During the period between the EU referendum result becoming known and the December 2019 general election, a three and a half year epoch unto itself, many Remainer commentators found it astounding that no matter how many things the Leave campaign had stated were visibly disproven (“we hold all the cards” became “they are bullying us”), very few Leavers changed their minds. I think a lot of Remainers did not understand the power of the “Get Brexit Done” mantra and both Labour and the Lib Dems did not absorb the fact that they had to fight directly against it if they wanted to stop a Tory majority from happening. This is because neither party really understands Brexit in a cultural sense.
It is obvious now that Labour have never got that Brexit is a culture war – and they clearly still don’t understand that now. The reason almost no Leavers really care about what Brexit means in practice, or are willing to experience wartime living standards (supposedly) in order to have Brexit happen, is because Brexit became totemistic of the wider culture war we’re all involved in shortly after the 2016 referendum and has become ever more so since. Part of the reason for this is the Leave campaign made the referendum about picking a side in the culture war and it stuck.
This problem for Labour is reflected in the way you will hear party figures say the loss in December was all about Brexit without understanding the first thing about what they are actually trying to say. To tell us that by seeming too Remainery, Labour lost its Leave voters, but then going on to tell us that babies are born without sex is to demonstrate how Labour simply does not understand even the basic shape of the problems they face. They still think of Brexit as an event; the technical process of Britain leaving the European Union. If that’s all it was, no one would be this upset about it. It has become about picking a side. And yes, we’ve left the EU, but the culture war rages on. And Labour act like they don’t want to pick a side before then running to the extreme end of one of the sides in the war. They then wonder why parts of their core electorate no longer vote for them.
The only viable options for Labour post-EU referendum were either go full-on liberal Remainery and stick with that; this would have allowed them to run with most of the woke stuff to their heart’s content. Or, they could have understood the culture dimensions to Brexit and tried to mitigate for this factor. They were closer to doing this than doing the former; but they did it clumsily without really getting it. From the looks of how the leadership contest is playing out, they still don’t get it.
I’m not suggesting that Labour ape the Tories and go hardcore against immigration, or that they become highly socially conservative. I just think they need to understand that they are in a culture war and they need to start fighting back as a result. The Right is winning, hands down, at present. Labour needs to take apart the Leave mindset and figure out how to move forward. Be liberal but in a way that makes sense and isn’t tuned in solely to the whims of political extreme teenagers. A case can be made for a liberal immigration policy – God knows, someone has to – but Labour are nowhere near making it at the moment. Hell, they haven’t been making it for the past decade.
So long as they continue to frame themselves in a way that allows the Tories to cannibalise enough of their old working class vote, Labour will struggle to get enough seats off the Tories to force a hung parliament, never mind win an election. What I’m really saying here is, Labour need to form an electoral coalition capable of winning a general election under first past the post and then form their messaging and strategy around this coalition. This is sort of Politics 101; which makes it all the more strange how far Labour are from doing this at present.