By OLLIE CRANHAM-YOUNG
‘The left, if it is to halt the slide towards irrelevance, had better start listening’. One only needs to glance at the events of the 12th December 2019, and how damning an outcome it proved to be for anyone on the progressive side of politics, to recognise this. But it goes much deeper than that. Paul Embery is a firefighter, trade unionist and prominent proponent of Blue Labour, a pressure group affiliated to the Labour Party that advocates traditional ideas on issues such as crime, immigration and the EU. His recent book aims to articulate why so many working-class voters threw their weight behind an old Etonian that for decades has held beliefs anathema to everything they themselves believe in. He leads the same party that had subjected many of them to brutal austerity for a decade. The same party which had got us to the point of Brexit, had no plan, and subsequently were rewarded for not having a plan. The same party that, for generations, these voters vowed never to contemplate voting for. Why then, did they? Because in Embery’s eyes, the modern left loathes the working class.
He explains how ultimately in the last few decades, Labour’s problems are twofold: first, their significant embracement of economic liberalism following the advent of ‘New Labour’, and second, welcomed social liberalism to such a degree that has significantly alienated its traditional supporters. The outcome is swathes of Labour MPs, councillors, party staff and activists instructing working-class people about what’s good for them, rather than listening to their actual concerns. The party’s agenda is steered by university-educated Europhiles who live predominantly within the M25. Thus, their economic offer is little other than virtue-signalling to poorer people, and their societal position to accept everything put to you or be branded a racist, xenophobe or a bigot.
The book is divided into five chapters, the first of which is ‘The gathering storm’. It dispels the myth that somehow all of Labour’s problems lay at the feet of Jeremy Corbyn. Vote share for the party in many heartland areas began falling not in 2019, or 2017, or even 2015, but 2001. New Labour had successfully absorbed middle and upper-class voters into its winning coalition, but working-class voters could be taken for granted as they would never not vote Labour. But, over the two decades following 1997, discontent emerged and support slowly withered away. It should have properly been realised following the EU referendum. It wasn’t. Paradoxically, the ‘success’ of 2017 saw significant votes lost in many working-class seats, but remember, such people would never not vote Labour!
Second, ‘We need to talk about immigration’. The left, as we now know it, is extremely vocal regarding climate change, LBGT+ rights and multiculturalism. Of course, this is an immeasurably good thing, but mention the word immigration and you hear shrieks of terror amongst activists. Remember the uproar amongst activists, not the general public, on Twitter following the phrase ‘controls on immigration’ being put on a mug. A culture now exists whereby it is somehow unreasonable to propose limits on immigration, despite the fact most tolerant democracies do so. The left must understand advocating this will not lose them votes, rather a few meaningless battles on Twitter.
Third lies arguably the most unpopular one; ‘Liberal Wokedom’. Over the past decade, when the argument should have been centred around economics given the Financial Crisis a few years earlier, instead the left have sought to obsess over identity politics. No one is suggesting issues surrounding identity politics are irrelevant, but it appears one of the few things the left has been willing to talk about. It explains the government’s goal for ‘culture wars’, and to keep the opposition on this pitch, knowing for traditional Labour supporters it means little. Under Starmer, who uncoincidentally is another university-educated, Europhilic London-based MP, Embery here proposes that Labour mustn’t fall into this trap.
Fourthly, ‘The Case for the Nation State’. Remember in 2014, when Emily Thornberry, another university-educated, Europhilic London-based MP, tweeted with contempt a picture of an English flag outside someone’s home? For some unbeknownst reason, being patriotic is now a crime on the left. No wonder in Scotland the party has struggled to compete with the SNP. The chapter also questions the merits of globalisation to those who live in post-industrial Britain and whether it has eroded the national identity these individuals, whether one likes it or not, hold dear.
The final chapter is entitled ‘What is to be done’, and by now hopefully one has an idea. By now, one should have garnered a useful explanation as to why Labour has lost touch with the voters that were once considered its absolute core. No one is suggesting that they shouldn’t have a strong, liberal-left tradition. Throughout history, it has, and been better because of it. But, as Embery articulates, in the last two decades, these are the only voices inside the party that have been heard. In order to reconnect with post-industrialised Britain, Labour must understand, sympathise, act, but first - stop loathing. Fundamentally, ‘the left, if it is to halt the slide towards irrelevance, had better start listening’.