A week ago, the Fabian Society produced a report considering the future of the Labour party, and its chances at the next election. It told us what us sane members have already known for months – that the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn is fading into irrelevance, and would be crushed in a future election, whether it be this year, or in 2020.
The report concluded that the Party is too weak to win the next election, but is too strong to be displaced as the main party of opposition. It predicts that Labour would probably win only between 140 and 200 seats, and that Labour should look towards a ‘progressive alliance’ in order to govern in partnership with other parties.
They also found that only a little over half of Labour’s 2015 voters say they support the party today, and that at the next election Labour may win as little as 20% of the GB vote because as history tells us, the opposition leaks votes after mid-term polling.
Now there’s a lot of points that I completely agree with in their report, and many of them I have been saying myself for the past year. Under Corbyn, Labour is facing oblivion, and the only certainty is years longer of Tory rule. However, there are a few aspects of the report that I very much disagree with, and am disappointed that the Fabian Society is taking such a blinkered view.
Their first mistake is underestimating the threat of UKIP. They make the mistake in assuming the only way UKIP threatens or has threatened the Labour Party is by directly taking their votes. The threat of UKIP in Labour ‘heartlands’ is not one dimensional, it is not simply a case of them sweeping the working-class vote. The emergence of UKIP and the rise of Nigel Farage has created a change of thinking. Immigration is now the main issue, certain attitudes are unfortunately becoming more socially acceptable, the country has decided it wants to be anti-establishment, and this is what has driven a wealth of support away from Labour.
These people aren’t necessarily UKIP through and through, and they’re not necessarily never going to vote Labour again. But they are people who will not vote for Corbyn in a million years, and they will not vote for a party who demands to stay in the EU. So, this drives them to either UKIP or the Tories, or not voting at all, which is just as beneficial to the right.
Labour faces huge problems now, even aside from the leadership. Most notably, Brexit. Labour has lost four times as many votes from leave as remain supporters. The Tories and Lib Dems are attracting support from Leave and Remain sides respectively, and Labour is being squeezed out in the middle. We somehow must appeal to both sides, but our position is muffled.
Some MPs are talking about stopping free movement, some are doing the opposite, and people have no idea where we stand. I agree with the Fabians when they say we need to appeal to the millions of voters who were neither die-hard remainers nor leavers, the ‘quiet bat people’ if you will. However, they insist the party does not face oblivion and can rebuild, but I believe that it’s now or never. Time is running out, and just because of our size doesn’t mean there’s no chance of us hitting oblivion.
However, we have very different ideas when it comes to the rebuilding process. The Fabians, like some Labour MPs, and other parties, believe that a progressive alliance is the answer to governing once more. But this is utterly ridiculous. As Luke Akehurst points out, Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens exist as separate parties for a good reason. The Greens are a party for the middle-class bourgeois, and the Lib Dems propped up a Tory government for 5 years imposing austerity. The Tory and UKIP vote also currently exceeds 50%, so it’s not like we can outnumber them.
The answer for Labour is not to become allies with these parties, it’s to get a decent leader in (although I know we can’t realistically do that until after the next election). Another answer is to get some decent messaging out to the public. We have a leader who goes missing for weeks, and avoids certain broadcasters and media for no reason. We need to get messages out that appeal to both sides of the coin, and Corbyn does not do that.
The Fabians rightly summed up the struggles Labour encounters under Corbyn in the current political climate, but it looked to the future in a restricted way by underestimating UKIP and overestimating what a ‘progressive alliance’ could do. Ironically, two things that will only make things worse.