“Am I so out of touch? No it’s the children who are wrong?” So says Principal Seymour Skinner in The Simpsons in what has become a rather popular meme.
This attitude; pig-headed ignorance that overlaps with a sneering arrogance, has been seen lots over the past 18 months.
From Remainers, unable to accept that people in the United Kingdom may be so stupid as to vote to leave the European Union.
From those who loathe Donald Trump and cannot understand who would be so stupid as to vote for him to be the most powerful man on Earth and all that entails.
From Corbynsceptic members of the Labour Party, who cannot understand how this stupidity has extended to members of the party who re-elected Jeremy Corbyn in a second landslide. Worse, this same stupidity is now affecting voters who, defying the rules and conventions, gave Corbyn 40% of the vote. More than Labour has had since 2001 under its most electorally successful leader ever, Tony Blair.
The problem, as someone who has been openly both an avid Remainer and a Corbynsceptic, is that these attitudes lay right at the heart of why all of the above things happened.
Remain, all of the Labour leadership contenders in both contests, Hilary Clinton in 2016, Theresa May in 2017; all shared the same traits which led to their defeat.
They all became associated with the Establishment and the cynicism and superiority complex that goes with it. Their opponents were able to portray themselves as ‘authentic’ voices ‘of the people’.
They all became associated with the status quo. In some ways, this was deliberate. The political playbook of yesteryear says that floating voters opt for the status quo out of fear of what they could lose with change. But at a time of declining standards of living with pay freezes (not just in the public sector), with visibly declining public services, with ongoing social and housing crises, and a terrorist threat that appeared to be growing not shrinking; the status quo looked to many like an increasingly unattractive proposition. Unlike before, many they felt that they had nothing to lose by abandoning the status quo. Their opponents talked of a brighter, better and different future. This, put simply, is why people voted for them.
And they all became associated with a politics that had lost its way, and were marred by the stench of wanting to win power for its own sake rather than for any great cause or principle. Whatever wins power – that’s what we offer you. Their opponents came across differently, no matter how unrealistic, stupid or hideous their ideas; as though they genuinely believed in what they were saying and that it was the right thing to do.
Yet despite the reverses, the attitude of this group of losers (because, frankly that is what they all are) hasn’t really changed. Remainers/ anti-Trumpists/Labour ‘Moderates’ patronising or sneering Leavers/ Republicans/ Corbynites and blaming false promises rather than in any way trying to understand why they lost. And so with it they are destined to keep on losing.
I have left one group out of this though and that is the Tories. Since the relative disaster (they did after all hang on in government) of 8 June, there are clear murmurings of discontent as their MPs and activists are beginning to learn why they lost.
This is why some of them are not mocking Jeremy Corbyn for going to Glastonbury. Instead they are trying to recreate their own version of it (see the efforts of George Freeman MP). They are learning that people who have endured 7 years of austerity may not expect jam tomorrow, but they want something better than more austerity and the government taking your house off you if you need social care. The Tories, for all their many faults, have an intrinsic knack of knowing what they need to do to win. And they are starting to do it. Note the imminent demise of the public sector pay freeze.
If Labour’s losers/ ‘moderates’ want to start winning or even being taken seriously again, they need to stop sneering at Corbynism and start looking at why it took off, why it is popular and what they can learn from it.
That means no more focusing on battles over rule changes and instead starting to win hearts and minds.
It means ending an approach to politics dominated by what will and will not win votes. Listen to voters, of course. It is the most important thing a political party should do. But stop focusing on policies that are geared towards proving your electability and start remembering why you got into politics in the first place. If you believe, as I do, that most politicians get into politics to make things better, then start making that the very first point of departure. What are the problems affecting people, and what can we do to fix them. Focus on the policies, and less on the politics.
None of this should really be difficult for Labour ‘Moderates’. It was all at the very heart of New Labour and its success. It was politically successful for exactly the same reason that Corbyn/ Trump/ Leave have been.
They positioned themselves against a cynical Establishment that had long assumed it had a right to the political ascendancy.
They were against the status quo and instead for a very different and much better Britain than what they found.
And for all the compromises that were made with the electorate, they were very clearly for things aimed at improving the country and people’s lives and delivered those things in government. The Minimum Wage. Gay Rights. Investment in public services. House of Lords Reform. Devolution. Peace in Northern Ireland.
Not just managing the country better than the Tories. Not tinkering around the edges. Bold and radical. The disciples of Blair need to forget about triangulation and start thinking of inspiration.
That’s if they want to join Corbyn in being cool so they can get down with the kids (sorry!).