The Death of the Labour Party

Aiesha Allison-Bramwell

 

Between Thursday the 23rd of February 2017 and Friday, the 24th, a historic event took place. It was in fact the first time in 35 years that the main opposition party lost a by-election to the governing party. Questions have since been raised as to whether this is the death of the Labour party? But before that question is evaluated, one must ask themselves “what makes a strong political party?” Surely it its one where party members are happy to toe the party line, where they can campaign successfully and the people feel as though their views have been heard, considered. It must be one where the party has a not only a clear message, but a clear history to keep it company. Most importantly, a strong party needs strong leader to guide the way through the predominantly dark and uneven political landscape. But that has flaws in its self.

 

The Copeland by-election had a reasonably high turnout for a by-election- one of 51.3%. it was here that the historic event took place: Conservative candidate Turdy Harrison won 44.25% of the vote in a seat that Labour has held for over thirty years. Many Labour MPs are blaming leader Jeremy Corbyn for this embarrassing and heart-breaking defeat due to his hostility shown towards the nuclear and industrial sectors of Copeland. In response to the election, John McDonnell stated that Jeremy is “not the kind of macho leader we’ve had in the past, and that’s why we’ve had the disasters we’ve had”. Compared to leaders such as Tony Blair and even Ed Miliband to an extent, Corbyn is being far to left wing for a country who tend to favour more centre ground politics (though this is appears to be changing to more right wing politics).  This, of course, is not the first time that people have had doubts about Mr Corbyn- in September 2016, Deputy Labour Leader, Owen Smith challenged Corbyn for the Labour leadership due to many Labour MPs quite the shadow cabinet after Corbyn’s first election in May. Smith was unsuccessful in this attempt with Corbyn winning 61.8% of the vote- a larger majority than originally elected. This informs us that many Labour members are crying out for something different, something new. As the Green Party rightly pointed out in one of their campaign videos in the run up to the 2015 election, the four main parties were all merging into one. The leaders of the parties all had similar background and their policies could often be accused of crossing wires. If this is this case, it also highlights one of the reasons why the Leave vote was inevitable. Corbyn can’t be blamed to much though due to Labour managing to win the by-election in Stoke beating UKIP leader, Paul Nutall, in a strong leave area. Arguably, Labour’s problems go back further than Corbyn’s leadership, in fact one may be inclined to say that the death of Labour occurred during the birth of New Labour.

 

Tony Blair. The popstar of politics. Everyone’s new found hope; the light at the end of the dark Tory tunnel that Britain had been driving through for 28 years. The never-ending journey had finally come to an end, could people now begin to recover from their car sickness? Upon election Blair stated that “A new dawn has broken, has it not?”. No, it hadn’t. Blair then went on to state how “Britain has voted for New Labour and will be governed by New Labour”, this translates to “Britain has voted for New Labour and will be governed by Tory policy”. Under his rule, Britain faced surges in privatisation and surges in tuition fees. Blair’s incredibly large majorities of 418 in 1997 and 413 in 2001 gave him the power to pass whatever laws he liked (When the 2001 general election came about, Britain has a strong feeling of hapathy, which lead to a very nasty Conservative campaign)- it would take a massive backbench rebellion. Blair knew his next term was firmly in the bag. His party did however have the largest backbench rebellion in history, with 139 Labour MPs voting against over the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Unfortunately for the Labour party, people don’t remember this. British citizens will feel forever betrayed by the Labour party for the war even though Blair sought council from outside his Labour MPs. The Iraq War would still be a major subject for the 2015 general election- forcing Ed Miliband into a difficult situation. It is no surprise that Labour lost their outstanding majority in 2005, what is a surprise is that Tony Blair had been given a third shot of being Prime Minister. This is partly due to ex-Labour supporters throwing their support behind numerous different parties, rather than just one main opposition- the Conservatives won the endorsement of just one fifth of the population. At this time, Scotland still strongly favoured the Labour party and thus the Conservatives were only able to win one seat. Furthermore, Michael Howard’s campaign adopted a right-wing stance on issues such as immigration and asylum- a stance that was possibly to right-wing for a country gravitating around centre ground politics.

 

It was in 2007 when Blair was forced to stand down as Prime Minister, he was replaced by former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. The more liberal successor became the nation’s favourite laughing stock. The public was appalled to hear Brown brand Gillian Duffy a ‘bigoted woman’ after what appears to be a brain-draining interview. It is interesting here to note that the media slated Brown for this comment, and yet back in 2001 -when Britain was experiencing hapathy- Prescott’s punch was somewhat applauded by the media. This of course highlights the power the media have over General Elections- its possibly a thought that everyone has had, but not everyone may have realised the true extent of it. It is a thought that will be explored in greater detail when looking at the 2015 election. Brown didn’t lose an entire election over calling one woman a bigot.  Of course not. He lost the election over the economy. This was unsurprising. According to Rational Choice Theory, voters support governments based on what they feel are the key issues facing the country at the time- this can be backed up by former Tory PM, Harold Macmillan, who when asked what a prime minister most feared, he answered “events, dear boy, events”. Historically, the NHS and the economy are often the top two issues battling for first place (2015 may have been slightly altered by immigration and the EU), although it is mainly the economy that wins. It most definitely was in 2010 due to the Credit Crunch. According to the New Scientist, the crunch came about due to six prior years of over lending and over spending that created a huge “debt bubble”. Companies across the country were forced into redundancies and the idea of the “financial fear” resonated amongst people. Some might accuse Brown’s government of over-spending at this time. David Cameron certainly does. The infamous note by former Treasury chief secretary Liam Byrne stating how there was ‘no money left’ came into play as a useful tool for Cameron, Ed Miliband once describing it as his ‘prop’. However, reports have since been published that Labour’s overspending was not the cause of the Credit Crunch, but this came to be too little, too late. It didn’t matter anyway. The Murdoch murder was bound to take place- Brown was an unpopular socialist, missing the X-Factor needed for British politics.

 

One thing that Tony Blair got right was the media manipulation- before the 1997 General Election, Blair flew to meet with Rupert Murdoch- the evil king of media. And thus Labour won a landslide victory. It has been noted that the Sun, Britain’s most popular newspaper, has backed the winner of almost every general election. Before the 1992 election, The Sun put out the headline: “If [former Labour leader] Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights”. And thus upon Tory re-election, The Sun’s following headline simply stated how it was “The Sun Wot Won It”. It is no secret that during the lead-up to the 2015 election, Ed Miliband gave a valiant, yet unsuccessful battle against the Murdoch empire. Miliband was deemed as the man whom Britain needed to protect their bacon from; the man who has not on, but two kitchens (Shame!); the man who stabbed his brother in the back, therefore what’s to stop him stabbing his country in the back? Not only did Miliband have to contend with this utter nonsense, the Labour party still hadn’t been forgiven for Iraq- something that Miliband was often questioned about. Here, he would have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he admitted that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, he would no doubt be deemed the man who not only stabbed is brother in the back, but the man who stabbed his party in the back. And should he defend the war, he would be betraying the families of all those who have died or suffered as a consequence to the war. A Catch-22. Also, who in their right mind would trust Labour after the collapse of the economy? Let’s ignore the fact that it was out of the governments control. Britain needed someone to be held accountable and that someone will always be the Labour government. It became the source of life for the Tory party- their breathing device. David Cameron loved to roll out the figures on how much the economy had grown over the last five years whilst masterfully brushing over the cuts to benefits and the preposterous Bedroom Tax.   This may be one of the reasons Ed Balls lost his Morley and Outwood seat by 422 votes (but everyone loves him again after Strictly!). Miliband did, however, have the support of the Milifandom- something he deemed to be the ‘most unlikely cult of the 21st century”. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for the Labour leader as the rest of the country still tore him to shreds. He was seen by many as an unfit leader, someone who couldn’t stand up to powerful world leaders such as Putin and Obama. Miliband tried to counter-act this during his Jeremy Paxman interview, taking about how he, and the hapless duo, Cameron and Clegg opposed Obama’s airstrikes on Syria. He famously declared “hell yes, I’m tough enough” to defend Britain’s interest in the Super-Power Shadows. Still not enough. Clearly he just didn’t have the X-Factor. Although, Miliband didn’t help matters by blaming David Cameron for migrant deaths- the Tory press had a bloody field day.

 

Scotland also got their very own prom queen. Many believe that Scotland should have their independence, but that in its self makes for another essay. The point is Sturgeon. Nicola Sturgeon. The Sturgeon Effect. Whatever you want to call it. Her and her SNP army were a sand storm, sweeping across Scotland, annihilating almost any motion of Scottish Labour with the exception of Ian Murray in Edinburgh South. There are mixed views in Scotland of Sturgeon- she’s like marmite. Maybe people voting overwhelmingly for SNP as the general election was so soon after the referendum. SNPs popularity isn’t the only reason for Labour’s devastating 2015 result. During the leaders debate, Sturgeon openly invited Miliband to join her in a coalition. He quickly declined this, but it was just too late. Fear was struck into people’s hearts, intertwine with their blood and racing through their veins. Not. Another. Coalition. Please. God. No. Naturally, the Tory press and spin doctors leapt on this fabulous opportunity. Another field day, kids? Strugeon’s great plan to keep the Tories out of Number 10 failed and she may be partly responsible.

 

This essay hopefully sums up the reasons why the Labour party is dying a slow and painful death. Of course, there are many other factors that will have contributed to its death; I have only highlighted a few case studies. There is certainly room to explore factors such as the shift in voting patterns (for example, UKiP taking over as party for the Working Class) and further media influence such as the TV debates in greater detail. In short, I believe that the Labour Party died at its re-birth. It was the highest of highs, shortly followed by the lowest of lows. A ditch that can take years to climb out of; one where you need someone strong to lift the rest of the party and convince them that the best way to get out is by working together. The Labour Party need someone who won’t be laughed at by those above the ditch, constantly trying to push them back down. And because we live in a shallow society, it needs someone with the X-Factor, or should I say P-Factor (I’ll excuse myself)? Not only this, but they need someone with great policies that somehow resonates with the whole country; someone who understands what exactly the hell is going on world politics at the moment. Unfortunately, I can’t see that happening for a very long time.

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