Towns are Corbyn’s Key to No 10

The UK and its citizens are divided across the spectrum. Leavers are pitched against remainers, the young against the old, the affluent against the impoverished, graduates against non-graduates, but perhaps the biggest divide is between the towns and the cities. For years governments have seen and tried to use cities as engines of economic growth, and hoped that their increased prosperity would fund and carry along surroundings towns.

Towns have been left behind, especially when it comes to politics, and definitely when it comes to the Labour Party. Labour was a party founded on the working class focusing on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, but in recent years has become a party of the middle class, of ‘socialism fans’ as it were. Under Corbyn, working-class support for Labour rapidly fell to its lowest point ever. That’s not to say that town equals working class and city is equivalent to the middle and upper classes, but there is a strong correlation between the two.

Labour is currently stockpiling member support and votes in strongholds and major cities like London and Manchester, and this was as evident as ever in the election. The general election in June saw a 10.2% swing from Conservatives to Labour in cities but was just a 4.1% swing in towns. Labour made twice the gains among younger, middle-class voters in cities than older, working-class voters in towns, and gained the most ground in seats with increased capital. This is not just a recent trend, as the Tories have made a net gain of 13% over Labour in towns since 2005.

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No ‘Bregret’ Just Yet

Despite us having another 18 months of negotiations ahead of us, there were talks this week of whether the wheels had come off Brexit due to polling released by YouGov. The results not only had everyone questioning just where Brexit was heading (like anyone knew anyway), but even whether leaving the EU was a done deal due to changing public opinion.

So, what were the headlines? After 16 months, a record high 47% of those polled said they thought Britain was wrong to leave the EU, coupled with a record low 42% saying we were right to do so, a 9% net shift on the first 6 months of the year. 76% felt current negotiations are going either “quite badly” or “very badly”, compared to just 12% who believe talks have been positive. Almost half of the respondents believe a deal is likely, whereas 37% believe the opposite, and again almost half think a likely no-deal scenario would be “bad” for Britain. 48% believe the EU will come off better, whilst only a fifth think the UK will come out on top.

Theresa May’s handling of Brexit is also under fire, with nearly twice as many disapproving of her performance as approving (49% to 27%), a slight decline from last month, when the figures were 42% and 30%. 51% say that negotiations are proving more difficult than expected; a sentiment shared by both Remainers and Leavers despite ignoring such warnings during the referendum. Finally, more voters say that they have become more pessimistic about Brexit (34%) since the referendum than more optimistic (23%), highlighting the shift in toplines.

It’s hardly surprising we are seeing these results. Both the government and opposition have absolutely no clue what they are doing and contradict each other from one day to the next. Because of this, the likelihood of the UK crashing out of the EU seems to be increasing with every stage of talks. Having previously been the fastest growing G7 country, Britain is now the slowest. There’s a lack of investment as businesses are cautious about the future, real earnings are declining due to the depreciation of the pound, and the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a £15bn budgetary hit (the equivalent of nearly £300m a week).

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Labour’s Working Class Woe

It’s no understatement when I say that Britain’s class politics has been turned completely upside down in 2017. As highlighted by Rob Ford, ‘Labour, founded as the party of the working class, and focused on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, gained the most ground in 2017 in seats with the largest concentrations of middle-class professionals and the rich. The Conservatives, long the party of capital and the middle class, made their largest gains in the poorest seats of England and Wales’. Labour shocked the country by winning in new places such as Canterbury, and the Tories continued to make big gains across the north of England.

For the first time ever, ABC1s are more likely to vote Labour, and those unemployed are now more likely to vote Conservative. As I’ve highlighted before, the UK currently finds itself more divided than ever before. The country is divided by Brexit, age, education, race, location, liberalism, and most notably, by class. Theresa May and the Tories have certainly been trying to angle themselves towards the ‘proud and patriotic working class’, those who are discontent with current levels of immigration, want beefed up security and defence, and predominantly want the UK to leave the EU. But the question is, has Theresa May won the support of working-class Britain or has the Labour party simply lost them?

Under Corbyn, working-class support for Labour rapidly fell to its lowest point ever, but this trend isn’t a short-term thing. In 1966, 69 percent of manual workers voted Labour; by 1987, only 45 percent did. Under Blair, Labour did increase its share of the working-class vote once more, but this was at a time where Labour picked up huge support from all segments of society. Between 1997 and 2010 support fell away; as highlighted here, for every voter Labour lost from the professional classes it lost three unskilled or unemployed workers. And since then, the trend has spiked.

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This is Not a Game, The Single Market Must Now be Fought For!

The idea that anyone can tell us what a Leave vote represented is folly. The referendum was based upon our continued membership of the European Union, not upon what the terms of a theoretical exit would be. The idea that the 52% voted to take us out the single market, the customs union, and out of entities such as the European Court of Justice is ridiculous. Yet that is the drivel being spouted, not only by the Tories but by senior members of the Labour Party. There is no precedent for our exit from the EU whatsoever.

Because of this, Brexit is an absolute shambles. The government have absolutely no clue what they are doing and contradict each other one day to the next, and so do the opposition. The only party with clarity on these issues are the EU, and they will be licking their lips at the prospect of two years of discussions with David Davis. With a hung parliament, and the government lacking their own majority to enforce such a hard Brexit, the Labour front bench could play a divisive role in the future of our relations with the EU, and whether we stay within the single market. But alas, they are now standing back. As Rob Francis puts it quite simply, Labour and Corbyn should be leading, not following.

Labour’s stance on Brexit is, let’s face it, is anybody’s guess. Last Sunday on Andrew Marr, Jeremy Corbyn said that a Labour government would leave the single market because it is dependent on membership of the EU, which is both wrong, and harmful. Norway is one example of a country who are not in the EU but have full membership within the single market, and Corbyn knows this. By Wednesday, his Chancellor said the opposite, then Dianne Abbott mimicked this before Barry Gardiner said that we should leave both the single market and the customs union!

I do understand the arguments behind Labour not landing on one concrete position regarding Brexit, as the party hopes to capitalise on a changing public mood and Tory mistakes. But there are times when national interest comes first. Leaving the single market would be catastrophic for the UK’s economy, and even if Brexit led to a Labour government, leaving the single market would make it even harder and more treacherous for Labour to meet their manifesto spending pledges. The IFS has forecast that leaving the single market for a free trade agreement could cause a £31bn hit to the public finances, extending austerity even further.

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The Centre Ground is Torn Apart – but Moderates Time Will Come Again

Politics is very fluid, it is ever changing, and it must, as it must ebb and flow along with the public opinion and the Overton window. Traditionally, elections are won in the centre ground, as the party that appeal best to them traditionally gain their majorities. There is a big difference between centrism and the centre ground; both Labour and the Tories have never really been centrist parties, but have both managed to take the centre ground for themselves over the years. There is only one ‘centrist party’ in the UK, and they have only ever been the small party in a coalition.

The spectrum and makeup of UK politics are ever-changing, but arguably over the past 2 years, it has shifted more radically than ever before. The Tories have taken a lurch to the right through Brexit, and since Corbyn’s leadership election victory Labour has moved to the left wing, although their manifesto will have told you another story. The Liberal Democrats have been demolished, and both Labour/Tory moderates find themselves on the fringes of the parties they once commanded. Traditionally, the UK has never strayed too far from the centre ground, but due to the radical paths both main parties are treading, the public is finding itself being pulled in different directions.

Therefore, the UK currently finds itself more divided than ever. The greatest divide right now is between Remainers and Leavers, even within each single party, as the Tories feud on Europe never seems to cease. Through the 2017 election we also now see big divides in age, social class, education levels, towns and cities, globalisation, and liberalism, as one side plucks for May’s Tories, and the other Corbyn’s Labour. Public opinion is shifting at a greater speed than ever before, but it is not simply lurching one way. As the latest BSA findings highlight, on some areas Britain’s opinions are moving to the left, and on others, to the right.

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What Labour must now do

This week’s vote on the second reading of the Article 50 bill shows that Brexit is happening, whether we like it or not. This decision will be terrible for the UK in so many ways, and this Tory government led by Theresa May will be the ones responsible. The government have been there for the taking since the 2015 election; the chaotic budget, the Panama papers, the referendum result, and each time Labour has failed to capitalise and take the initiative.

This government will continue to be there for the taking in the years to come. Brexit (at least in the short term), will not be pretty. It will be chaotic, and will ultimately leave us worse off in terms of trade, the economy, security, power, and so many other aspects of our lives. A decent opposition, led by a capable, electable leader should wipe the floor with this government and easily gain a majority in the next election, but alas, that is not Labour right now.

The main reason of course, as I have posted about time and time again, is that we have an incompetent leader, who the public simply do not like, or trust. In a toss-up with Theresa May only 15% think he would make a better PM, just 13% believe he is a strong leader, and a measly 15% trust Corbyn and McDonnell with the economy over May and Hammond. To top it all off, even though the public trust Labour more than the Tories with the NHS, add Corbyn and May’s names into the question, and suddenly the public trust the Tories more. It’s no coincidence.

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Labour’s London Problem

You may read the headline to this post and think I’m crazy. London is the one place in the UK where Labour holds power through its mayor Sadiq Khan; it controls the vote share, and holds most of the parliamentary seats. London is a young, vibrant, diverse, liberal city, a city that matches the values of Labour, and it’s understandable it’s become the party’s main hub.

London was also the only region within England to vote Remain in June’s referendum, whilst everyone else plucked to Leave. One of the key factors of that result, as well as Trump’s win back in November, was that it was ‘normal people’ fighting back against the establishment, against the liberal elites. The vote to Leave was the rest of the country, those who for decades have felt left out and abandoned, telling London that they won’t accept it anymore.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple, as these people were fed lies from the media that immigration was the root of their problems, rather than simple underfunding from Westminster. However, they also felt excluded from the prosperity and power of London, and they feel that they were the main losers from the economic crash. Bankers, politicians (mainly Labour ones), and elites were blamed for that crash, but the rest of the country paid the price through Tory austerity.

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