Realignment is the only hope for the political Left in the UK
Deja Vu; The UK Conservative Party won repeated elections in the 1980s. They have, again, in the 2010s. How will it end this time?
It was always a mystery why so many people voted Conservative in successive election in the 1980s when the party and its leader was so reviled by so many others. I have always assumed the explanation lay in the existence of a strong centre left alternative to Labour. But that does not explain the Conservative landslide of December 2019.
There certainly was third party intervention, but it was of a different kind. Nigel Farage followed a strategy in which candidates for the Brexit Party offered themselves for election in former Labour strongholds which had voted in the 2016 referendum to leave the EU. That undoubtedly took votes away from Labour in sufficient numbers to ensure that, under the British “First Past The Post” electoral system, the Conservative candidates in those seats received more votes than the Labour candidates, though not necessarily many more than at the 2017 election.
But there was undoubtedly another factor, remarked upon by many commentators, including senior Labour Party members. The policies espoused by the Labour Party leadership made them unelectable. In this sense there is a certain congruity with the 1980s.
The uncontestable fact is that the only time the Labour Party was able to win elections in the last 40 years was when, under the leadership of Tony Blair, the Party abandoned many of its long held Socialist policies and became a party of the centre left, making the Liberal Democrats irrelevant.
In the 1980s, Labour, under the influence of Militant, condemned the people who should have been their natural constituency to18 years of Tory government that undermined public services and cut welfare benefits.
But in the 21st century it has been factors other than the battle over management of the economy that weakened support for Labour. First there was the Iraq war which destroyed confidence in Tony Blair and marked the beginning of the UK’s flirtation with the American Right. Labour survived that in the 2005 election but could not withstand the effect of the banking crisis of 2008, a crisis that started in the USA but was exacerbated in the UK by the deregulation of financial services overseen by Gordon Brown.
The reaction in the Labour Party, now under the influence of another left leaning faction, Momentum, was to swing back to the fantasist policies of the 1980s.
Meanwhile the Conservative Party gave in to the increasingly vociferous faction that opposed the UK’s membership of the EU. This created the opportunity for an alliance of extremists from left and right who successfully sold the lie that the EU was responsible for the appalling conditions being experienced by many people in those parts of the country that never recovered from the damage caused by the Tories during those 18 years from 1979–97.
What is needed now more than ever, if the 9 years of Tory government already experienced since the demise of New Labour is to be prevented from becoming, as well it might, 19 years, is the realignment of the centre left that many sought in the ’80s and that Ashdown and Blair thought they were on the verge of in the ‘90s.