It looked to me in Stoke as though Labour did not win any of the UKIP votes, despite having adopted the nationalist position of supporting Brexit, but did lose some of its vote to the Liberals, as has happened elsewhere and in other by-elections, as a result of adopting that nationalist stance. Labour’s vote share dropped by 2%, whilst UKIP’s, and the Tories rose by 20%, whilst the Liberals rose by a whopping 5.7%, which is unlikely to have come from UKIP or Tories.
The fact is that, hostility to immigration, and the EU is not a sentiment that suddenly arose in the minds of Labour voters in Stoke some time shortly before June 23rd. last year. It has been there for decades, including in the minds of many Labour voters, and some Labour Party members and Councillors. When I was still a County Councillor at the time of the Iraq War, in 2003, I stood down from my position as Branch Chair in protest, and in the subsequent discussion, one of the Labour councillors in the branch, said to me, in all seriousness, but if you were to leave the LP, where would you go, what is the alternative, there is only the BNP!
Holding bigoted views on a range of subjects has never been an obstacle to Labour voters voting in their thousands for the party for as long as I can remember. I can remember, one Labour Councillor, in my home village, who had gone to school with my parents, commenting in the local press back in the 1960’s, that he would light the torches to burn out any gypsy caravans that may be set up, in the proposed Council site at Linehouses, for example. It was a vote winner.
Labour has gained nothing by sliding into a nationalist agenda, in search of votes, whilst the Liberals even having picked up a large percentage increase in their vote, have still shown themselves a busted flush, as 5.5& on top of bugger all, is still bugger all. The bigger message should be that Labour’s biggest opponent was apathy. The 50% turnout in 2015 was appalling, and this was even worse. Labour needs a message that actually enthuses its supporters into action, even just to turn out to vote.
This time, Labour won, because the anti-Labour vote was split, Nuttall turned out to be a modern day version of Walter Mitty — though as with Trump, that in itself doesn’t seem to have been enough to get the UKIP core vote to desert him — and because seeing UKIP’s self-destruction, the Tories did not vote tactically.
On the one hand, it means UKIP is now dead. On the other it means come the next election in Stoke Central, that UKIP vote will return to its natural home with the Tories (no one should ever have bought this idea that the UKIP voters were actually disgruntled Labour voters, they were disgruntled Tories, and non-voters). If that happens and Labour does not mobilise its own support in the meantime, then Labour will lose to the Tories, a prospect that is unthinkable.
I’m glad that Gareth Snell won, and saw off UKIP, but my greater and longer term concern is over the future of Labour and Corbyn’s project within it. Given Gareth’s previous hostile tweets about Corbyn, I have to ask whether in that regard, Labour has not just replaced one anti-Corbyn MP with another, and what that implies the next time a new coup is undertaken. Consensus and warm words, are all very well just like motherhood and apple pie, but if Momentum is to learn anything from the past, and fulfil any useful function, it needs to be as ruthless and as organised as the right have always been. With half a million largely Corbyn supporting members, with several thousand members of Momentum, how on Earth did we allow a situation where Progress and the right were able to dominate the Conference, and the new NEC, and in a a place like Stoke, where the CLP voted 10:1 for Corbyn, to get an anti-Corbyn candidate, and as far as we can see no plan to get pro-Corbyn candidates in place.
John Mc Donnell today complained that the reason for Labour poor showing, and for Corbyn’s low ratings has been the coup attempt against him. Agreed. So, for goodness sake do something about the conditions that made such a coup possible, and make further such attempts inevitable! As things are going, this project will simply drift into apathy and disaster, and the right will walk back in and blame everything on the Left — partly with some justification if this amateurism continues.
The trouble is, and the lesson from the failure of the Liberals is, that the old centre-left will not be able to simply pick up the pieces, any more than has been the case in Greece. And without a British equivalent of Syriza or Podemos, the alternative will be a serious shift to the authoritarian right, a la Trump. In fact, the failure of European social democracy to come to the aid of Syriza, shows the trajectory that can be expected.