Did you know that between 1997 and 2010 Labour lost over 5 million votes - most of them under Tony Blair? When I included that fact in an online article a senior figure in Progress riposted “They were Blair’s to lose.” No so, I replied. 1997 was a team triumph. Blair was a brilliant communicator, but he inherited from John Smith a party in great nick. He was supported by a formidable team, including Becket, Brown, Blunkett, Cook, Mowlam, and Prescott. Most importantly, post-1983, the heavy lifting had been done by former Labour leader and now Honorary President of the LME, Neil Kinnock.
It’s a new Kinnock we are looking for now. It was Kinnock’s good fortune that most of the trade union movement was behind him, politically, organisationally and financially.
He lost in 1992 largely because the Tories pulled a trick they’ve just repeated. They changed leaders. John Major won but his government crashed and burned at Black Wednesday.
It’s worth noting that the British economy currently is far from the strong one claimed by the Tories. Prospect Editor Tom Clark argues that Johnson’s victory could turn out to contain the seeds of its own destruction - so much for looking forward optimistically. We are where we are and how we got here has many dimensions.
The awful general election result was a vindication of the case made by the LME and our sadly defeated chair, Anna Turley, that a General Election should have followed a referendum.
Johnson, in a minority in the Commons, was applying huge pressure for an election but Labour whip Nick Dakin says “We had the numbers to stop it. They were posturing but we knew in whips’ office from our conversations we would have them in our lobby. What did for us was the failure of judgement that meant we gave Johnson the Gift wrapped Christmas present he wanted. Whips office was furious.”
It was very much a personal decision of Jeremy Corbyn. He was obviously hoping to repeat what he had done against Theresa May. They were well matched in their stolidness. This Labour dull dog was out campaigned by the bumptious energetic charlatan. ‘Get Brexit Done’ was a beguiling slogan but when did team Corbyn ever try to rebut it or undermine it? The case for Labour’s policy of renegotiation was also poorly defended.
The writing had been on the wall for a long time. A polling analysis by James Bowley shows “a slow, steady decline in confidence in Corbyn, with a level of support for Johnson never enjoyed by Mrs May. As the election campaign began, Johnson had a lead of close to 70% with Leave voters, with Corbyn hitting just 5% in the last poll.
“Corbyn saw support slide with the younger voters after his peak in the summer of 2017. As the election approached, his lead over Johnson was close to zero. In the event, the election turned around the vote intention numbers, but 'enthusiasm' was down on 2017.” It might be possible to turn around this level of scepticism/disillusionment once (2017) but not twice.
One of the self-defeating traits of the aspects of the Corbyn project was the failure to own the achievements of the Blair/Brown government. If Labour governments don’t fix things why should anyone vote Labour? It bears on the evident feeling amongst voters that Labour’s manifesto was undeliverable.
One exception to the disavowal of the New Labour record is Angela Rayner. She is very explicit in paying tribute to Labour achievements especially Sure Start which transformed her own life.
Rayner describes leadership as a “tough gig”. She is right. The Leader of the Opposition has been described as “the worst job in politics”.
She is rightly being talked of as a leadership contender along with her friend and flatmate Becky Long-Bailey.
By Don Brind - Labour Movement for Europe Press Officer & Former BBC political correspondent
Join us as an LME member here.
Subscribe to our newsletter here to get these articles straight into your inbox.