The Right Stepping into the Void of Left-wing Politics
The Dismantling of Labour Reflects a Trend in the Cementing of Right-wing Political Power
Much has already, and will continue to be, written about the further dismantling of Labour by an electorate who sees straight through the mirage of a party that purports to represent the interests of ordinary people and workers. This has been sorely obvious to anyone paying attention to the trends for Labour since Gordon Brown's incompetent economic policies.
The only people blind to it, to every step of the decline, and who appear to still be 'surprised' by the recent further electoral efflux from office, are Labour's core voters: educated cosmopolitan Londoners, living in their alternate reality of pronoun declaring and social justice voyeurism. This is Oat Milk Latte Labour. And it is has been put in the ground by a wider electorate that frankly doesn't care if a train driver announcing "ladies and gentlemen" is 'offensive' to Lawrence (they/them). And while the recent elections certainly showed that Left-of-centre politics in the UK is alive, it is alive in the form of a slowly reviving Liberal Democrats and increasingly popular Greens, albeit for now confined to the the local politics level. People have seen Labour for the stark naked emperor it is, the futile vacuity of yuppie neoliberalism + identity politics, and the feeble attempt through Starmer to appeal to Middle England Bob and Linda.
However, that is only the subtext to the recent elections: the real headline is the continued cementing and expanding of power for the Right in the form of the Conservative Party. And this is the trend worth exploring, because it is not unique to the UK. The growth in popularity for Right-wing parties across Europe over the past decade has been characterised by the reshaping of the Right to encompass territory abandoned by the Left: employment, security, healthcare, family values, community, and a sense of dignity in labour.
The gross failure of the Left, and of Labour in particular, is that the destabilising effects on all of the aforementioned issues stemmed from Right-wing policies over the preceding 30yrs, from globalisation and free market orthodoxy, to destructive cuts in public spending, while facilitating gross capital accumulation in the corporate class, all exacerbated by the lie of austerity. The Left had every opportunity to present an attractive, inclusive, politically viable alternative. Instead, they often poured fuel on the fire, particularly toward the end of the Blair/Brown terms in office, with ill-devised economic policies that heaped the burden on ordinary people. While pouring fuel on the fire, they indulged in the divisive politics of identity, narcissistic indifference to anyone outside of London, many of whom were communities decimated by austerity and job losses.
When these previously Labour strongholds looked to the so-called party of the working class for support, they found entitled posh kids sneering at them from a Hackney cafe, tarnishing them as a crowd of angry racists with antiquated pride in the nation. This conceited cynicism from Oat Milk Latte Labour voters in London has been on full display on social media after every election since, and including, Brexit, a barrage of "who are these people?!?". Well, here is the answer: they're the people who have been besieged by a rhetoric of exclusion. Of summary dismissal based on identity, meaning that valid grievances were delegitimised into a stereotype. And they've just outvoted their condescending peers. Again.
It should have been easy for a functioning Left to take hold in the post-2008 turmoil. For a time, there was an open goal. From the 1980's, Conservatism-without-a-Conscience doubled-down on free-market fundamentalism and reckless deregulation, which left huge swathes of society vulnerable to the worst excesses of unbridled neoliberalism. The conditions created on the ground by this Right-wing ideology should have been the perfect opportunity for a functioning Left to step in and speak to these issues. But there was no functioning Left; just a performative and confused movement that abandoned the working class, championed identity politics, and appealed to an urban sophisticated, educated yuppie-Leftie. For these voters, to be 'liberal' is not necessarily political: it is a cultural imperative.
The communities that felt the full brunt of feral Thatcherism and neo-Thatcherism under Cameron, and now Johnson, were already Labour. They always had been. It wasn't as if these areas had to be won over: they were lost. That is the true tragedy. There is a big difference between trying to convince voters to switch party allegiance and falling short vs. having an entrenched voter base in place, only to lose them and watch them walk away in droves because of a complete failure to represent their needs.
The why and the how of it may have a more simple explanation: total party disconnect from the reality of its traditional voter strongholds. In Clement Atlee's post-Second World War Labour cabinet, 45% of ministers had held blue collar jobs at some point in their life. In contrast, Labour from Blair onward has been primarily posh-boy technocrats, with an undercurrent of identitarianism in the younger wing of the party. This is a combination which could only have resulted in massive disconnect between people and party, and this is born out by the fact that >50% of current labour voters reside in London, the majority of which are university educated professionals. And there is an arrogance to this voter. Young Londoners were outvoted by over 20% by older age groups at the Brexit referendum, yet had the sense of entitlement to then sign a petition in their thousands demanding a second referendum. A combination of arrogance and detachment from reality does not make an appealing political party.
And so here we are. The Right is seizing its opportunity to frame a rhetoric with just the right amount of paternalism blended with a promise to restore to the previous Left-wing voter what Labour deprived them of: agency. Agency in the national conversation, in their right to have grievances, opinions, and perspectives, without being portrayed as quaint bigots.
But a word of caution. It is one thing to covet issues like employment, security, and community. But it is another entirely to act on them. As GA Cohen put it, modern Conservatism is characterised by conservatives who "blather on about warm beer and old maids cycling to church then hand Walmart the keys to the kingdom." This is Conservatism-without-a-Conscience, which fosters policies that do more to erode the very way of life they purport to represent and protect.
And this is where the Right making overtures to former Left-of-centre territory may reveal itself to be a Trojan horse for the more nefarious authoritarian predilections of the Right. The Queen's speech should have sent alarm bells going regarding the Tory party policy agenda, the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, limiting the right of citizens to challenge government decisions through judicial review, bringing in compulsory voter ID's, and punitive immigration laws. This is what a firm grip on power allows you to do.
It is common in the liberal press to portray the outcomes of recents elections as 'anti-democratic'. This is the op-out liberals take to absolve themselves of having to understand why their rhetoric has turned people away. But these elections have been the very essence of democracy: Labour have been dismantled in the ballot box. Do not forget that. There is nothing 'anti-democratic' at play, the dismantling of Labour reflects the rejection of former Labour strongholds of their exclusion from true democracy - of being heard - and the feeling of being left out in the cold by a party that long ago lost itself, and stopped serving their needs. And into this void stepped the Tories. Wherever this leaves those very voters, and the United Kingdom, in future years, will have been a democratic will.