On Friday 13th December we woke up to news of a seismic shift in the balance of the country’s politics and a labour defeat on a scale not seen since 1935. The most shocking outcome of the General Election of 2019 was Labour’s losses in its Northern heartlands. Many theories have been put forward as to why so many constituencies once synonymous with the Labour party turned blue and we have summarised some of these below.
The Conservative’s dogged focus on their pledge to “get Brexit done” was evidently a key factor in their success in gaining long-held Labour seats in the north. Labour’s commitment to a second referendum did not chime in places like Don Valley, Bishop Auckland, and Great Grimsby, where support for Leave was high in the 2016 EU referendum, highlighting a major disconnect between Labour and a large portion of its base.
Although Boris Johnson was unpopular, polls have shown that Jeremy Corbyn was the most unpopular opposition party leader in modern times. Corbyn’s failure to connect with the electorate was noted by many Labour MP’s, who described voters dislike on the doorstep. From accusations of tolerating antisemitism, supporting the Irish Republican Army (IRA), disliking the monarchy and the armed forces, Jeremy Corbyn faced a barrage of criticisms, spectacularly failing to counter claims made against him.
The Conservative’s “get Brexit done” slogan proved a simple and persuasive message. Understanding that voters rarely follow policy details, the Tories hammered away relentlessly at a few carefully selected messages. The UK’s main opposition party, however, announced a whole raft of radical, bold policies. Even Jon Lansman, leader of Momentum, said: “The manifesto was too detailed and too long. It was a programme for 10 years, not for government.” Labour strategists hoped that the scale of its plans would resonate with voters hungry for transformative social reforms, but the reality was far from. Although Jeremy Corbyn has argued that Labour “won the argument”, the result exposes a scepticism about the party’s ability to fund its pledges.
Reasons as to why so many traditional Labour voters crossed the political divide and voted Conservative, leading to the collapse of Labour’s “red wall”, are still not clear. But many suggest that it was Labour’s failure to understand the UK’s working classes. Over the last decade the Labour party has seen a realignment of party support, with an increase in younger, formally educated, liberal minded voters joining the party, or the “city-based cosmopolitan elite”. This has contributed to a sense that the Labour party no longer represents the values of its traditional voter base, especially on issues including immigration and law and order.
With 365 seats and a majority of 80, the Conservatives have a clear mandate to push through Brexit. Boris Johnson is empowered to pursue whichever deal he so chooses and will face little opposition in implementing his domestic agenda of legislation. Contrastingly, Labour enters a period of “reflection” and an already acrimonious leadership contest. Winning the Labour leadership however will not guarantee a clear path to government. With such a crushing defeat, it will be an uphill battle for the UK’s main opposition party to reclaim the territory lost. Might this mean we face not only another 5 but 10 years of Conservative rule?