Sunday, 20 June 2021

Evaporating Labour

The unexpected loss for the Tories in the Chesham and Amersham by-election was bad, and shows up the cracks inching their way across the bloc of voters Boris Johnson assembled in 2019. But, as many have noted, Labour's polling was appalling. At 622 votes, or 1.9% of votes cast this is the worst by-election result in its history and one of the weakest performances ever by one of the three main parties in England. A case of Labour voters getting savvy, determining a Liberal Democrat is preferable to another Tory MP upholding this corrupt government and putting their nose pegs on? Or something else?

According to Paula Surridge, what happened on Thursday was a partial detachment of remain/liberal-minded Tory voters from the Johnson coalition. The key factor here was Jeremy Corbyn, or to be more accurate his absence. This layer voted Tory in 2010, supported Dave again in 2015, May in 2017, and Johnson in 2019 because Labour scared them. This was undoubtedly the case when Corbyn was leader, but we should not pretend it's anything unique to the Corbyn period like Surridge does: they responded to the Tory frighteners just as well when Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband were in the chair. Then there is the Brexit factor or, again, its absence. Tory remainers ranged from not being excited by to opposing the prospect of a second referendum. Johnson promised to get on with it, and wanting to move on plenty of remain-minded voters supported him on this basis. Just ask the Liberal Democrats. Now Brexit has happened and the consequences become clearer, the ideological glue sticking this slice of conditional Tory support to their coalition has grown weaker. With the result many were happy to give the LibDems a go in the by-election.

What has this got to do with Labour? Speaking to C4 News, Surridge said one shouldn't read too much into Labour's result, which saw the vote fold by more than 90% on 2019. It's merely a result of tactical voting. Indeed, she went as far to say it was potentially good news for the party because those former Tory voters now feel free to move between Labour and the LibDems. We'll see if there's any evidence for this in Batley and Spen.

I'm not convinced for a couple of reasons. Taking a trip down memory lane, one of the supposed appeals of Keir Starmer was his assumed traction among the southern shire counties. Impeccable hair, suit, countenance, he would be a better salesman for Corbyn-lite policies in such places. Keir is tailor-made for seats like this. Yet the first opportunity voters were asked directly about the Labour leader and where he's taking the party, against the trend of the swing to Labour in the south in the elections just gone, the vote evaporated. Paula is right, there was tactical voting, but if it's the main explainer for Labour's vote disappearing, it has never been seen on this scale before. Was there something unique about the seat? No. And if Paula is right about the scale, why did the Greens' (historically smaller) vote hold up better? Are Labour supporters more disposed to lending their votes and Green voters hard bitten and sectarian? Obviously not.

There is an alternative explanation, and something the PolProfs tend to forget. All demographics are distributed across all seats in the UK. There is unevenness in the concentrations of age, ethnicities, and strata, but everyone is everywhere. A banal observation, but consider Labour's new core for example. It populates the big cities and gave its Labour MPs supermajorities, but they also inhabit Chesham and Amersham, as well as Batley and Spen and Hartlepool. With Labour set on abandoning their interests and distancing itself from their support's outlook, that will provoke a negative reaction wherever they are found. Hence the danger of bleeding votes to the LibDems and Greens, and as Keir Starmer has turned on the party's base, as forecast it's fraying. It stands to reason that in Chesham and Amersham, the story of Labour's collapse was tactical voting and protest voting against the leadership's disastrous strategy.

The question is whether they can be won back, and the answer to that is highly unlikely. With the leader's office concerned only with ostentatiously trumpeting its opposition to the Tories from the right, briefing about how swathes of its support is antisemitic, and signalling how uninterested it is in providing an opposition let alone winning office, carrying on like this there won't be a Labour Party left. Labour politics are rapidly boiling down to a choice between opposing fates: either Keir and the bulk of the right go, or Starmerfication does for the party. There is no middle way.

Image Credit


Duncan said...

Thanks for your incisive comments as usual.

I think someone needs to challenge Starmer for the leadership in the autumn conference, but who?

Robert Dyson said...

I heard Paula Surridge on TV say that now that the hated Corbyn was gone Labour voters felt free to not vote Labour. Never heard anything so daft. As it's a secret ballot voters are free to vote as they want, so I think that Labour voters chose not to vote Labour because they did not see much on offer from Starmer and decided a tactical vote against the Tories was the way to go and at the same time signal to Labour HQ that theye were not happy with performance so far.

Blissex said...

«The key factor here was Jeremy Corbyn, or to be more accurate his absence. This layer voted Tory in 2010, supported Dave again in 2015, May in 2017, and Johnson in 2019 because Labour scared them.»

As usual in at least accepting for the sake of argument this line our blogger is showing his unrelenting optimism, because the Conservatives themselves have asked their base and it was a protest vote motivated by protection of property profits NIMBYsm:
«Downing Street came under renewed pressure to ditch Johnson’s controversial planning reforms, which many backbenchers blamed for the humiliating loss of the Buckinghamshire seat.»

«Impeccable hair, suit, countenance, he would be a better salesman for Corbyn-lite policies in such places. Keir is tailor-made for seats like this.»

He is so much the perfect fit for a seat of that ilk that his reaction has been to see the recent by-election as a golden opportunity to move New Labour to the right of the Conservatives on property NIMBYsm:
«Labour will attempt to heap pressure on Boris Johnson over his planning reforms after the Tories’ byelection defeat by calling on backbench rebels to support the opposition in a Commons vote. Sir Keir Starmer’s party has tabled a debate calling for the prime minister to change one of the most controversial proposals by giving communities greater oversight of planning applications.»

Blissex said...

«someone needs to challenge Starmer for the leadership»

I know it is repetitive but my suggestion is: Rishi Sunak, Chuka Umunna, Owen Smith (who may be too far left to get nominations if the other two are in the running).
:-) :-) :-)

Blissex said...

«Hence the danger of bleeding votes to the LibDems»

Why describe that as a "danger" rather than a welcome improvement in the balance between the parties? Currently New Labour and the LibDems have between them around 210 seats, If that become something like 160 New Labour seats and 170 LibDem seats wouldn't that look like a huge victory for many members the Militant Mandelsoncy? Even just a rebalancing to 200 New Labour seats and 130 LibDem seats would be almost as good, and that is pretty much the dream of those proposing PR. :-)

Karl Greenall said...

It has been said that the Labour vote was less than the constituency Labour membership. Much can be gleaned and learned from that.....

Blissex said...

«the Labour vote was less than the constituency Labour membership. Much can be gleaned and learned from that.....»

For example that Keir Starmer has not positioned New New Labour sufficiently to the right, or that New New Labour members in a constituency with £800,000 average house prices put their property interests above party loyalty. It looks like that New New Labour's analysis is that *both* happened. :-(.

Blissex said...

BTW I have taken the time to revise and update counts of votes for Chesham, Hartlepool, national election since 1974, which show many interesting trends. Not many mainstream media seem to bother with reporting vote counts, in part I suspect because turnout is usually a taboo subject.

Chesham and Amersham 2021

1974: 53,354 27,035 16,619 9,700
1974: 49,494 25,078 10,325 14,091
1979: 53,594 32,924 7,645 12,328
1983: 53,141 32,435 4,150 16,556
1987: 55,498 34,504 5,170 15,064
1992: 57,265 36,273 5,931 14,053
1997: 52,197 26,298 10,240 12,439 Ref 2,528
2001: 45,283 22,867 8,497 10,985
2005: 47,097 25,619 6,610 11,821 UKI 1,391
2010: 52,444 31,658 2,942 14,498 UKI 2,129, Gre 767
2015: 52,731 31,138 6,172 4,761 Gre 2,902
2017: 55,252 33,514 11,374 7,179 UKI 1,525, Gre 1,660
2019: 55,978 30,850 7,166 14,627 Gre 3,042
2021: 37,954 13,489 622 21,517 Gre 1,480

Hartlepool 2021

1974: 49,688 22,700 26,988
1974: 47,300 16,546 24,440 6,314
1979: 49,109 18,887 27,039 3,193
1983: 48,434 18,958 22,048 SDP 7,422
1987: 50,136 17,007 24,296 7,047
1992: 51,710 18,034 26,816 6,860
1997: 44,452 9,489 26,997 6,248 Ref 1,718
2001: 38,051 7,935 22,506 5,717
2004: 31,362 3,044 12,752 10,719 UKI 3,193
2005: 35,436 4,058 18,251 10,773 UKI 1,256
2010: 38,242 10,758 16,267 6,533 UKI 2,682, BNP 2,002
2015: 39,490 8,256 14,076 761, ind. 2,954, Gre 1,341
2017: 41,835 14,319 21,969 746 UKI 4,801
2019: 41,037 11,869 15,464 1,696 BXP 10,603
2021: 29,933 15,529 8,589 349 ind. 2,904

National 1974-2019

1974: 31.34m 11.87m 11.65m 6.06m
1974: 29.27m 10.46m 11.45m 5.34m
1979: 31.23m 13.70m 11.53m 4.31m
1983: 30.72m 13.01m 8.46m 7.78m
1987: 32.57m 13.74m 10.03m 7.34m
1992: 33.65m 14.09m 11.56m 6.00m
1997: 31.29m 9.60m 13.52m 5.24m
2001: 26.37m 8.34m 10.72m 4.81m
2005: 27.15m 8.78m 9.55m 5.99m
2010: 30.00m 10.70m 8.61m 6.84m
2015: 30.70m 11.33m 9.35m 6.30m
2017: 32.17m 13.64m 12.88m 2.37m
2019: 32.01m 13.97m 10.30m 3.70m

Anonymous said...

My LibDem spy from the constituency tells me that during the Corbyn revolution, the former moderate Labour members were elbowed out and for the most part left.

Given the subsequent counter-revolution, one wonders if there was anyone left in the constituency to campaign - the likelihood is that those Labourites still in power were probably campaigning against their leadership!

Interesting how the generational catastrophe of Corbyn is ignored and the ripples blamed on Keir, while, incidentally, a vicious byelection campaign (with plenty of nudges and winks about his Jewish WIFE) is being conducted by Corbyn's fellow travellers.

Voters might even wonder, with worms like these waiting in the wings, if they are, actually, ready to trust Keir, a decent, Labourite with authentic working-class roots. Maybe better to vote for a less mad party, like the LibDems?

Blissex said...

«Maybe better to vote for a less mad party, like the LibDems?»

Lord Mandelson, we are very impressed that you are addressing this comment section! :-)

Tony Benn, 1993-05-16: “PR is being advocated with a view to a pact with the Liberals of a kind that Peter Mandelson worked for in Newbury, where he in fact encouraged the Liberal vote. The policy work has been subcontracted. These so called modernisers are really Victorian Liberals, who believe in market forces, don't like the trade unions and are anti-socialist.”

Anonymous said...


Granted that Blair, Mandelson, etc, are what they obviously are.... I don't see how that changes the facts that:

1) Proportional representation would be fundamentally more democratic than First-Past-the-Post (which hugely distorts the actual vote).

2) That FPTP is a major obstacle to the goal of establishing a genuine mass-based, mainstream party of the left (one that isn't dominated/crippled by a right-wing clique at its very heart). I mean, whether you believe that it's possible to reform the existing Labour Party, or that it's necessary to found a new party from scratch, either way FPTP makes it far more difficult.

Blissex said...

«Proportional representation would be fundamentally more democratic»

As a fundamental premise there are among others two reasons to do something; as a matter of principle, or because it is tool to achieve something else. As to the latter there is an quote:
If you have the law, hammer the law. If you have the facts, hammer the facts. If you have neither the law nor the facts, hammer the table

For the "whig" entrysts of the Militant Mandelsoncy the switch to PR is a tool to make sure that the LibDems will be the kingmakers between Labour and Conservatives, and therefore Labour will never be able to get into government with a not-thatcherite programme because the thatcherite LibDems then won't support them.

The reason the "whig" entrysts are entrysts is because Labour used to be the expression of a movement, and the movement had the implicit trust of a large block of (socially conservative, economically anti-thatcherite) votes, and since the LibDems don't have that, they want to repurpose that block of votes to pursue "whig" (socially liberal, economically thatcherite) policies.

Now I agree that “Proportional representation would be fundamentally more democratic” but suppose that the "whig" entrysts are right and PR would mean that even having a majority of anti-thatcherite votes in a Lib-Lab coalition, the coalition ended up always having a majority of thatcherite policies, that is each anti-thatcherite vote would count for far less than each thatcherite one. Would that be more democratic?

That said, I still support a switch to PR, because "the left" is *also* about principles; because without principles "dog eat dog" and politics as gang warfare is the outcome, and in that kind of situation "the left" is always going to lose.

But I support PR also because I think that the "whig" entrysts are wrong, and the LibDems would not become the kingmakers between the Conservatives and Labour, because both the Conservatives and Labour would split in two, and possibly in three, and the LibDems probably then would disappear as such. Whether or not the LibDems remained as the "whig" party, it happens very rarely that in countries with PR the "whig" side becomes determinant, because their voting base is so small and there are several alternatives for coalition building.

Blissex said...

«That FPTP is a major obstacle to the goal of establishing a genuine mass-based, mainstream party of the left»

In countries that have alternated between majoritarian and proportional voting systems in both cases government is supported by coalitions of factions, with the following differences:

* With FPTP etc. the coalition is expressed as a single party where its majority faction drives policy, and the others gets the crumbs.

* With PR etc. it is expressed as multiple parties, because that is the way to appeal to more voters.

The key difference is that within a single party only the majority faction is critical to nominating and electing MPs, so it has disproportionate power.

With PR the anti-thatcherite majority of (New) New Labour could form its own party, but would that be easy?

Because the current situation is not that the Labour wing of (New) New Labour is a minority muzzled by a right-wing "whig" majority, and therefore it needs to split off, but that it is a majority neutered by a right-wing "whig" minority. Why wouldn't that happen again if the Labour wing of (New) New Labour split off and became its own party? How would a new "Working People's", "Producers" Party be resistant to a new infiltration?

By looking at how easily the thatcherites took over the Labour Party we can see that the social situation is not favourable, even if it is changing. A vital clue is this comment on this blog by someone in May 2020 as to the popularity of the Conservative policies as to rents during lockdowns:

I raised the problematic policy on my CLP Facebook group. I was stunned by the support for the policy from the countless landlords who were Party members! "I can't afford to give my tenants a rent holiday" "This is my pension, I'll go bust" etc etc. Absolutely stunning. I had no idea how many private landlords there were in the Party. Kinda explains a lot...

Practical politics is about power and money, and a political party can represent specific people or specific interests, usually a bit of both. Labour used to represent the specific interests of "Working People", "Producers", but these were embodied in the careers and habits of specific "apparat" people.

A bit like in the USA the Democratic Party used to represent the interests of opponents of the Yankee elites, in particular italian/jewish/irish immigrants therefore, and currently represents a completely different set of interests, but so many of prominent democrats still have italian/jewish/irish family names.

In the UK a lot Labour voters and members who used to be "Working People", "Producers" have acquired significant rentier interests (thanks to the Labour wing of Labour, and thanks to the labor unions) and many are to all effects thatcherites, whether with a "whig" or "tory" flavour.

A new "Working People" or "Producers" Party would have to be backed by a movement and established by politically active people, by creating a new movement and Party or taking over the existing Labour movement and Party, but there are problems with both options:

* A lot of those newly minted thatcherites used to be the politicall active, people who established the Labour movementm many have been fighting ferociously the attempts to "steal" from them "their" Party and to switch it back to anti-thatcherite policies.

* Those people who can be more politically active, who could establish a new "Working People" "Producers" movement or Party, have instead been targeted by huge volume of propaganda about right-wing "whig" identity issues and have become to all effect right-wing "whigs" too.

However I am more optimistic that it is easier for "Working People", "Producer" interests to take back the Labour movement and Party than creating a new one because of the Corbyn/Momentum interlude that shows that is still possible.

Anonymous said...

"However I am more optimistic that it is easier for "Working People", "Producer" interests to take back the Labour movement and Party than creating a new one because of the Corbyn/Momentum interlude that shows that is still possible."

Maybe so, but will it attract the wider vote?

The reality is Labour is past its sell by date (or at least, like the Conservatives, it no longer does what it says in the package).

The Labour you describe is driven by an ideological mind set that no longer has purchase in the modern world. The conservatives may no longer conserve (they should be called the turningtheclockbacks) but have made a better fist of acquiring and maintaining power, and achieving their goals, not least partly thanks to Corbyn et al.

Yeah but no but yeah... them's the facts, or are we living the fifth successive term of Labout rule enjoying the fruits of EU membership?

Anonymous said...


Well if that is the depth of your "analysis" then why don't we all just do what George Jones half-jokingly suggested at the end of The Absence Of War, and join the Tories ourselves?

David Parry said...


'Interesting how the generational catastrophe of Corbyn is ignored and the ripples blamed on Keir, while, incidentally, a vicious byelection campaign (with plenty of nudges and winks about his Jewish WIFE) is being conducted by Corbyn's fellow travellers.'

So not content with blaming Hartlepool on Corbyn more than a year after his departure from the leadership, you're going to lay the impending disaster in Batley and Spen at his feet too?

Beyond absurd!

Blissex said...

«or are we living the fifth successive term of Labout rule enjoying the fruits of EU membership?»

Of course not: as Tony Blair himself predicted, a "centrist" remainer-thatcherite programme must inevitably win a large majority (“20 points ahead”), and today PM Swinson and Chancellor Umunna are backed by the 400 MPs of the LibDem-ChangeUK coalition that won their 2017 and 2019 landslides.

I also note that in 1992, 2010, 2015 Corbyn was an obscure backbencher, did the "centrists" win their landslides? Their vote collapsed in 2001 and 2004 (huge defeat in the local elections) and 2005 too, but they were saved by an even greater and unprecented collapse in the Conservative vote.

«but will it attract the wider vote?»

After a previous contribution by Lord Mandelson, I am also impressed that Jason Cowley himself, the previous editor of the New Statesman, is commenting here! attacking *Ed Miliband as a leftie extremist*:

“Miliband has a deterministic, quasi-Marxist analysis of our present ills. [...] is very much an old-style Hampstead socialist. He doesn’t really understand the lower middle class or material aspiration. He doesn’t understand Essex Man or Woman. [...] he might have to accept before long – or the electorate will force him to – that Europe’s social-democratic moment, if it ever existed, is fading into the past.

The question here is whether a majority of voters, like 60%, will always be thatcherite, so that only thatcherite parties will ever be able to gain a majority of seats.

For the sake of argument let's assume that will be the case: that 60% is already amply represented by the thatcherite-"unwoke" Conservatives and the thatcherite-"woke" LibDems. Who is going to represent that 40% of "losers"? Is representation of the "losers" ("trots" on the left, "deplorables" on the right) illegitimate?

Representation is the most essential function of a political party, and after all the "Labor Representation Committee" took decades to get into a coalition government, and more decades before they won their first election. Should have they given up because the Liberals and Conservatives were all that was needed for a "Liberal Democracy"?

But the "centrists" are also wrong that the majority of voters will be forever thatcherite, because thatcherism is not sustainable: halving the GDP growth rate to extirpate the labor unions, and tripling the inflation rate of housing costs to get the votes of those who aspire to upper-middle class living standards thanks to huge work-free capital gain are not sustainable electoral strategies. That upper 60% cannot live comfortably off forever from the property gains extracted from squeezing ever harder, with lower wages and booming housing costs, from the lower 40%.

The electoral success of thatcherism was/is ultimately founded on the good final salary pensions and the low initial housing costs won for "the many" by labor unions and socialdemocracy, and neither are happening any more.

My guess is that the Conservatives and New Labour here, and the Republicans and the Democrats over the Pond, have realized that thatcherism/reaganism are near the end, that the "downtrodden masses" (whether "trots" or "deplorables") are feeling a very hard squeeze, and that's why they have been enacting for themselves police-state powers for the past 20 years, and the increasing militarization of police forces. That worked well in England for 800 years, worked well in Hong Kong for 150 years between 1842 and 1991, works well today in Dubai or Singapore.

Anonymous said...

"Should have they given up because the Liberals and Conservatives were all that was needed for a "Liberal Democracy"?"

The numbers were entirely different and the trends (de-industrialization) going a different way.

The far-left needs to have an idea where it is going, then test that against reality. Part of the problem is that it has plenty of ideas for the journey but absolutely, truly no idea where it is going. This is absolutely fine for travellers who enjoy the trip simply for the sake of travelling, but for a left movement actually trying to improve the conditions for ordinary people, it is pretty disastrous (Corbyn, Brexit).

BCFG said...

Thatcherism is past its sell by date, given we have impending planetary environmental doom and a global pandemic, as well as resource constraints. The Western consumerist idiocy is well past its sell by date. Corbynism is the only ‘mainstream’ political current that isn’t way past its sell by date and begins to address these issues, albeit in a reformist way.

The time has never been more urgent for an end to exchange and the establishment of a communist society, where a large section of the population will be rescued from the idiocy of consumerist life, saving the planet in the process. Don’t take my word for it, just listen to the scientists. This is the irony, the West pretends it is all science led but at a very fundamental level it completely ditches science. We see this with the pandemic too, where the need to shop for shit we absolutely don’t need trumps all.

The problem is that things well past their sell by date can still persist because people are brainwashed into normalising this insane system, any system come to think of it.
It helps of course controlling the worlds shipping lanes and when your carbon footprint is way above the world average. Easy to buy off the masses in those circumstances, and easy to look at the rest of the world as a basket case too.

The bigger issue is that this Western idiocy is like a shiny neon lit beacon to the poorer sections of the World and instead of wanting to obliterate this insane idiocy they want to ape it, just like the leftists in the West stopped being disgusted by the Aristocracy and decided the progressive movement was about being a pound behind them!

The issue we have is that things way past their sell by date are still holding sway, i.e. what the liberals, Tories, New New labour and Anon are offering.