The acute problem in this election, what changed from 2017 to 2019, was our Brexit position. Some might say we didn’t win in 2017 – but I am yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t prefer that result to this catastrophe. In 2017, we made huge strides forward, this year we have taken steps back.
Labour’s path to backing a second referendum was a long one, and all support was not lost at once. But on that road, the party at all times since 2017 appeared to be edging closer to rejecting the democratic mandate of the largest referendum in our history. All the while, Euroscepticism, whether genuine or as frustration with an out-of-touch political system, grew and grew. While the constituencies that turned against Labour are not one monolithic demographic, they are united by regional inequality, compounding the decimation of their labour movement and working-class institutions by the Conservatives. No real attempt was made to reverse these things under the last Labour government. Too little focus was placed on that task by the Corbyn project. We need to be rooted in these communities, that much is clear. We cannot elect a leader who doesn’t explain a strategy for enhancing the labour movement outside of parliamentary politics and how Labour be rooted in the entirety of the working class, including London and Scotland. The fragmented communication of our policies, releasing pledges in a scattergun fashion without overarching narratives to match the slogans of ‘get Brexit done’ and ‘take back control’ was a key mistake. We have to communicate the themes in our policies and the agenda of our party: transferring wealth and power back into the hands of ordinary people, and the places that most need it.
Corbyn’s unpopularity with the general public also can’t be denied. There is a challenge for the next leader to work out how the onslaught from the right-wing media can be bypassed without cosying up to billionaire owners who oppose our values.
There are internal issues to consider as well. Our poor handling of antisemitism fed into media demonisation of the party, to the point where we were perceived as more racist than the worst of the right. There has to be a strategy of being proactive on our own issues and not being forced into action only under duress. Jeremy Corbyn won 40 per cent of the vote in 2017, very nearly ending up as prime minister. Poll after poll shows that our policy platform — things like nationalising utilities, raising the minimum wage and kicking privateers out of the NHS — is very popular. It’s clear what changed this time around.
Labour has not completely lost the working class. Young people are voting for Labour more than ever before, not because they are inherently more progressive, but because they are struggling to pay rent, locked in insecure work and burdened with debt with no assets. This can be the basis of class politics for years to come — as long as we build those politics not based on generational resentments but on shared circumstances impacting all working people no matter their age or where they come from.
Standing by our social democratic policies now is portrayed as blind cultism to the hard left, despite people like myself being far from loyal in our vocal opposition to the leadership’s position on Brexit. If the lesson we take from this month is not to abandon class politics but to do it better, for more people, in more parts of this country, then the defeat can be temporary. If we return to a time of PFIs, imperialist foreign policy and austerity-lite, it will be with us for a long time to come.
Lara McNeill is the youth rep on Labour’s National Executive Committee.
This election has been bruising and toxic but it’s also been inspiring and hopeful: thousands of activists took to the streets in the December cold and rain to fight for something better. The left will need all this and more to recover and rebuild. Labour were always up against it: the juggernaut of Brexit, a campaign where Tory lies became normalised and a deeply polarising leader. But it is a devastating loss and one that shouldn’t be underplayed.
The manifesto’s policies were largely strong but scattergun; too many working-class voters saw the pledges as unrealistic and without a narrative that connected to their lives. Labour will need to relearn to communicate with its base and win back trust from disconnected Leave communities. It is morally right to rebuild trust with Jewish voters. If Boris Johnson delivers Brexit and Labour reorganises, there is a chance the new Tory hold will weaken. Transformative change takes generations to achieve. Millions of people are waiting.
Frances Ryan is a Guardian columnist and author of Crippled: Austerity and the Demonisation of Disabled People
Florence Eshalomi MP
I have really mixed emotions about the general election result. I am absolutely devastated to have lost so many excellent colleagues from Westminster and I feel unbearably sad that we let down those people that desperately need a Labour government. But as a new MP elected for the first time, I am also excited about the opportunity to serve and humbled by the trust that my constituents have placed in me. There are 26 new Labour MPs and we bring new energy and ideas and as the results have sunk in, I feel a huge sense of responsibility to play my part in rebuilding a Labour party that can challenge this government and win back the keys to
I will strive to ensure that as we look to the future, we do it in an inclusive way, that we put an end to the factional in-fighting which has torn our party apart and build an outward-looking pluralist party which is tolerant and open. The Labour party can once again be the party for working people if we can come together, listen, reflect and focus on how we deliver a fairer, more equal society for the many not the few.
Florence Eshalomi is the newly elected Labour MP for Vauxhall
Read more post-election reactions here.
Photo credit: Lucy Davey