Several years ago, when I was working for the GMB trade union, I had a conversation with one of
They did. It took New Labour’s demise, and a decade of unbroken Conservative rule, to finally expose the arrogance and complacency of that statement.
From the moment Tony Blair proclaimed on the steps of a
And this morning
Jeremy Corbyn is preparing to support a second Brexit vote, after the party’s poor showing last week’s EU elections
For a decade there has been a consensus on all wings of the Labour Party that a crisis was brewing outside of their metropolitan fortresses. Call it The Bolsover Effect. In 1997 Dennis Skinner – the politically feral former miner representing the old pit constituency – won his seat with 74 per cent of the vote.
His Conservative rival secured 17 per cent. In 2010, the Tory vote had risen to 25 per cent. At the last Election – supposedly a Corbynite triumph – the Conservatives won 40 per cent, and Skinner’s majority had been slashed from 27,000 to 5,000.
Everyone – svelte Blairites, weather-beaten Brownites, zealous Corbynites – came to see the truth. Labour’s working-class base was crumbling, and the party’s very survival depended upon them preventing its total collapse.
But they had reckoned without the Kamikaze Remainers. No sooner had the first of last Sunday’s European election results begun trickling in than Emily Thornberry was out leading the charge.
‘We should have said simply that any deal that comes out of this Government should be put to a confirmatory referendum,’ she said. ‘That Remain should be on the ballot paper; and that Labour would campaign to Remain.’
Thornberry’s view of the British working man is well documented – she had to resign from the Labour frontbench over a ‘snobby’ social media post of white van man on the day of a 2014 by-election.
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As the Tory leadership race rolls on, Labour MPs have begun ruminating on which of the candidates they fear the most. Ironically, the contender who fills them with the most trepidation isn’t even in the House of Commons. ‘Ruth Davidson would be our worst nightmare,’ a Shadow Minister tells me.
‘Our liberal supporters absolutely love her. She’d finally make us extinct in Scotland, and Jeremy doesn’t know how to deal with women politically.’ Another candidate who earns respect from his opponents is Health Secretary Matt Hancock. ‘He’s fresh, he’s got energy, he’s got a bit of the young Blair about him,’ says a backbencher.
But even among this hostile constituency, there’s no escaping the blond elephant in the room. ‘Boris could give us real problems,’ a senior Shadow Minister concedes. ‘He’s not quite got that magic he had back when he was Mayor [of London], but people do respond to him. I definitely think he’d beat Jeremy.’
Ruth Davidson with her baby son Finn
But she at least managed to show more restraint than leading Corbynite Remainer Paul Mason. Labour should no longer be interested in securing the support of ‘an ex-miner sitting in the pub calling migrants cockroaches’, he raged.
Britain’s unending Brexit nightmare is driving people on both sides of the debate mad. But what sort of cruel sickness could possibly force otherwise sane people to decide Labour must stick two fingers up to its natural constituency, and officially proclaim itself the party of the entitled metropolitan elite?
What planet – never mind what country – have these people been living on for the past ten years? The rise of the BNP. The rise of Ukip. Brexit. The triumph of Trump. The surge of populism. The global repudiation of the establishment and the smug political class. Did they sleep through it? How can any Labour politician see Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party secure more than five million votes – nearly two million more than their closest rivals – then conclude ‘the way to stop him is to abuse our white, working-class supporters and come out hard for Remain’?
In fairness, a Labour politician with leadership ambitions just might. The party’s membership is very London-centric, and some frenetic EU flag-waving is an excellent way of playing to the gallery. There’s also some logic for the small number of Labour MPs threatened by a Lib Dem resurgence. Some more Machiavellian Labour MPs also see Remain as the ‘wedge issue’ that could bring down Corbyn himself.
But then there are the other Labour MPs, the ones who have not taken total leave of their senses. ‘This could mean the extinction of the party,’ one told me.
Another added: ‘The people pushing this are worse than the crazy Blairites who wanted to break the trade union link. To be successful, or even survive, we have to be in the business of building coalitions. You can’t just lurch towards these absolutist positions.’
In the immediate aftermath of last Sunday’s results, it was those shunting Corbyn towards unequivocal support for Remain who were setting the agenda.
But I understand there’s about to be a fightback from Labour MPs not prepared to see seats in Bolsover, Ashfield and Stoke sacrificed to shore up huge Labour majorities in Islington and Hackney. A delegation of MPs is preparing to meet Corbyn this week to urge him to halt the dash towards a second referendum. ‘There’s a lot of concern about this proposed change, and it’s growing,’ one Shadow Minister told me.
There should be. As another Shadow Minister – a strong Remain supporter – acknowledged: ‘There’s no escape now. Even if we change our position, with Jeremy as leader, there’s no way of getting back the people we’ve lost. A month ago we could probably have done something if we’d made a clear shift. But they just don’t trust him. It’s too late.’
Dan Hodges says working class voters will throw their support behind Nigel Farage if Labour support a second referendum
Someone needs to wake up and recognise that fact. Labour is preparing to abandon the North. It’s preparing to abandon millions of supporters who have helped sustain the party over generations.
And it’s about to create a political vacuum that will see what’s left of a once-proud party implode.
The best-case scenario is that vacuum is filled by a new Conservative Prime Minister, or even Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. But Tommy Robinson – last seen scuttling away from Manchester Central having secured a paltry two per cent of the vote – is watching and waiting.
Labour’s traditional voters haven’t got anywhere else to go? Sorry but they have…