Labour, What Went Wrong, Besides Everything?

Thoughts from Austin Mitchell

“Elections mean hoping for the best but not knowing what’s coming. I hoped for a Labour government but unlike the enthusiastic Momentumers never expected it because I thought a narrow Tory majority more likely. I was as wrong as everyone else.

“There’ll now be a thousand explanations of what went wrong. Hundreds of claims to have been the author of Boris’s victory, and screeds from pontificating pundits. But it was really simple. Labour lost because of three things, all of which I predicted without realising the scale of any. The first was Jeremy. He held his own in the debates but never took off with the public, partly because he’ll never live down his past which was fertile soil for horror stories of treason, betrayal and support for revolting revolutionaries.

“Jeremy is a perfectly nice man but rather wooden and certainly no showman like Boris. If the successful politician is someone you’d like to have a beer with, few would relish a fair trade macrobiotic tea with Jeremy or a chat about his allotment.

“Second problem was the programme. An opposition has to promise to make good the failures and undo the damage done by the outgoing government. Austerity should have given Labour a field day here but it went into overkill. We promised a social revolution, massive spending increases, greater equality, reformed capitalism, a green revolution, nationalisation and HS2. All at once.

“The credibility of promises is in reverse ratio to their number. Too many and the “who’s going to pay for it?” syndrome of our piggy-banking capitalism goes into hysterics and even the proposed recipients don’t believe them. This is a conservative nation with powerful vested interests opposed to change and a malign media to downcry it. It no longer believes in politicians.

“Labour would have been more sensible to propose dealing only with the main problems, health and housing, looking vaguely radical in Blairite fashion and tackling the rest once it had proved it could govern without the sky falling in, inflation soaring and the pound collapsing. Blair tried that but having prepared the ground for socialism he forgot all about it.

“Finally we had a Brexit problem. Labour’s people and regions voted Brexit. Yet instead of harrying an incompetent government to get on with it, the Blairites compounded delays, paraded their devotion to the EU and criticised the people who’d voted for it as ignorant racists. A middle class party which loved the EU more than Socialism. So Jeremy Corbyn was forced to take a pro-remain position which made sense to the metropolitan trendies but didn’t enthuse Brexit regions Labour had taken for granted .

“Loyalty to a Labour Party which can’t deliver because its in opposition and didn’t when it had the chance is a fragile flower. Our Brexit folly took enough bricks out of the Northern red wall to let the Tories break into Labour’s heartlands. So it’s begun to lose the North as it’s already lost Scotland.

“Naivete, excessive enthusiasm, divisions and a leader who lacked Harold Wilson’s skill at holding a fractious party together, as well as Blair’s charm and Callaghan’s reliability. The result of this combination has been a defeat worse than 1983. Fighting that election as a neophyte I was so worried that I naively wrote to Michael Foot suggesting he stand down for Denis Healey.

No one did the same in 2019. Had they done so they would have faced another problem. There’s neither a Denis Healey nor any other alternative with stature.

“The result will be another long bloody row like the ones we’ve had after every previous defeat in 1951, 1979 and 2010. While we sit and bicker we must wait and hope that Boris will prove to be the liar, trickster and covert Thatcher we’ve called him. If he proves to be the One Nation Tory determined to end austerity that he himself claims then the wait could be even longer than that from 1979 to 1997. Not the most exciting career prospect for any intelligent idealists with a social conscience who’re anxious to build a better Britain”.

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