One of the trends from the last five years of politics is that a truism gets established amongst the cognoscenti, which then spreads to the next level of those interested enough in politics to pay attention to at least some of its subtleties – and then the truism gets demolished by reality. “Corbyn could never become Labour leader”. “Leave could never win the EU referendum”. “Trump could never win the presidency”. “Theresa May will end up with a massive majority after the 2017 general election”. I could go on, but you get the point. Each time one of these truisms gets torn down, another one that stands on equally loose ground takes its place.
The latest big lie is “Labour cannot win a general election on its own”. This theory rests on the idea that there are places in the country that Labour supposedly has no chance of winning, no matter what. Scotland is impossible to get back, apparently. The south of England, forget it. Need the Lib Dems there. Or something. The best Labour can hope for is some Lab-Lib-SNP+others monster rainbow government. The evidence for all this rests on very shaky ground and isn’t difficult to demolish.
Let’s start with Scotland. The SNP have been dominant in Scotland over three Westminster general elections. The first was in the immediate aftermath of the divisive independence referendum. The next two were fought with Labour having in place the worst leader of the opposition since the formation of the Union. I’m not saying Labour getting back Scotland would be easy. I’m simply saying that the “it’s impossible” thesis has really not been tested to death. It’s like if you were a medieval army and you’d tried to attack a walled city three times, once with a bloke at the helm who was scared of a bacon sandwich and the next two times with a leader who told half the army to fight in the wrong place and then got lost on the way to the target himself, it would be foolish not to consider whether you might take the city with a decent general.
Then there is the idea that Labour can’t win in the south of England. I’ve said this many times before, but here it goes again: Labour have won in the south of England previously, and fairly substantially at that. Not all that long ago, either. Add to this the Tories having been in power for over a decade, the Remainers revenge feeling that lingers still, the fact that the Lib Dems appear set to commit electoral suicide by running to the left of Labour, and most importantly, that Labour now have a good leader means that I think there are way more seats in play for them than most assume at the moment, provided they run a good campaign.
To be clear, I am not now predicting Labour will win the next general election. I just think this assumption that they definitely can’t is lazy. We have witnessed seismic shifts in voting patterns over the past decade; unpredictable results have become the new normal. Just because these have usually gone against Labour more times than not during this period does not mean that they will continue to do so in perpetuity. In sacking Long-Bailey the way he did yesterday, Starmer has shown how serious he is about making Labour properly electable again. I think the Tories are taking him too lightly at present, as are the Lib Dems and the SNP. Everyone has got so used to Labour being a bit crap they have forgot what a well-led Labour Party is more than capable of achieving.
I’ll close with this. I think it is imperative for the Labour Party to aim for a majority and create a narrative around its possibility. So long as this story about Labour needing to form a government with the SNP and seven other parties persists, the harder it will be for Labour to get anywhere close to Number 10. People need to feel like Labour will win outright for them to get enough seats to form any sort of government. If it seems like they would be happy to form a government with the SNP and the Lib Dems, everyone involved but the SNP suffers. Another modern truism is that the Tories need a majority to rule while Labour has other options. I think this is another truism that needs to fall.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
It’s available here: