Friday, 15 June 2018

Labour Look Like Pale Pink Tories on Brexit

The 20% swing from Labour to the Liberals in Lewisham should be a wake up call.  At the local elections, a shot was fired across Labour's bows, yesterday, a hole was shot through the mainsail.  Labour is looking like pale pink Tories when it comes to Brexit, and although it's obvious that the Liberals will not overtake Labour, they can easily take enough votes away from Labour to let the Tories win.  In Scotland, Labour's pink Tory stance on Brexit, is opening the door again to the SNP, and thereby to the Tories.  If anything, Labour's position on Brexit seems even less credible than that of the Tories, whilst the Labour right, look more and more like a bunch of kippers intent on diminishing workers' rights in order to pander to racist, anti-immigrant sentiment.

A large part of Labour's vote in the 2017 General Election was formed on the back of anti-Brexit sentiment forged with Labour's programme of traditional progressive social-democratic measures to deal with jobs, houses, health, education and social care.  All of those who supported Remain, lent their votes to Labour, because they knew that voting Liberal or Green was a wasted vote if you want to oppose Brexit.  Labour's constructive ambiguity could take the party so far in getting those voters on board, because they could hope that stopping the Tories hard Brexit was the first stage in stopping Brexit altogether.  But, the time for that has ended.

Brexit is rending the Tories apart.  No one can believe the vicar's daughter any longer.  At every stage she has dissembled.  The Tories say, everyone said we couldn't get a State 1 Deal etc., but we did.  What they fail to say is that, at each stage in those Stage 1 negotiations, Theresa May was forced to abandon every one of her red lines, to roll over, and agree to what the EU wanted.  Then having done so, rather in Trumpian fashion, she rowed back on the agreements she had struck with the EU, in order to avoid a rebellion from her Moggies.  Now she has done the same thing inside the Tory party, screwing over Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry et al, solely in order to win a short term battle in the Commons.  These are signs of a government teetering on the edge of collapse.  They are the signs of a party in terminal decline, and about to effectively split.  It could become a hard Right government, with a section joining with the Liberals, to give them new life, and to give Labour a problem, especially if the Blair-rights saw it as a credible new home.

The other indication at the local elections in May was that, just as the US Republican Party has been turned into a Trumpist Party, so the Tories have been captured by that same right-wing populist, National Bolshevist wing.  The Labour Right, the Tories and the Tory media pointed to Labour's performance in Barnet, and argued that its poor showing was done to the party's supposed anti-Semitism.  But, the reality is that the Tories took Barnet, because the UKIP vote collapsed.  Unless we are to believe that Barnet's Jewish population were previously all UKIP voters, who switched to the Tories, its clear that the anti-Semitism meme is fallacious.

What we saw in Barnet, as elsewhere across the country, is that Labour is failing to capitalise on the Tories crisis, because Labour's stance on Brexit is indistinguishable from that of May.  In parts of the country like London, Labour is losing votes, because of its pink Tory position on Brexit, at the same time that the Tories are hoovering up the UKIP votes.  And, that is all the more significant elsewhere in the country.

The idea that Labour has to have a deliberately vacuous position on Brexit, in order not to lose the votes of Labour Leave supporters in the North, is completely wrong.  The large majority of Labour voters, even in heavily Leave voting constituencies in the North, voted Remain.  Around 75% of Labour voters support Remain, and that is only marginally lower in Leave supporting areas.  The labour Right are not defending the interests or views of Labour voters, in those areas, when they come out with all of their guff about the need to end the right of workers to free movement, they are simply pandering to all those backward Tory and UKIP types, in their areas, who will never vote Labour anyway.

A wishy washy stance on Brexit now, is losing Labour the goodwill and votes of all those young people who flooded to the banner in 2016 and 2017, in the vain hope of trying to win the votes of a minority of bigots.  Even were it a potentially winning strategy, its not a principled stance to take, and one that will only store up problems for the future.

It's time for Labour's leaders to get off the fence and lead.  As the Tories go into meltdown, Labour should set out a clear anti-Brexit stance.  Its clear that Brexit will be a disaster for workers.  Labour should say so, and organise a large campaign against it.  If Labour's leaders will not do that, the party rank and file, must bring it about, by flooding party conference with resolutions committing Labour to oppose Brexit, and to work with EU workers organisations for a programme of progressive social-democracy across the continent, to end austerity.


George Carty said...

The idea that Labour has to have a deliberately vacuous position on Brexit, in order not to lose the votes of Labour Leave supporters in the North, is completely wrong. The large majority of Labour voters, even in heavily Leave voting constituencies in the North, voted Remain. Around 75% of Labour voters support Remain, and that is only marginally lower in Leave supporting areas.

In the North the Tories are still toxic enough that going anti-Brexit wouldn't hurt Labour very much. The real problem is the Midlands, where Labour made no net gains in 2017 (in spite of sitting on the fence on Brexit) and where Leave sentiment is heaviest (to the extent that even a city as huge and as multicultural as Birmingham voted Leave – albeit barely).

The Tories' current campaign team is particularly attuned to the form of English nationalism found in the West Midlands (IIRC it is one of the few areas of England where St George's Day is a major event) and the region has turned more anti-Labour (and probably more Brexity) as a result of the unrelenting economic decline it suffered during the Blair/Brown years.

And isn't it the case that almost all of Labour's must-win marginals (at least outside Scotland) voted Leave? Remain-voting areas tend to be either affluent places where Labour stands no chance (note that Wokingham re-elected Tory arch-Brexiteer John Redwood in spite of voting Remain in the referendum) or places full of students and/or ethnic minorities that are already in the bag for Labour.

Boffy said...

The point is that even in a strong Leave voting area like Stoke, the majority of Labour voters voted Remain, and by only a marginally smaller amount than in Remain voting areas. Trying to win over Leave voters, the vast majority of whom are Tories or worse, who will not vote Labour anyway, by being seen as pro-Brexit, or ambiguous, is like the Balirite attempt to win over the "centre ground", by being ambiguous about defending working-class interests. It means you start to erode your actual base, for very little gains to compensate.

Its a bit like in marketing. All history shows that it is much easier and cheaper to retain your existing customers than to try to win new ones. What is more when companies try to win new customers by offering them signing up discounts and so on, the immediate effect is to piss off the existing customers who say, what about giving me discounts to reward my loyalty?

George Carty said...

The point is that even in a strong Leave voting area like Stoke, the majority of Labour voters voted Remain, and by only a marginally smaller amount than in Remain voting areas.

Given that the Lib Dems and Greens have no chance in most English constituencies (especially those that voted Leave) Labour Remain voters are very unlikely to defect if they see Labour as too pro-Brexit, as the only possible result of such a defection would be to hand their seat to the (harder Brexit) Tories.

Labour Leave voters on the other hand (though fewer in number than the Labour Remain voters) are far more likely to defect if Labour's stance on the EU isn't to their liking.

All history shows that it is much easier and cheaper to retain your existing customers than to try to win new ones.

To win power though Labour does of course need to win new voters, and there are very few Remainers left for the picking in the important marginals (as most are already voting Labour).

What is your take incidentally on why Labour is currently so weak in the Midlands?

Boffy said...


I think your evaluation here is wrong. The analysis done by John Curtice and the BES of how the voters of the different parties voted in the referendum was based on the 2015 General Election. Analysis of the 2017 General Election suggests that the proportion of Labour voters who were supporters of Remain increased significantly, and a large part of that appears to be that not only did Corbyn get a lot more people from the younger demographic - below 50 - to turn out to vote, but that Corbyn Labour also won over Liberal and Green voters, who realised as you say that those parties had no chance of winning, and who calculated a Labour win or at least a large Labour presence as the best way of preventing a hard Brexit, on the way to stopping Brexit altogether.

Incidentally, that's why the Brextremist claims about 80% of people voting for parties in 2017 that were backing Brexit is effectively a lie, even if technically true.

If Labour is to have any chance of even keeping its current support, let alone getting more, so as to become a majority, it has to retain all of those Remain voters, and attract more. In Scotland, it has no chance of winning votes from the SNP or Liberals without adopting an anti-Brexit stance, and without winning back its former position in Scotland, it will always be very hard for Labour ever to win an overall majority. If Brexit looks like it happens, or if Labour looks like its not putting up a real opposition to a hard Brexit, all of the Liberal, and Green voters who voted Labour tactically in 2017, disappear, all of the younger demographic who voted Labour in 2017, on the basis of opposition to Brexit will simply sink back into apathy, or else, as the Liberals, Greens and others demagogically put themselves in the vanguard of stopping Brexit, they will simply switch over to them, in the same way that such people were taken in by the faux radicalism of the Liberals and Greens after 2003, when Labour had disappointed over Iraq.

Its not true that the Labour Leave voters are more likely to switch voting than Labour Remain voters. I've set out why above in relation to the Remain voters, particularly the 2017 Labour voters who were switchers from Liberals or Greens - without whom it would have been impossible for Labour to have won seats like Canterbury or Kensington and so on, and which we can now expect to revert to the Tories, given labour's dire performance in opposing Brexit, so far - but the truth is that Labour Leave voters are unlikely to vote Tory. If they hadn't already switched to UKIP or Tory over the last 20 years - and the number who did that is actually proportionally small despite what the media and Brextremists would have you believe - they are not going to now. The fact, is that most of those "working-class" voters who voted for UKIP, are not the working-class voters that have always comprised the core Labour vote.

Boffy said...


If you go back to the 1960's, you will find the origin of the idea in the so called embourgeoisement theories, which suggested that as workers became more affluent their attachment to Labour, and the concepts of the working-class became weakened. Goldthorpe et al, in their studies of The Affluent Worker, studying better paid workers such as car workers showed that was bunkum. There is lots of evidence throughout history that the core support for progressive social democratic parties comes from the more advanced sections of the working-class, which tends to be the better educated, more skilled workers, who also tend to be concentrated in the better paid jobs, and more organised workplaces, where they are socialised within these traditions of the labour movement. The people who vote for the Nazis in Germany, BNP and UKIP in Britain, besides those coming from the scared middle class, are those from the lower levels of the working-class who lack education, and who are frequently isolated from these organisations of the labour movement, because of their erratic or precarious relation to employment. Often they just don't vote, unless something like an EU Referendum gives them an opportunity to vent their anger.

The Labour voters who voted Leave are people who have always held a range of reactionary views, but for whom those views are secondary to the general principle of voting Labour, because of what Labour is supposed to stand for, as against the Tories. They are Old Labour supporters, for whom the main issues are the NHS, employment, housing, wages and so on. With a Corbyn Labour party their is all the more reason for them to vote Labour.

On the Midlands, I think it proves two points. Firstly, it was a centre of organisation against Corbyn, and against McCluskey. The division undermines Labour's message. If I was a labour voter in Spellar or Austin's constituency, I would have to hold my nose to vote Labour, too! Secondly, in many of the seats, right-wing Labour MP's have adopted UKIP like positions, as even Alistair Campbell described last week. People like John Mann, and Caroline Flint are also typical of that type. If I was a Liberal or Green, or a younger person looking to vote against Brexit, I would have no reason to vote for such people who would be likely to line up with the Tories on Brexit votes. If I was a radical Labour voter attracted back to Labour, or attracted for the first time, because of Corbyn, I would again have little reason to vote for such people, given their propensity to stab him in the back. Its why we need to clear all of those right wing Labour MP's, Councillors and so on out, and select left-wing candidates to replace them as soon as possible.