John Morris, an experienced Labour campaigner in the Midlands, analyses the result of the General Election and suggests how to win voters back.
Most of the news following Thursday’s cataclysmically bad election result focused – and rightly so - on the collapse of Labour’s red wall in the north. But here in the East Midlands the picture is no rosier. Seats we’ve held for decades have fallen and, even in our cities, huge swings put key metropolitan areas at risk next time.
If the Tories advance again our seats nationally could number below 100 and in the East Midlands could be counted on one hand. If Labour doesn’t wake up to the issues outside the capital, there will be very little hope left of us ever forming a government again.
In the East Midlands, the Conservatives gained six seats at Labour’s expense: seats which included Vernon Coaker in Gedling and Dennis Skinner in Bolsover – but we also failed to keep and hold seats such as Broxtowe, Ashfield, Rushcliffe, Derby North and Mansfield despite each seat running substantial campaigns over many months, and most having selected their candidates years ago.
It was common to hear voters express their concerns over Brexit, Corbyn and antisemitism. I heard this a lot in 2017 too, but due to the unexpected outcome of that election I don’t think we listened closely enough this time – expecting them to hold their noses and vote for us regardless.
A cynic in me would say that last time, when the public believed Corbyn couldn’t win, they were willing to give Labour the benefit of the doubt. This time, with Labour inches from power, they couldn’t bring themselves to do the same – preferring Johnson over us.
What Johnson said may have been all lies, but at least he said he was going to do what so many voted for in 2016. We prevaricated then fudged. We stood for a muddy compromise and not something anyone could truly believe in.
I am an arch-remoaner but, after Thursday, I accept the country’s direction and will fight to make the best out of Brexit. I don’t want to be in this situation, I wanted Corbyn in power and a second referendum, but deluding ourselves any longer will only further separate us from our working-class base. They’re not racist, they’re not ignorant, they’re fed up of being left behind – and we need to actually listen to their concerns and answer their questions honestly.
Boris Johnson knows that if he can keep those voters, he could potentially lock us out of power permanently. That’s why he’s going to make sure he invests in the North and in key seats in the Midlands. He might have well parked a tank in Sedgefield when he delivered a victory speech there.
Seven of our eight seats we retained in the East Midlands are in cities: three in Leicester, three in Nottingham, one in Derby and the sole one outside a city in Chesterfield: which was only kept through a split Brexit/Tory vote.
Of those eight, half have now majorities of 6000 votes or less. Five had a swing of above 10% to the Tories: Derby South had 10.7%, Nottingham North had 16.4%, Chesterfield had 16.8%, Leicester West had 17.4%, and Leicester East had an astonishing 30.6% - aided by a substantial Tory campaign that used the issue of Kashmir to divide communities. No seat improved on the last election.
I want to be able to give an answer to how we can regain this lost ground but there is no simple solution. A change of leader will only go so far – we, quite simply, need a radical change of direction to realign Labour with both its traditional working-class base and our ‘New Core’ of educated, often more middle-class and aspirational city dwellers.
Without both we confine ourselves to decades of opposition and deprive ourselves of the ability to actually help the people, across both the country and the East Midlands, who most need a Labour government.
If we don’t improve in five years’ time we won’t be here again, we’ll barely be here at all.