Since “It was all Brexit’s fault” as an explanation for why Labour got decimated in a general election last month didn’t work as well as intended, the Left have cottoned onto a new one. Labour’s been losing voters for ages, apparently, decades even; it’s just that Jeremy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Could have happened to any Labour leader. During the Blair years, Labour lost touch with its base and it just took a while for that to filter through enough to lose those seats in the north and the Midlands. This, like the Brexit blame game, is almost pure horse poo. I’ll explain why so that you are armed and ready next time a Bastani wannabe assaults you with this thesis.
Yes, Blair and his premiership alienated a lot of voters during its duration. This is what happens to all governments. In order to stay in power, a party usually has to adapt along the way – look at the way Johnson has shifted his appeal to working class voters in the Midlands and the north as a good, very recent example of this. With the right leader, Labour could have done this at the start of the decade. Unfortunately, Ed Miliband took them off on a tangent that had no purchase: leftist sounding rhetoric backed up with Blair-lite policies. It was basically the worst of both worlds. To make things worse, he was a personally unappealing leader.
Politics is moving all the time. The ground beneath you shifts; Labour, like any party, had to adjust, just as the Tories have done during the decade just ended. Subsequent Labour leaders have not been able to win over significant chunks of the electorate who did not vote Labour during the late 90s and 2000s, all while they have lost loads of voters who did vote for them during that period. While there is huge complexity if you want to start to correct this problem, it can be stated that simply.
Coming back to Boris Johnson briefly: he has managed to get a large segment of the electorate who have never voted Tory before to do so. Yes, it may be difficult for the Tories to hang onto them. Yet even if he doesn’t manage to do so, that will not make getting them to vote Tory in 2019 a mistake. Every general election win is important if you care about what happens to the country – just as every loss is significant, mostly for immediate rather than historical reasons. Just as Blair winning three times in a row was really important for Labour, the centre-left and yes, the Left, even if everything he did they did not agree with.
Again, Blair may have alienated a lot of voters in the north and the Midlands but it is important to note that those areas never went Tory under his watch. They didn’t even go Tory under Brown or Miliband. They went Tory under Corbyn. And when asked why they did so, a huge chunk of the voters in question specifically said it was because of Corbyn’s leadership. I think we have found the smoking gun here, folks.
To summarise: governments alienate voters just by dint of being in power. Yet as the Tories have shown over the last decade, you can shift your appeal, even while in government. It is much easier to do so in opposition – although you wouldn’t have guessed that from Labour’s performance over the past ten years. Yes, in some ways, the 2019 general election defeat is not all Corbyn’s fault – Ed Miliband deserves some of the blame here for laying the groundwork for this defeat. But it is still mostly Corbyn’s fault for reasons that are obvious – the electorate have literally said that this is the case. Anyone who thinks Labour does not need a major change is either kidding themselves or actually wants to deepen Tory hegemony.