Analysing Labour's defeat

A short reading list of articles that made me think...

The real meaning of Labour's defeat on 12 December will not be calculable until we see the scale and shape of the Tory attack - on democracy, the welfare state and working class living standards. However, since the defeat there have been some thoughtful and detailed responses - and accounts of what went wrong. Here's my top five so far. Interestingly, none are by political journalists and none were published int the mainstream media…

1. Understanding our defeat - Callum Cant

Callum Cant argues that the strategic failure was to build Corbynism from below:

“2017-19 will come to be seen as a period where we were attempting to play a game of reverse Jenga: we had a socialist as the leader of the Labour party, an increasingly socialist programme for government, and hopes of electoral success - but no base in a mass movement, beyond the half million members of the party (many of whom were either unrooted in their local areas or completely inactive in the party.) The moevment’s highest acheivements were left balancing on a structurally-unsound base.”

2. Letter to the people I represented - Laura Pidcock

Laura Pidcock, the defeated Labour MP for Durham North West tells of the mixture of "fury and apathy" she met on the doorstep:

"Brexit was without a doubt a fog that descended, and no issue could penetrate it. It was frustrating that, so often, no other issue could be discussed, that doors would close and that, in the minds of people that I cared so much about, I was lumped in with a political establishment I desperately wanted to fight.”

3. Reflections from the doorstep - Dan Evans-Kanu

Dan Evans-Kanu describes the atomisation of working class life in Bridgend, with people on zero hours and zero security voting Tory because they believe they are entrepreneurs:

"As well as media influence, we have to appreciate the extent to which this isolated, relentless working environment and culture of ‘flexibility’ militates against class consciousness, collective action and solidarity. The fact is that this is the experience of work for many people south Wales today. It is the polar opposite of the forms of work which gave rise to the sets of social relations which gave rise to the Labour movement.”

4. The revolution will be networked - Paul Hilder

The Datapraxis CEO describes his unsuccessful attempts to get Labour to embrace the networked campaign sphere, and draws similar conclusions to the authors above about Labour's failure to create a movement and a story into which its political offer could resonate...

“Ours will be a party, and a politics, we can only build for our own times, together. It will take millions of us, with very different life experiences, perspectives and capabilities, to get it right. If we want to win decisively and govern transformationally, we must start living up better to Ralph Miliband’s warning that the internal life of a radical party must prefigure the society we seek to establish in government. The hard truth is that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party hasn’t yet fulfilled that ambition.”

5. Labour's economic plans: what went wrong? - James Meadway

Former Shadow Treasury adviser James Meadway outlines the strategic mistakes that led Labour's fiscal policy offer falling flat with voters. Like me he does not think it was the decisive factor but it contributed to the malaise and this is the best quasi-inside account of why it happened:

"We lost sight of the political challenge and disappeared down the rabbit-hole of policy. The post-2017 election rhetoric of ‘a government-in-waiting’ probably didn’t help here, and neither did the belief that Theresa May’s government was on the verge of imminent collapse.”

Finally here's three of my own contributions over the past nine days.

  • snap analysis for the New Statesman day after the result. 

  • I've explored the new threat to democracy arising from the Johnson administration in this Vice article.

  • And my full analysis of the defeat and where next is available to download free in the new e-pamphlet After Corbynism. It concludes:

"If this election teaches us one thing above all, it is that the new cultural divisions of Britain cannot be overcome by economics alone... If we create agency in the diverse communities we represent then, even if their cultural values and lifestyles diverge, there is a chance that - at the crucial moment of the next election - their separate narratives converge into a single story: of hope, social justice and a plan to meet the climate emergency.”


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