Triumphalism and the Politics of the Surge

The 2017 election result has led to an upsurge One More Heavism aka triumphalism, on the Labour Left, taking the unexpected but welcome surge in the last month of the election and its results as the basis for a Labour victory at some point soon. The Wish is however Father to the Thought and a different set of factors are likely to apply in the next six months. What is clear is that we are now living in a period of surge politics, as experienced across Europe and the USA, and the Scottish example even more than the rest of the UK shows that winners two years ago are losers today. The Tories gained against both the SNP and UKIP on June 8th but ten days later…. who would bet on them?

Labour is set to gain in the short term, as the opinion polls are showing, but Triumphalism is showing both an over confidence in the Labour Left’s electoral appeal, and a failure to read the signs of the surges – there were more than one – which happened to produce the result on June 8th.  As Christian Wolmar argued on Labour List and ProgPol, Corbyn won the election and it is his prerogative to make the decisions. But only internally for Labour. The Tories decide the election, so the Left Futures Editor James Elliott was premature with his blog of 13th August. After the election Labour had a poll lead – 6% when he wrote, and probably more following the Grenfell fire. This he argued “would give Labour a clear majority were there to be another election”.  Sadly this is in the gift of the Tories, who will have to be forced out by a vote of no confidence or similar. Which means Labour having to form a parliamentary alliance plus the DUP failing to support the Tories if it is to happen.

While it is very unlikely that the Prime Minister can survive five years the Tories don’t need to. The only  show in town is Brexit, and if they can do a deal within two years, then that is the optimum point for an election. Opinion polls at the moment are irrelevant.

This calculation has so far escaped both hard and  soft left. Figures close to Corbyn – Joshua Simon on the New Statesman website on 16th June, and Cat Smith MP on Labour List on 15th June, both thought the Party was on the brink of government. Simon thought “a host of seats across Britain have become marginals that Labour can target” especially with UKIP voters returning to Labour, which was helped by “Labour’s opaque stance on Brexit”. UKIP voters largely voted Tory, while Labour’s Brexit evasions are unlikely to be a basis for anything.

Cat Smith, however, endorsed a reliance on Tory Marginals.  “When the next General Election is called, a 1.6% swing will do. 34 seats are needed”. But this is only for a majority of one. And its not simply a matter of winning more seats, since in places like Newcastle Under Lyme (30 majority) and Crewe (48 majority) the election put Labour M Ps on a knife edge.

The message of winning marginals is the key was also put by Jade Azim of Open Labour on the Labour List site on 16th June, arguing like Cat Smith that “the spectacular election has opened up a lot of key marginals for us that were previously safe Tory seats.” She cites Chipping Barnet with a Tory majority of 353, Chingford at 2438, and – looking at the Progressive Alliance territory – seats like Caborne and Redruth with second place only 1577 behind, with 2979 Liberal and 1052 Green votes to woo. No doubt Compass will be telling us more about these seats.

However Jade then talks about having a huge opportunity to win back UKIP voters “and liberal Tories in the south….” However this is starting to enter the realms of how to win the National Lottery. Liberal Tories mostly favour Remain. UKIP voters want Leave. They are not in the same ball park.  It is welcome, and true, that voters in a seat like Stoke Central were prepared to vote UKIP but not Tory, but in the next constituency of Stoke South they did just that. While the Labour vote went up in Stoke South as the Lib Dems, Greens and TUSC votes moved to Labour, the vast majority of the 8298 UKIP votes – UKIP did not stand – went Tory to make 12,780 in 2015 into 20, 451 Tory votes in 2017. While the Labour vote went up, the Tories won. In Stoke Central, the by election momentum carried on and while UKIP, who did stand, dropped 3625 votes and the Tories rose 8032, Labour had an increase of 9230 partly with the Lib Dems dropping 1400 votes. The working class in this wholly working class seat came back to Labour in numbers to build on the majority secured in the by election.

I am encouraged by this, for a strategy of relying on Tory liberals is not good enough. In 1945 Labour had a working class and middle class vote with the workers being the key to the next three or four decades. This was basis for the Attlee Government and was replicated in 1997 and more dubiously in 2001, but not since. I don’t believe Labour can win unless this alliance is reconstructed. Today the workers are the ones Labour is losing unlike the 1950s when Labour lost the middle class voters of 1945. The big question is going to be – What About the Workers?

Trevor Fisher

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