There’s one way in which Labour can win again — but no-one’s talking about it.
DISCLAIMER: All points put in this article are from a purely analytical perspective, and do necessarily reflect my personal views.
Labour’s had it rough ever since 2005 — the recession which marred Gordon Brown, a spate of election losses (including their worst since 1935) and the recent loss of Hartlepool, a seat which had never come under Tory control since its creation. There’s a huge debate about where Labour goes now — does it move to a more progressive stance to win back Green and Lib Dem voters, does it bring back ‘New Labour’? There are credible arguments for all of these positions, but the one most likely to make Labour win (from an analytical perspective) is hardly being talked about in the media. Only a few people, such as ex-Brexit Party MEP Claire Fox and ‘Blue Labour’ campaigner Paul Embery, have spoken about it.
There is no doubt about the fact that if they ever want to win again, Labour absolutely has to regain the ‘Red Wall’. But those claiming that Labour needs to move to a more ‘progressive’, or ‘liberal’, or ‘woke’ viewpoint are blind to the fact that doing this will just further disenfranchise Red Wall voters.
It is plainly clear that ex-Labour voters in Red Wall seats have a more socially conservative outlook — you can see this most clearly in 2015, where a large number of Labour voters voted for UKIP. This wasn’t just because of Brexit, but due to a feeling that the Labour party was increasingly getting out-of-touch with the people.
Labour can no longer view the Red Wall as safe for them — now, as less people are voting tribally and more are open to other parties, they have to change or die. There’s not just the threat of the Tories — there’s also the huge threat of a completely new party, such as Reform UK or a party yet to be created, taking Labour’s place completely.
A move to a more progressive policy platform and a more left-wing economic platform would undoubtedly win back some Lib Dem and Green voters who had previously defected, and would lead to Labour gains in metropolitan and liberal seats — and whilst these gains would be an improvement on the current situation, they just wouldn’t be enough and would create a ceiling for Labour of well under the 326 seats needed for a majority in Parliament.
A more progressive platform would also begin to alienate voters in Wales, and whilst the valleys are undoubtedly the most tribally Labour area in the UK, they too would slowly start to slip away in favour of not only the Conservatives but also newer parties offering a more socially conservative alternative, such as Reform UK. Losing Wales would mean the death of Labour.
Instead, from an analytical viewpoint of the attitudes of working-class voters in traditional Labour areas, the only way the party can go back to making large election wins is by taking inspiration from the ‘Blue Labour’ wing of the party. This wing promotes values that strongly resonate with traditional Labour voters, such as family, community and socially conservative policies. These voters want a party that rejects ‘wokeness’, a party which is tough on immigration, and a party which represents itself as a party of ordinary, working people. Essentially, Labour needs a full-on revamp which moves its economic policies to the centre-left, it’s social policies rightward and paints itself as a ‘party of the people’.
The popularity of this policy direction is painstakingly clear. Take UKIP’s 2015 manifesto, for example. Despite the image of it being a ‘Thatcherite’ party, its economic policy was actually fairly close to the centre, coupled with a more right-wing social policy. Whilst I’m not suggesting that Labour should go as far as this, they need to take inspiration from it. Whilst they might view ‘populism’ as a dirty word, it works — and they need to employ it just as the Tories, UKIP and Brexit Party have done to win.
I have no doubt that this would upset a good chunk of Labour MPs, and it would certainly lead to Labour losing support to the Greens and Lib Dems in metropolitan areas — but from an analytical perspective of looking at traditional Labour seats, the gains far outweigh the losses.
It would be fair to point out that winning back Red Wall seats alone won’t put Labour back on top — but this is where the new policy direction comes in. By promoting a more ‘Blue Labour’, socially conservative policy and again creating an image of itself as the party of working-class people, Labour can start to make gains in deprived areas of the South East and South West, specifically in coastal and farming communities. To do this, Labour would need to force through a message that they are no longer pro-EU, and that they are now listening to what the people of these areas want. They need to make clear that they are against the current fishing policy in the EU’s Brexit deal, and that they are now an Eurosceptic party. They need to make clear that they have a new direction and stand up to the ‘wokeness’ that the traditional Labour voters of these communities despise. They need to get rid of ‘career politicians’ and put ordinary people up as candidates. If Labour manage to harness this support, as well as rebuilding in the North and bolstering their base in Wales, they will become a scary contender to the Tories once again.
If I were Sir Keir Starmer’s advisor, I’d advise that this change to a more ‘Blue Labour’-inspired social policy would win back the Red Wall and working-class voters for Labour, as well as opening doors to the party in other deprived areas where they can push this new message. And I’d argue that if this led to losing some metropolitan seats, then so be it. The gains Labour could make from this change would far outweigh the losses.