The shock and despair of many labour members and members of parliament when David Dimbleby announced the decision that Britain was to leave the European Union was not surprising. Many politicians and party members had spent a lot of time and, indeed, emotion defending the United Kingdom’s position in the European Union. However, since the referendum, the Labour Party has visibly floundered, barely holding itself together and certainly not in a position to be able to have a proper discussion about what future of this country looks like outside the European Union.
Instead, Labour has left this role to the Conservatives, and even the liberal democrats. The party has suffered greatly in in the public eye, with dire polling and very shaky election results in what used to be considered our heartlands.
The problems Labour faces, however, are much more profound than the situation just described. Many blame the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the reasons for Labour’s crisis but, unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is just a symptom and, indeed, an attempted solution to a much more complicated problem. The problem stated simply is that the party, for a number of reasons, has lost contact with the coalition of voters who vote labour to bring our party to government.
Corbyn’s solution is to turn back the clocks 30 or even 40 years. His aim is to create a party with a huge left-wing support base, banking on the fact that this huge surge in support will be enough to put labour in power again. The difficulty 30 years ago, as it is now, is that this support base would almost always vote Labour anyway regardless of who was leading the party and the policies proposed do not resonate with enough of the rest of the country to take Labour across the winning line.
If a politician with less experience than Jeremy Corbyn were to run on this strategy, Labour I think would have a little more success. However, unfortunately, the experience and decisions Jeremy Corbyn has made previously as a long-standing MP mean that the media are able to take advantage of previous events in order to discredit him in the eyes of the public. It is unfortunate and I do feel extremely sorry for Jeremy that this is the case. Yet, with regard to someone who is to be Prime Minister, sympathy is not the emotion I want to have.
For the last thirty years, the consensus in our party has always been that of pro-integration in the European project while holding back wisely on membership of certain fiscal and social projects such as the single European currency and the Schengen agreement. It is to the pride of many in our party including myself that we have been resolutely pro-immigration despite the growing animosity felt by the public towards immigrants.
The problem is not with immigrants, whether they are economic immigrants or refugees. The problem Labour faces and has so far been unable to provide an answer acceptable to the public to is the fear among many that growing globalisation and movement of labour from one country to another will ultimately take people’s jobs, their livelihoods and rob them of their dignity. People are extremely proud and do not want to be considered a burden on their family and on society through receiving welfare payments.
EU policies in recent years have not helped the fear that has been growing in this country for some time. The accession of countries such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia and other eastern European countries with wages demonstrably lower than that of the UK has meant that quite understandably that immigration has surged from these countries into countries that typically provide higher wages. The EU should have done more to ensure the economies of these countries were more evenly matched with that of the UK, France and Germany before full freedom of movement was granted to these nations.
The problem for Labour is that, until relatively recently, many of the people leading our party viewed any criticism of immigration or expression of this fear as a racist attack on immigrants akin to that of UKIP and the EDL. Some, including prominent MEPs, would go further and suggest that criticism of the European Union was akin to the racism expressed by UKIP and EDL. The problem with this is that many of the people who have these fears are the group Labour has championed at previous elections.
Labour’s problem is that its positions on issues like immigration and law and order are no longer compatible with the views of many people who traditionally voted for the party. Instead, UKIP and even the Conservatives are tapping in to this and stealing natural labour support. It’s time now for Labour to be brave, and start listening again to the people who elect them.