Labour in Crisis

2019’s general; election saw huge UK wide losses for Labour, with many ‘safe seats’ either reducing in the majority or changing hands entirely. I’ve got in contact with Labour voters young and old to see what happened and if they changed the way they voted this time around.  

Carol Widd is a 70 year old from rural Wales, she defines herself as a “lifelong socialist” who thinks that Jeremy Corbyn was taking “taking the party back to its roots”. I caught up with her in her small bungalow in the centre of the sleepy town of Narberth, which has traditionally been a conserative seat through and through. I asked her what she thought about why Labour did so badly in this election; “I think it’s a symptom of a wider problem in politics at the moment, it’s becoming more and more of a popularity contest where people care more about the figurehead than the policies. Unfortunately for Labour I think a lot of people didn’t like Jeremy Corbyn as a person, and it certainly wasn’t helped by his inability to apologise about the anti-semetism.”

For many Labour future looks uncertain, with Corbyn stating he’ll stand down when a new leader of the party is chosen, it’s nall to play for. I ask Carol about what she thinks the party needs if it’s going to survive. “Even though I think Corbyn was a good step towards a socialist Labour he’s got to go. He’s far to divisive I think Labour needs new blood that can bridge the gap between new Labour voters and the grass roots voters of my generation” . Yougov’s polling backs up Carol’s views, while 99% of the public have heard of Corbyn only 21% of them have a positive opinion of him, while a staggering 61% of the public have a negative view of him. As the race for a new leader begins to heat up, it’ll be interesting to find out which way the winner leans on the political spectrum. 

Corbyn wasn’t just a negative for the Labour party, however, for some of his policies were enough to draw them to voting for Labour for the first time. Alex, a Cheltenham local and previously staunch Tory spoke to me about why he changed his voting habits in 2019. We met up in a local coffee shop and when waiting for our coffee he mentions that, “even though I’d always voted conservative before, I never really considered myself a ‘Tory’. It was more that it’s the way my parents voted and that massively swayed my opinion when it came to politics”. He pauses when I ask him why he voted for labour this time around, “I guess, this was the first time I’d like properly looked at manifestos and stuff”. I press him on ‘stuff’ see that maybe he hadn’t fully considered why he changed his voting habits so drastically. “a lot of my friends where on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum to me when I started uni and that kind of helped me see the other side of the coin. I mean when you look at the labour manifesto I found that their policies related directly to me and the issues I care about more than any of the other parties”.

What exactly is Tribalism?

When asked about Corbyn he lets out a weary sigh, “I know for a lot of people his clear socialism leaning make him an attractive voting opportunity… personally I really don’t like him”. This appears to be the crux of the issue for many, while they like the policies that can’t move past how corbyn factors into it. With Corbyn’s refusal to fully apologisefor the alleged anti-semetism in the party coupled with claims of his  anti-semitism scandal and the claims about his terrorist sympathies it’s not difficult to see why many staunch labour voters may have voted a different way. 

My final interviewee is is Jo Collier, a special constable her in Cheltenham, she’s a self confessed labour voter but in 2019 she voted in a completely different way. “I voted for the Lib Dems this time around”. When asked if it was Corbyn that changed her mind she laughs “oh no, I’d just decided to vote tactically this time around”. Tactical voting  is the idea that instead of voting directly for the party you support, you vote for the party whos most likely to unseat a party that you oppose in an effort to reduce said parties overall majority in the House of Commons. In Cheltenham tactical vote was to vote for Max Wilkinson the Lib dem candidate in an effort to unseat conservative representative Alex Chalk. “While Chalk seems like a nice person, his voting record doesn’t always back up what he says” check out the Parklife politics twitter to get a breakdown of Alex chalks voting record. 

Despite many members of the public similarly deciding to vote tactically it saw little success across the UK. In cheltenham despite being the favourite to win this seat Max Wilkinson lost by nearly 1000 votes. Jo reckons that even though it didn’t work this time it will next time, “I think that the main reason it didn’t work was because not enough people believe that their vote actually makes a difference in the outcome, if we break that way of thinking, I think that the political landscape of the UK can and will drastically change”. Many believe that this greater focus on tactical voting while widespread wasn’t focussed enough and it just ended up sp=litting the vote more in swing seats, as many didn’t actively change their voting habits to unseat the conservatives. 

It’s clear from speaking to these various Labour supporters that the party needs to evolve if it is going to survive the next general elections. Many hope that a new leader will inject some much needed life back into the party and bring back the staunch labour supporters who were put off by Jeremy Corbyn. With the advent of social media it’s clear that tactical voting may become and even greater power for change in the future, if it can be used to mobilise greater numbers of people, there is no doubt that many seats will come under threat of change. 

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