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Labour’s defeat is not due to Corbyn alone

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THE 2019 General Election results are grim for Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The party’s heartlands in the Midlands and the North have been breached for the first time in electoral history – and not by a competing party of the Left, but by the incumbent, and Etonian-headed, Conservative Party. 

The knives are drawn immediately, and Corbyn is told he must stand down. The party’s very future is in question, commentators argue.

But where did it all go wrong – and is Jeremy Corbyn alone responsible?  

For many supporters, the reflex response to this question will be ‘yes’. After all, it is Corbyn who has dragged the Labour Party to the Left, and to a position from which it stands scant hope of appealing to a majority.

But this tells only part of the story. A more fundamental chapter is the party’s drift away from the interests of working people and towards the townhouse ‘intelligentsia’ of central London. The capital’s inner belt of MPs, Diane Abbott, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, have made no secret of their loathing of the party’s base. The latter’s sneering tweet in the Rochester and Strood by-election of 2014 was an early illustration of her contempt for the working class, while Abbott and Starmer have repeatedly stressed that voters, particularly in Wales, the Midlands and the North, ‘didn’t know what they were voting for’, were ‘misled’ and were driven by ‘racism’ in the 2016 EU Referendum.

It’s an attitude that’s been running rampant in the party for some years, with the latest exemplification coursing through this campaign, when, in setting out their agenda, the likes of Starmer and Thornberry won out and opted to ride roughshod over the party’s base again, with no apparent fear of blowback.

This level of arrogance and expectation is quite something, given the party’s electoral struggles over the past decade, and it’s not as if there’s been any absence of warning signs. Indeed, we need only look at the party’s electoral wipe-out in Scotland in 2015, its consistent haemorrhaging of seats across local government and, of course, the numerous Leave-voting ‘red’ constituencies of the Midlands and North in the 2016 Referendum.

Even now, in the aftermath of defeat, there’s a lack of accountability as they struggle to comprehend that, perhaps, their fantasy agenda, and constant belittling of working-class people, has come to bite.

Already, they’re arguing that their fourth general election defeat on the bounce is a consequence of messaging – and the failings of the party’s messenger-in-chief.

It hasn’t registered yet that their thinking, and behaviour, has stirred millions of voters to cross over to the Conservatives. Further, that if they continuously ignore the wants and appeals of their base, they might at some point lose them to another party, and leader, who promises to give them a voice.

That the Conservatives have flipped so many Labour seats in this election, without much of a policy offer, is fundamentally down to Brexit. But it’s also down to Labour’s continued inability to listen their constituency. They are the ones who have taken their voters for granted, election after election, and who have worn them down to the point of switching.

It is their dogged pursuit of a niche London-centric agenda that has caused the party to drift. It is their intransigence, in the face of numerous flashing lights, that has thrown the party into this incredible position, from which it will struggle to recover.

More, it is the likes of Starmer, Thornberry and Abbott who have put the hackles up on these new switchers. The former heartlands have spoken, and made their thoughts clear on the leadership and condition of the party in the most profound way. They have liberated themselves after years of mistreatment, and won’t be fooled again by the false promises and soundbites of a party they used to know and cherish.

The fundamental problem for Labour, and its policy team in the capital, is that even now, in this immediate moment of self-reflection, they’re incapable of fathoming the reason for their irrelevance. They won’t accept that they are, perhaps, responsible for Labour’s decline, and its loss of decent and hard-working MPs across the Midlands and North. Again, they’ll say it’s all about the messenger. They won’t concede that their policy offer lacks credibility and continues to ignore the wants of hardworking people.

Corbyn, quite rightly, will take the fall for this latest setback – but it’s the likes of Abbott, Starmer, Thornberry, and other figures of the London Labour movement, who are as much to blame.

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David Yorath
David Yorath is a communications specialist and former adviser and speechwriter for a Conservative MP.

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