The future of the left since 1884

Picking up the pieces

Post-election analysis from Vaughan Gething AM, Shaista Aziz and Paula Surridge.


Vaughan Gething AM

We cannot and must not avoid confronting the clear message from the public. They understood that Boris Johnson was a liar and they understood that he is a threat to the future of the NHS. However the public still voted for a Conservative majority. Brexit was of course a factor, with leavers and remainers not fully trusting us. However on doorsteps across the country Jeremy Corbyn was an even bigger problem.

Every canvass in every constituency came back with the same message from our core supporters. Change is inevitable and essential. It’s time we chose to listen to the public rather than ignore what we have been told. The UK Labour government we need won’t be elected until we do.

Vaughan Gething is a Welsh Labour and Cooperative politician and the minister for health and social services in Wales.

Shaista Aziz

Many people across the country are feeling numb, others are feeling devastated and hurt. The scale of the defeat is shocking for everyone, even for those of us who are not surprised we didn’t win. I spent the last week of the election campaign canvassing in Labour’s heartlands, Dudley South, and
Southampton Itchen. In Dudley South,  I encountered hostility, anger, aggression and verbal abuse from many voters. I also encountered many, many exhausted people from working-class communities on their knees due to Tory austerity. The people I met included 67-year-old Eileen who told me she was struggling to get a food bank referral after eight years of the bedroom tax, which had in her own words destroyed her life.  I met Jane, at a school gate. She told me she had 80p left on her gas meter until next week and was planning on putting her children in the same bed as her to keep them warm at night. Another woman told me her five-year-old son had asked her for school trousers for Christmas, a struggling single mother, she had tears in her eyes as she spoke to me.

Brexit and immigration didn’t come up once in any of the conversations I had with people in Dudley South over four days of campaigning and overwhelmingly it was white men who went out of their way to engage in conversation with me.

Labour needs to now regroup and create a long-term grassroots movement, reflecting and representing the people of this country, many of whom are bracing themselves for increased racism and xenophobia. We need to develop an intersectional, grassroots, working class, anti-racism movement funded and backed by the unions and led by the people and communities most at risk of further harm unleashed by Johnson’s government. We have to stand up for everyone but especially those hardest impacted by the extremist ideology of the ultra-right wing, nativist Tory party.

Crucially, there needs to be a clear acknowledgment by the party that the Labour vote has consistently held among working-class BAME communities across the country. This is important because it shows the people most at risk voted for a more compassionate, equal and just country. They voted for hope. We still have to work as a movement to revive and deliver that hope.

Let there be absolutely no doubt. We are entering uncharted waters now. For those people who are posting messages, all be it in jest, about leaving the country and moving somewhere else or asking “what has become of this country?” I will say it again and very clearly. As well-meaning as you think you are, all you are doing is showing how the privileges you have – starting with race privilege – are enabling you to absolve yourself of any responsibility for the society that’s being created while you’ve been looking the other way. We must collectively decide what we are going to do now, we don’t have time for pearl clutching or hand wringing, we are in an emergency and have been for some time. People are terrified and exhausted. I am not in the habit of lecturing anyone, but I will say one thing, all my adult life I’ve been around well meaning “liberals” who are constantly “shocked” by how white supremacy, colonialism and racism manifests day-to-day. To profess to being “shocked” when something keeps on happening over and over again is to adopt a position of cowardice. Our humanity is not up for discussion or debate.

Shaista Aziz is a Labour councillor in Oxford, co-vice chair of the Fabian Women’s Network and co-founder of the Labour Homelessness Campaign

Paula Surridge

Parts of Labour’s heartlands had been threatening to turn blue for some time, and in this election the threat became a reality as seat after seat that Labour had held throughout the post-war period fell to the Conservatives. At the start of the campaign ‘Workington man’ seemed like a media creation with little chance that the seat would fall. In the end the Conservatives won it comfortably. There is no doubt that this was a terrible night for the party and that in some measure this reflected the Brexit vote in these areas and the unpopularity of the Labour leader.

But it is not the whole story. Many of these places saw at best muted rises in turnout in 2017 where enthusiasm was high elsewhere and had been becoming more Conservative in recent elections. Groups of voters with more socially conservative values have been moving away from Labour since at least 2010 and while Brexit and the party leadership accelerated this process it will be critical for the success and perhaps even the survival of the party to understand how to reconnect with a broader coalition of voters. While I would not advocate a simplistic move away from the party’s liberal stances, the need to earn back trust among these groups, who are often very much in tune with Labour’s economic messages, is urgent.

It is also clear this was not a wholesale realignment of politics around only the ‘leave-remain’ axis. If it were, the Liberal Democrats ought to have won Cheltenham and possibly Guildford. While the economic programme put forward by Labour was broadly popular among many of those in the traditional heartlands, it terrified some ‘liberal’ Conservatives, demonstrating the continued importance of the traditional left-right divide in constraining the choices of some voters.

In the immediate aftermath of a defeat of this magnitude it is important not to rush to snap judgements about the causes, or the solutions. The early analyses are often missing much that is going on under the surface. A pause, a deep breath and a short wait for better data about individual voters would be wise.

Paula Surridge is senior lecturer in the school of politics, sociology and international studies at the University of Bristol

Read more post-election reactions here.

Photo credit: Lucy Davey

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