting the unfair benefits. But it could easily happen. Plenty of Hard Leftists would be happy with just a larger audience, even with no real hope of power.
Starmer would also face newspapers and news channels dominated by right-wing owners. People who mostly pay no UK taxes. And who help parties with ‘business-friendly’ attitudes with scares about Communism.
In his case, some loose Trotskyist connections when he was much younger, which Private Eye has drawn attention to. Private Eye is a magazine for people who hate the Establishment, but are terrified of all possible alternatives. Not just Communism, but also serious Democratic Socialism.
My own answer on Communism is that the various Leninist movements changed the culture in societies that needed it. Changed the whole structure of the economy and the society in ways that most people do not understand.[L] And for Russia, I can produce an unexpected witness – Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I’ve been reading his Red Wheel as it gets translated into English, and he has contempt for absolutely everyone who might have been an alternative to Lenin and Stalin. The Constitutional Democrats (Kadets) are weak fools. Kerensky, leader of the relatively moderate Social-Revolutionaries, is a vain posturer.
I’ve been told by someone who read it in French translation that the final part continues this theme, when Lenin arrived.[M] My French is too poor for serious reading, so I await with interest the English version.
For People’s China, which now reasserts its Leninist roots, a very smart British writer said in 1950 that Mao as China’s ruler would be determined to change the culture.[N] And Mao succeeded in making a fair copy of Stalin’s Soviet Union. He tripled the economy, doubled the population and in the 1960s got death-rates down way below the poor-country norm for the era. Even in the crisis after the failed Great Leap Forward, death-rates were no worse than average for many poor countries.[O] The media have convinced many Westerners that Mao is guilty of tens of millions of deaths, but this is nonsense. Had a miracle happened and China got a nice liberal government like in India, death rates would on average have stayed high. Millions of Chinese had longer better lives thanks to Mao.
Mao left behind a China that Deng could then open to foreign investors and convert into a world centre of manufacturing. Before that, and sensibly fearing it, Mao attempted something much more radical in his Cultural Revolution. This got reversed after his death: but the popular-democratic aims were things many would wish to see done, by less drastic methods. And Deng in using capitalism to cure backwardness was more of an orthodox Marxist than Mao was.
In the West, the culture has been reformed massively from the 1950s. Done without much violence, but the possibility of violence was always there. Was actually expressed by Irish Republicanism in Northern Ireland, and their political wing now share power there. Can hope to triumph in the next couple of decades: perhaps much sooner with the chaos over Brexit.
Violence and terrorism by Irish Republicanism has always had powerful sympathisers in the USA. So a sycophantic media mostly does not talk about it in the same terms as other violence and terrorism.
Beyond Ireland, most of the radical changes happened when the ruling class feared they’d lose the Cold War. Class barriers became more flexible, and lots of snobbish rules were abandoned. All sorts of concessions were made to women, and to those previously considered Inferior Races. Also to gays and lesbians, which was more radical than Leninism ever intended. (China softened its previous intolerance amidst a general flood of Western values.)
Right-wingers might say ‘over my dead body’. Leninists might answer ‘yes, that’s what we had in mind’. And at that point, moderates summoned up the courage to take on the right-wingers and make moderate reforms.
European Communism had some justification up to the 1950s. And little thereafter, when most of their sensible demands became plausible as policies for Democratic Socialists And it was idiot Trotskyists, too soft for real revolution and too militant for successful reformism, who paved the way for Thatcher. They undermined sensible Labour Party policies.
Clearly there is also old-fashioned racism and male-chauvinism among the lost Labour voters. In my own constituency, Coventry North West, a young black lady called Taiwo Owatemi only just won. She got some 6,000 votes less than white and elderly Geoffrey Robinson, who had stepped down after 43 years.[P] Here, the Brexit vote was actually more than in 2017, but the Tory got an extra 2,500 votes. Ex-Labour racists, maybe, but should we throw away our principles in the hope of keeping such votes?
The Labour-to-Tory switch may also have been because Tory meant Brexit for certain, while Labour leaned toward Remain. Taiwo Owatemi got more votes than Geoffrey Robinson got in 2015. Marginally fewer than he got in 2010, and a thousand fewer than he got in 2005. Geoffrey Robinson in 2017 got by far his biggest vote since 1997, when Tony Blair promised much that he never delivered. Delivered much that no one had expected, including an unprecedented state funeral for Thatcher and a horrible war in Iraq.
Tories in the bad atmosphere created by Brexit had success in massaging old-fashioned racism and male-chauvinism. And it is just massaging. They are the party of business, which now lives in a multi-ethnic world with penalties for serious racism. With women increasingly less unequal, and pushing strongly for more. So they have never given such voters more than a few crumbs. Treated them like idiots, and it is yet to be shown that they are mistaken.
Someone with a voice powerful enough to be heard nationally should point this out. Say that while Tories always cater to racists and sexists, they always cheat them. Prefer militant young females, and those who’d not be classed as part of the White Race.
Labour is also not dependent on racists and sexists. Catering to them is not even real pragmatism, since Tories will generally do it better.
Yes, some former Labour voters switched to Tory, or failed to vote. But Labour also picked up many young people who failed to vote before. And by 2024, the expected date for the next General Election, many more young people will have the vote.
Those young people would not vote for a Labour Party that was a lukewarm copy of Tory policies. If Labour is foolish enough to reject Corbynite radicalism, it will gain a few votes from the Timid Centre. But lose far more from people who know that many things are seriously wrong.
Labour lost in 2019, because about 45% of the population wanted Brexit no matter what the cost. For them, what had gone wrong since the relatively pleasant 1960s was Immigration and ‘Brussels Bureaucrats’.
Some of these voted Tory, who would not normally do so. Some would not, but did not vote Labour. It all added up.
Brexit would probably have lost had its opponents rallied behind the demand for a Second Referendum. It would have been a just demand. The original vote was won on the false promise that Brexit would be soft and easy. That it would release vast sums to spend on the NHS.
The vote was won with 51.9%, which I’d guess to be a combination of 45% Brexit-at-any-cost and 7% ‘Soft Brexit’. Polls indicated that a second vote would have chosen ‘Remain’.[Q] But sadly, there was never a clear parliamentary majority to ask the people if they were still set on Brexit. Ask if they were confident now that the rest of Europe had held firm and refused to let Britain have the benefits without the cost.
Quitting on the terms accepted by Johnson is likely to be very nasty. Likewise those offered by May. So I am very glad that Labour repeatedly refused to abstain and let either deal be carried through. It certainly got us mauled in 2019. But from now on, the guilt will be entirely Tory.
It may not be so bad in the long run. With Britain gone, the European Union might get more serious about integration and welfare policies. I am 69 and may not live to see it, but I like to think long-term and for the general welfare. Anything else I would find unbearably squalid.
I am also sad that Labour failed to draw the correct lesson from the Crisis of 2008. The Tories said it was down to excessive government spending. Labour was weak in saying that it was speculators. Went along with policies of Austerity for most people and a vast bail-out of banks that should have been allowed to collapse. The gibberish name ‘Quantitative Easing’ was used, but it was a bail-out for rich speculators. The wealth of the rich was protected, with Obama doing just the same thing in the USA. So the Tories revived and Labour slumped in 2010 and 2015.
2015 also saw the collapse of the Liberal-Democrats. Foolishly, they had not demanded a fairer voting system after 2010, when it would have been impossible to form a government without them. They agreed to a referendum on a possible reform, and lost it. Lost most of their voters and seats in 2015, and have not really recovered them. They picked up some dedicated Remainer votes, but still less voters than before they made themselves doormats to Tory policies in 2010-15 coalition.
Certainly some former Labour voters refused to vote for Corbyn. But that is mostly the elderly: Baby Boomers who opted for Thatcherism and are now offended by the modern world they helped create. My generation, and I remember well that a majority of them were only interested in radicalism when it served their selfish interests. They were greedy then, and as they aged they have got worse.
Millions of young people voted Labour who had not voted before. And they are the future.
The world’s future. The future for Labour, only if Labour’s next leader insists that Corbyn was basically correct. If Labour does not scuttle back to the policies of weak acceptance of injustice that led to a falling-away in 2001 and 2005, followed by defeat in 2010 and 2015.
Blair won the second and third election victories almost by default. Turnout slumped dramatically, from 71% to 59% and 61%. The Tories before Cameron had a string of unpopular and unimpressive leaders. They tried to tap into right-wing Populism, but were not convincing as demagogues.
Cameron managed to present himself as sensible and safe, though he was neither. But Boris Johnson represents a Populism that can win voters not tied to the classical left-right spectrum.
In the USA, polls for the 2016 election showed that Bernie Sanders had a better chance of beating Trump than Hilary Clinton did. Hilary actually got more votes, but lost because these were translated into Electoral College votes that favoured small US states that preferred Trump. But there were many discontented voters whose first choice was socialist Bernie Sanders, but whose second choice was anti-Establishment Trump.
The Saunders-to-Trump voters should have been asked, ‘do you really think that a very rich man is going to look after the poor and ordinary, rather than look after his own sort?’ Because that is what he has mostly done.
Yet people still get fooled. We’d probably get the same in Britain, if Labour’s next leader is someone rejecting Corbyn and moving back to re-gather elderly unhappy voters. No doubt they would win some, but they would lose enormous numbers of young people who want something different. Labour would slump again.
Elections are a funny business. Labour won big in 1945 and lost in the elections of 1950 and 1951. But Labour got a majority of the votes in both those elections, and far more than they got in 1945. Attlee in 1951 got more than 200,000 more votes than Churchill, but the oddity of constituency boundaries meant that Churchill got the parliamentary majority.[R]
Labour in government had agreed to a redrawing of constituency boundaries that satisfied some abstract notions of justice, but had the predictable effect of allowing the Tories to win more seats with less votes. Playing things much too clean, which the Tories never would.
Tories also know that the media are often deluded, and commonly corrupt. Will howl about ‘bias’ when the bias is not as strongly in their favour as they would like. Managed to tame the BBC that way. Much louder protests are needed, tapping into the large body of the discontented.
[H] All figures from the Wiki, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:General_elections_in_England_to_the_Parliament_of_the_United_Kingdom.
It does not show separate English data before 1982. And in 1982 and 1987, the Liberal-Democrats were still the Liberal / Social Democrat alliance.
[M] Small portions appeared many years ago as Lenin in Zurich.
[N] Mao Tse-tung: Ruler of Red China, by Robert Payne. 1950. Republished in 2014.
[O] Go to http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=PopDiv&f=variableID%3A65#PopDiv and apply suitable filters