So, the working-class revolt against the Labour Party continues. The ballot-box uprising of December 2019 – when millions of voters across the Red Wall switched from Labour to the Tories – is still in full flow. Hartlepool, Labour since it was founded in 1974, has now fallen to the Tories, with a staggering majority of 7,000. Labour councillors in Derby, Dudley, Sunderland and elsewhere have been unceremoniously turfed out of power and replaced with Tories. The results so far are ‘shattering’, says Labour’s Steve Reed.
‘Shattering’ is the word for it. What is being shattered is politics as we knew it, the alignments that defined political life in this country for generations. The Hartlepool by-election and the English local elections – at least what we know of them so far – confirm that the relentless realignment of British politics will not be halted anytime soon. The mass working-class defection to the Conservative Party; the colonisation of Labour by middle-class graduates; the transformation of Labour from a party of working people into a metropolitan machine more concerned with gender-neutral toilets and taking the knee than with what working-class people want and need – anyone who thought these historic shifts and quakes would be reversed by having sensible, forensic Sir Keir Starmer at the helm of Labour has just received the rudest awakening imaginable.
What Labour centrists must now admit is that their party’s travails run far deeper than the Corbyn effect. Another thing that has been shattered is the much gabbed-out idea that once Labour jettisoned Jeremy and the cranky trustafarians and Fisher-Price Marxists who made up his support base, then it would go back back to being a normal party with a shot at power. In truth, while Corbyn’s time at the top was undoubtedly disastrous – the anti-Semitism, the swapping of class politics for identity politics, the Britain-bashing – something far more profound is driving the working-class revolt against Labour.
To the fore is the issue of Brexit. These election results look like a continuation of working-class voters’ rejection of the Brexit betrayers – most notably Labour – and their lining up behind the party that at least promised to Get Brexit Done: the Tories. It still blows my mind that the political class thought it could try to stitch up the largest democratic vote in UK history and there wouldn’t be severe, long-lasting consequences. This extraordinary naivety was on full display in Hartlepool, where arch-Remainer Keir Starmer stood arch-Remainer Paul Williams in a seat in which 70 per cent of people voted for Brexit. Do they think working-class voters are stupid? The answer, as we know, is yes, of course they do.