The clock struck ten and the incoming blue tide caused the red wall to crumble. Labour are now a party staring into the abyss, if not already falling into it. A demise authored by years of terrible politics, with no easy fix to it.
Labour’s problems go beyond Jeremy Corbyn and their problems stretch back to when unchecked economic liberalism began to dominate the economy leading to the commodification of workers and communities.
The loss of blue-collar support has been a steady pattern since the New Labour era, generating momentum in 2015 when UKIP ate into enough votes to take four million voters but also help Labour lose seats to the Tories. In the most recent European Parliament elections, the Brexit Party made staggering inroads, eating away into northern Labour post-industrial and small-town heartlands amidst a collapse for Labour.
It would be dismissive to ignore that the Brexit effect was strong on Labour and the party suffered on both sides. However, in Leave areas, there was a 10.4% decline in votes. In places such as Redcar, Labour haemorrhaged votes to both the Tories and the Brexit Party, allowing the Conservatives to sneak home wins.
This was more pronounced in the historic Labour seat of Blyth Valley, where the Tories won by a majority of just under 1000, inflicted by a small increase in voting share for them, but a big 8.3% increase for the Brexit Party which ate into Labour’s share of the votes.
Communities are held together by a sense of solidarity, common bonds and shared destiny but Labour has never tapped into this feeling or attempted to revive the declining community life in the UK. The party spoke little about renewing the sense of communal togetherness that once glued people together instead adopting an endless list of material pledges.
Towns that once existed as the proud heartbeats of the nation’s industries have been abandoned and this hasn’t just affected it economically, but culturally in how they feel about their homes. If Labour is to reclaim some of its lost historic heartlands, it has to understand the politics of community, belonging and reciprocity.
Within the current Labour leadership battle, there are signs that Lisa Nandy understands the missing immaterial touch that Labour have missed. She has spoken consistently about resurrecting hope, identity and energy within small communities such as towns, democratising them and giving them the power to manage their own affairs. It’s a breakaway from old models of top-down socialism instead focusing on a more localised and communitarian approach. It takes with it, the best aspects of the Co-operative Party and Blue Labour mixed in with the pragmatism and ambition to build a modern future. She mentioned examples of community-owned initiatives in Preston and Nottingham as examples of giving local councils more power to manage their own affairs.
The fact Brexit’s mantra of “take back control” resonated show strongly shows that there is a growing disconnect between those governing and those being governed. A politics that focuses on growing the co-operative economy, building more community land trusts and credit unions, having worker representation on company boards, restoring social spaces such as pubs and youth centres is a step to achieving this. With Britain now out of the European Union, the issue of immigration must be coupled with correct levels of investment and integration to ensure that cohesive communities remain. Those of us hailing from a less statist form of socialism, based upon communitarian instincts and co-operative models are right to be sceptical about promises of nationalisation that do not specify how the models would look. Power must be managed between workers, consumers and the government.
It is important that Labour does not return to the politics of simply managing capitalism. It must remove the commodification of the institutions and places people value. Some of this was recognised by Labour after 2015, but the party projected itself to too many people, rather than speaking to them and listening to them. A communitarian, politics of solidarity has to be where the party returns to.