Written By: Daniel Roman
On May 6th, British voters will go to the polls to fill a vacancy in a seat long held by the left-wing Labour Party but which appears primed to flip conservative for the first time in generations. The race is a perfect case study of why the Left is in trouble globally. As we have been arguing in our continuing series, “The Great Realignment,” the Left is in crisis worldwide as their traditional voters–from Hispanics in America to the working-class in Britain–are abandoning left-wing parties in droves. Last week we looked at the quiet, conservative revolution among Hispanic voters in America. This week, we look at a stunning turn of events in Hartlepool, England, where the Labour Party is on the precipice of losing in a longtime stronghold.
Labour has held the Hartlepool seat since its creation in 1974 and its predecessor since 1964. In the 2005 and 2015 general elections, the Conservative candidate actually finished in third place. But in 2016, 69.6% of the district voted to leave the European Union, in a shocking rebuke to the national Labour Party line. Then in 2019, the Labour vote collapsed from 53% to 38%, with the incumbent only winning because Richard Tice, the co-leader of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, chose to run in the seat, splitting the right-wing vote. Nonetheless, 54% of the electorate voted for either the Conservative or Tice in 2019, and it is perhaps unsurprising that polls show the Conservative candidate leading Labour for the May 6 election.
Hartlepool is not merely a single seat in the British Parliament. The city’s history and identity are closely intertwined with working-class culture and the history of the British Labour party. It was a major shipyard in the 19th century, and by 1913 there were more than 43 major ship-owning companies in the town. Like many similar communities in America’s rust belt, Hartlepool went into decline in the 1970s as manufacturing jobs moved overseas. In 1977, the largest employer, British Steel, shut its doors, laying off 1,500 workers, and over the course of the following decade, more than 10,000 jobs were lost, and by 2020 more than a quarter of children were reportedly living in poverty.
The British Labour party might be able to take comfort in the belief that Hartlepool is an aberration, but sadly for England’s “Workers party,” that is far from the case. Nationally, the picture is a little better for the Left.
On the back of a successful vaccination campaign, the Conservative government of Boris Johnson has a comfortable lead in the opinion polls. Labour, meanwhile, is locked in conflict over culture war issues, with the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, coming under attack for attending a Church service over Easter at a denomination which was not “woke” on LGBT issues. Meanwhile, major Labour figures have rushed to embrace a protest movement at a London school which sought to ban the Union Jack, much as the American left has attacked the Stars and Stripes. Starmer has tried, ineffectively, to persuade his fellow Labour Party members if not to embrace patriotism, then at least to cease attacking the flag.
What has gone wrong for the British Labour party, which under Tony Blair governed the UK for more than a decade? In a sense, the same things went wrong for the Democratic Party in the United States, except without the skewed institutional playing field created by Hollywood, the media, and Corporate America, which has allowed the Democrats to remain competitive despite a cultural platform that is alienating to most Americans.
In Britain, Labour has lost the support of its traditional working-class base, especially outside London, who perceive not a worker’s party but rather a party that serves the interests of the young, urban professional class of the overbearing capitol. At the same time, Labour’s commitment to the European project has ironically proved alienating to non-European professionals, including many ethnic minorities. Why should an Indian doctor who speaks fluent English with a medical degree from Oxford be subject to a harsh visa quota, but a Romanian gypsy be able to arrive on a night bus and promptly receive a government-funded apartment in the UK? Millions of Asian and African voters asked themselves this exact question in 2016 and have yet to receive an answer from the Labour party.
They were far from satisfied with the answer they received from Peter Mandelson, the dominant presence on the board of Britain Stronger IN Europe, the official 2016 campaign for the UK to remain in the European, and Hartlepool’s Labour member of Parliament from 1992 until 2011. Mandelson was seen as Tony Blair’s “dark genius,” served as Britain’s ambassador to the EU and denounced US lawmakers who opposed the 2008 bailout of banks for “having taken leave of their senses” before pitching himself for Director-General of the World Trade Organization. Locals could have been forgiven for finding such pursuits with representing a working-class constituency. Mandelson’s quality of representation makes it easy to understand why Labour is in trouble in places like his old seat. Or it would if the Left was capable of the degree of self-reflection required to ask why their voters had chosen to abandon them.
Instead, the left in Britain is lost and adrift. Once, the world made sense to Marxists. Conservatism was the ideology of the rich, the established, the elites, while the Left represented the poor and downtrodden. If that was ever the case anywhere in the world, it definitely is no longer true today, and the last decade has seen a final divorce between the Left and the people they term “Deplorables.” Like many divorces, it has been nasty. The Left has refused to accept the slightest responsibility for the failure of the relationship or to admit that they did anything wrong. If the working-class around the world is abandoning the Left, it’s because the “proletariat” are “deplorable”; backwards, “racist,” vulnerable to “misinformation,” and easily manipulated to vote against their own interests–in other words, the interests of Left-wing politicians. And, well, if the “deplorables” in question happen to be non-white, the Left will double down on the uneducated aspect.
In the United Kingdom, the story of Brexit and British politics since 2016 has been the tale of this messy divorce between the Labour party and its voters. In the 2016 referendum, more than 90% of Labour members of parliament backed Remaining in the European Union, but nearly sixty percent of their seats voted to Leave. Non-plussed, Labour blamed the result on “Russian Misinformation” and “lies” by the pro-Brexit campaign and spent three years obstructing the implementation of the referendum result. Sound familiar? They then campaigned for a “People’s Vote” on overturning Brexit. In December of 2019, they finally received the “People’s Vote” they had been demanding. It went poorly for them. Labour lost 60 seats.
The election went particularly poorly for Labour in its old industrial heartlands, where dozens of seats which had never voted for any party but Labour since the 1920s sent Conservatives to Parliament for the first time in history. Labour did not even have the consolation of falling back on the old charges of racism. The new Conservative intake was the most diverse in history. Thirty-one, the highest number ever, were Gay or Lesbian, more than all other parties combined, while the two most senior roles in government after the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Secretary of the Treasury) and the Home Office (Attorney General) went to children of immigrants, Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel. It is no coincidence that both conservative leaders have become hate figures to the left, with Priti Patel, an Indian woman, drawing comparisons to the Third Reich.
As ineffective as this sort of invective may be in confronting or reversing the realignment, it at least serves to make Labour and the Left-wing elites in the media feel better about themselves by pushing the blame for their own failures onto their voters.
Lost in internecine “woke” wars, denouncing its voters for betrayal, and losing safe seats left and right, Labour’s travails in the UK show that the trend began by Donald Trump’s victory Brexit in 2016 is still proceeding. Joe Biden’s election, built as it was on coin-flip victories in a handful of states during a pandemic, is looking more the outlier than a harbinger of the future. Conservatism is still on the march, and in the UK at least, it is largely unopposed.
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