My Dad died this year. He left me an unwritten legacy of ‘political wisdom’ most of which is as relevant now as it always has been: always vote but never for a candidate that isn’t Labour; not all Labour candidates are socialists, but any Labour candidate, however rubbish, is better than any Tory. I have always voted and fortunately always lived in places where voting Labour is the best tactic. I am lucky too in that most of the Labour candidates I have voted for have been at least a little bit better than rubbish.
Another of my father’s wisdoms, one that has come to mind recently, was that it is never good practice to share a campaigning platform with the enemy. Engage in debate of course, but no matter how much you might seem to agree on a particular issue, don’t campaign with them. If only we had applied that wisdom when it came to Brexit. For socialist reasons, I voted Remain; I understand that there were socialist reasons for wanting to leave. The Tories who shared those positions did so for very different reasons.
For a long time now, there has been a belief among the electorate that politicians were ‘all the same’. Under Corbyn’s leadership. that damaging narrative – that we are all the same and up to no good – had begun to fall apart. Then we had the referendum. By joining hands with the Tories – whether campaigning for Remain or Leave – we reignited people’s suspicion that really, underneath everything, we politicians really are all the same self-serving rogues after all. The more that idea takes root, the worse it is for Labour. That is because, since our Party’s earliest days, people have looked to us to offer something different. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking that Blair’s 1997 landslide was due to voters’ embrace of New Labour and the centre ground. The subsequent loss of popularity (and votes) throughout the Blair years and the 2017 groundswell of support for Labour’s radical socialist manifesto suggests otherwise.
In spite of the huge Tory majority, I still believe that people wanted the ‘something different’ that Labour represented under Corbyn. In 2017 we achieved 40% of the vote – even with a divided Party and a ‘marmite’ leader. We put a radical manifesto before the electorate and, most importantly, we said that we would honour the result of the referendum. Little more than two years later, the only thing that was different was that we had been bullied by the remain-obsessed into reneging on our promise on the referendum. In capitulating on this, not only did we remind voters that we had campaigned alongside Tory politicians in the referendum but we reignited the suspicion that we are not all that different from the others – including the LibDems – and that we don’t really care about ordinary people’s lives any more than they do.
Johnson has already backtracked on the Tories’ campaign promises. We knew he would, and I believe the wider electorate knew it too. They knew it, but it didn’t matter. The only promise that had come to matter was the commitment to act on the outcome of the referendum. In the end, it was a test of our commitment to the people – and we flunked it. Politicians had put a question to the people; the terms of the referendum – the rules of the game – had been agreed by all. The people had made their choice and expected their politicians – especially Labour politicians – to do as had been promised – on this above all else.
I know people in the so-called left-behind communities. By the way, plenty of those I represent here in Crawley in the ‘affluent’ South East, have been just as forgotten by politicians as those left behind in the towns that were once our heartlands. I have spoken with ordinary people, lifelong Labour supporters who have stuck with us through thick and thin. They never trusted the Tories, but they did trust us – even if it was only just a little bit. What we offered in 2017 was what was expected of Labour – under Corbyn, the Labour Party was back. At last the people had their Party back. They had their Party back and they came back to their Party.
Then the remain-obsessed began their war of attrition. I admit I was gutted by the referendum result. As a matter of fact, I don’t agree with referendums; we live in a representative democracy and we elect politicians to make judgements on our behalf. It is our job as politicians to pay attention, to research and consider all aspects of an issue, to explore all the angles, to debate, challenge and disagree, to make decisions and form judgements. But, at the end of the day we did have a referendum and the result was disappointing. My own disappointment was as great as anyone’s – so much so that the next day I even signed a petition to get the result overturned. But within a week reality hit and I knew that – however bad it might turn out to be – we had to find a way to honour the result. If we didn’t, we would lose the confidence of a whole generation of voters. That is what has happened. This should have been our moment, and – through our short-sighted cow-towing to FBPE and the remain-obsessed – we failed to step up and we threw it away.
Those Remainers in our Party who were arrogant enough to believe that they could go on flaunting their disregard for the referendum result and that people would still vote for them, have given us the worst of all worlds – a Tory no-deal Brexit and a Tory Government that believes it has the mandate (and it has the majority if not the mandate) to destroy all that is left of what my father’s generation fought for. We know that there were some among us who would have regarded loss of the 2017 election as a price worth paying to be rid of Corbyn. That loss was not catastrophic enough but now that they have wanted they wanted, there will be those of us who wonder whether that was the plan all along and even whether their unrelenting pressure to get the leadership to cave in over a second referendum was part of the plan.
The shouts of those who campaigned for a so-called people’s vote have been the loudest among those baying for Corbyn’s blood and this should tell us something. The remain-obsessed will continue to deny any responsibility for our defeat while demanding that the Left need to accept that Labour will never win from the left. On Corbyn’s election, my Dad commented that we will never be allowed to have a socialist leading the Labour Party and I begin to think that was another thing he was right about. We do need to get to grips with the reasons for our defeat and I hope we will. But our Party is not very good at that. We are more comfortable patting one another on the back and issuing votes of thanks for all the hard work put in than asking questions of ourselves about our strategy. I hope we will not listen to those who try to stifle discussion and prevent a proper review of our 2019 electoral defeat – both locally and nationally. We cannot – we must not – move on until we have properly reflected. It might hurt; it might be difficult. Nothing worthwhile is easy, my Dad would say. It will take courage, but it is necessary and I know my Dad would have agreed with that.