The Labour Party’s Rocky Road To Redemption, Part 2 – Pat Glass Edition

The Labour Party still shows no signs of having learned to stop hating half the country

Earlier this week, this blog looked at Tristram Hunt’s effort to combine feedback from various personalities within the Labour Party into a coherent narrative explaining why they lost the 2015 general election. As we saw, it hasn’t got off to the best of starts.

But quoting extensively from a failed parliamentary candidate who unabashedly declared that there is nothing good about British culture and power (as Tristram Hunt did when he quoted the losing Harlow candidate Suzy Stride) is nothing compared to the latest self-inflicted wound administered to the party by one of its own sitting MPs.

Next to enjoy her moment in the sun is Europhile Labour MP Pat Glass, who while campaigning in Derbyshire for Britain to remain in the European Union had some rather choice words to describe her encounter with a man who raised concerns about immigration.

From the BBC:

A Labour MP campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU has apologised after being recorded calling a voter a “horrible racist”.

Shadow Europe minister Pat Glass made the comments after an interview with BBC Radio Derby in Sawley, Derbyshire.

She said: “The very first person I come to is a horrible racist. I’m never coming back to wherever this is.”

[..] The man Ms Glass is believed to have been referring to said he had spoken to her about to a Polish family in the area who he believed were living on benefits, describing them as “spongers”, but denied being racist.

The North West Durham MP said: “The comments I made were inappropriate and I regret them.

“Concerns about immigration are entirely valid and it’s important that politicians engage with them.

“I apologise to the people living in Sawley for any offence I have caused.”

Let’s be honest – Pat Glass isn’t sorry that she made the remarks. She is sorry that she was caught making the remarks, which is very different. For just as surely as rich Californian donors bankrolling then-candidate Barack Obama understood exactly what he meant when he made his dog-whistle comments about backward Southerners clinging to their guns and religion, so Pat Glass’s intended audience knows exactly what she means when she recoils in mock horror after an everyday encounter with someone sceptical about immigration.

Because like the current Labour Party as a whole, Pat Glass’s audience is not the entire country. Her audience is not even everyone on the Left. And it certainly isn’t the “white working class”, with whom Labour now have such a fractious relationship. Pat Glass’s preferred audience is the same middle-class clerisy which cheered on Ed Miliband, whose sheltered home counties wishy-washy Fabianism renders them utterly capable of identifying with the hopes, fears and dreams of whole swathes of the country.

As is often the case, the initial reflex tells us everything that we need to know. And Pat Glass’s reflex on being confronted with the voter in question was not to attempt to understand their viewpoint and see the world through their eyes, but rather to high-handedly dismiss them as being beneath her dignity. Glass knows that both the EU and high net migration are both unabashed goods, and anybody who deigns to disagree with her is uneducated at best, or “racist” at worst. Why bother to hide it?

(Incidentally, Andrew Neil does a great job skewering Labour apologist Zoe Williams in the Daily Politics clip shown above, taking her to school on the difference between racism, xenophobia and bigotry).

We have seen this story play out before, and we will see it again. Mostly because it is how many Labour Party MPs and activists actually feel, and speaking the truth in an unguarded moment is a perennial occupational hazard in politics. Of course, under Jeremy Corbyn, Pat Glass can comfortably expect to receive no censure. Ed Miliband, obsessed with outward appearances, went too far the other way in the case of the Emily Thornberry St. George’s flag Twitter picture, purging Thornberry from his shadow cabinet.

But whether the Labour Party is breezily ignoring the issue or wildly overreacting out of concern for bad PR, the one thing that the party still shows no inclination for doing is actually reaching out to their scorned working class base and asking – pass the smelling salts – whether they might actually have a point? Until now, the best that Labour have managed to do in this regard is to put up a few spokespeople to say something along the lines of “of course it’s not racist to be concerned about immigration”. But this is then immediately followed by the pivot to “but here’s why they are wrong, and the EU / unlimited immigration is actually great”. In other words, the Labour Party are trying to tackle this gulf between the party leadership and the disaffected working class base as a problem of optics rather than a fundamental disagreement over policy.

Maybe the Labour Party will struggle along all the way through until the next general election without resolving the inherent tension between the multiculturalist direction set by the leadership and the more nativist attitudes held by those of their supporters who drifted away to UKIP or stayed home during the 2015 election. But unless Jeremy Corbyn or someone else steps forward with a concerted act of leadership, effectively “choosing a side” once and for all, the party will continue to be embarrassed in the polls when sneering Labour MPs accidentally reveal their true feelings about the working classes.

As this blog recently put it:

First, Labour must learn simply to tolerate the country again – to look upon the white working class and others of their former supporters not as godless infidels who spurned the One True Faith and threw their lot in with the genocidal Tories and racist Ukippers, but as decent and rational human beings who simply don’t like what the Labour Party is currently selling.

Meanwhile, Labour shadow ministers and the army of activists who knock on doors and deliver leaflets need to dial down the moral sanctimony from 100 to about 50, and accept that maybe they, rather than the electorate, made the mistake on May 7 (and the days leading up to it) last year.

At present, whether it is Pat Glass or the Labour In For Britain crowd in general, the scorn and contempt heaped by major party figures on otherwise natural supporters who fail to toe the correct line on immigration and the EU speaks volumes. The people are not stupid. They know when they are being mocked, and they will not buy the subsequent walkback and fake expressions of contrition.

So perhaps this is a split which needs to happen. Just as the Tories desperately need a cleansing fire to purge their ranks of all the wets and panting europhiles post-referendum, maybe the Labour Party needs to split into two new parties – one comprised of middle class luvvies who think they know best about what the working classes need, and another new party comprised of actual working class people who do not need sanctimonious young Corbynistas, Hampstead dwelling champagne socialists or the likes of Pat Glass to defend their interests.

Right now, this is an open question. But the antics of people like Pat Glass are making it a slightly less difficult one to answer.

 

Pat Glass - Labour In For Britain - EU Referendum - Immigration - Racist - Sawley Derbyshire

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The Labour Party’s Soul Searching Exercise Is Off To An Unpromising Start

Finally, a glimmer of self-awareness from within the perennially self-satisfied Labour Party. But there is a long, difficult road ahead if Labour are serious about reaching out to their legions of disaffected former voters, and it is far from certain that senior party figures have either the stamina or the humility to make the journey

 

What makes us great as a country is not our culture, it’s not our wealth, and it’s definitely not currently our footballing abilities.” – Suzy Stride, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Harlow, 2014

 

Apparently Tristram Hunt has been filling the time freed up through refusing to serve in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet by having a good, long think about why the Labour Party imploded quite so badly under the hapless leadership of Ed Miliband.

Hunt’s principle contribution to this process of soul-searching has been to assemble and edit a book of essays by various people within the party, each one ruminating on the cause of their defeat. The common thread which emerges, unsurprisingly, is the profound extent to which the increasingly metropolitan, middle-class core of the modern Labour Party has diverged from the “white working class”, to the extent that the Labour leadership (and many activists) had almost nothing to say to Britain’s strivers going in to the 2015 general election.

Hunt previews this new book – “Labour’s Identity Crisis” – in an article for the Guardian, and it makes fascinating reading, though probably not for the reasons that its author would like. For it reveals the absolute mountain which Labour has to climb just in order to appear relevant to those voters who have deserted the party for UKIP or the Tories.

Hunt begins:

“I’m a white working-class Englishman who isn’t on benefits, Labour isn’t for people like me.” That was the brutal message that confronted the Labour party candidate Suzy Stride on a doorstep in Harlow, Essex, during last year’s general election.

It was a sentiment repeated across the country: Labour didn’t speak for England. Worse, in that remarkable tweet from the Islington MP Emily Thornberry  – picturing St George’s crosses adorning a semi in Rochester – we seemed to mock it.

It’s very interesting that Tristram Hunt should kick off his article with a quote from failed 2015 Labour parliamentary candidate for Harlow (my hometown), Suzy Stride. Because this is what Stride had to say about the country which gives her life and liberty back during the 2014 Labour Party Conference:

“What makes us great as a country is not our culture, is not our wealth, and it’s definitely not currently our footballing abilities. What makes us great is that we have the dignity to care for those who are most vulnerable. So when did it become acceptable to make parents queue for food at foodbanks?”

This is someone who stood before the electorate asking for their vote only months after boasting on television that she believes there is nothing special about her country, its culture, history or achievements, and that the only thing which we on this rainy island have to be proud of is the fact that we confiscate ever more money from the most productive people in society and blast it indiscriminately at anybody declared by the Labour Party to be “vulnerable” (currently hovering at around 50% of the population, in terms of net welfare recipients).

And yet up pops Suzy Stride in Tristram Hunt’s book, acting as though the seeds of her defeat were sown not by her own contemptuous attitude toward her country, but rather by the mistaken priorities and poor leadership of the national party. The man who went on to beat Stride by 8,350 votes, incumbent Conservative MP Robert Halfon, understands that in fact our culture is great, as is our history, our wealth and global power. And while he is far from being a Thatcherite right-winger, Halfon at least appreciates that the greatness of our country is more than the sum of our public services. Faced with a choice between the two candidates, it was no contest for the voters of the bellwether constituency of Harlow.

Tristram Hunt quotes Stride again, at the end of a long passage on immigration:

For too many voters, we were still the party that had once dismissed Gillian Duffy as “bigoted” for raising the question of mass migration and cultural change. Labour still has a long way to go to acknowledge the post-2004 influx as one of the most dramatic demographic surges in the history of England. As a result, England has changed in cultural and ethnic composition with an intensity many voters understandably find deeply unsettling.

For at the same time as new migrants found work, manufacturing was laying off workers in the face of increased global competition. There was no direct link between the jobs gained and those lost, but the conjunction of immigration, globalisation and job losses left a toxic political legacy: industrial communities in England saw their way of life change under a Labour policy for which democratic consent was never sought, let alone given. Even worse was an unwillingness by Labour activists to acknowledge the problem. According to Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, eight out of 10 Labour party members think that immigration is good for the country. This is not the case on most doorsteps in Labour areas. And when, in 2015, English voters raised cultural concerns about changes in language, dress and social norms, we answered with crass, material responses. “Many middle-class Labourites scoffed at such views,” according to Suzy Stride in Harlow. “Where would the NHS be without immigrants?” was a common response from canvassers, she said.

This is actually a very good passage, and is the closest we have yet come to anything approaching contrition for the way that the New Labour government of Tony Blair waved through an unprecedented influx of immigrants without so much as mentioning it to the British electorate, let alone seeking their permission. Whether one is generally pro or anti-immigration (and this blog is very much pro), we should all be able to agree as democrats that such a significant national change, brought about by stealth, was an unconscionable act of arrogance by the Blair government. The fact that many Labour activists still have to be coaxed ever so gently toward this realisation is itself a sign of how much atoning the party still has to do.

Tristram Hunt then gets to the core of it:

A failure to appreciate the value of Englishness played an important role in our 2015 defeat and nothing Corbyn has done as leader has changed this. Indeed, his cosmopolitan views on immigration, benefits, the monarchy and armed forces are likely to have exacerbated the disconnect.

As George Orwell put it: “In leftwing circles it is always felt there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings.” He was right: in no other progressive European tradition – from the French Socialist party to Spain’s Podemos – do you find a similar reluctance to fly the flag.

So there are obvious reforms for Labour to pursue: an English Labour party; a referendum on an English parliament; radical devolution to cities and counties. Alongside that, we have to be careful during the EU referendum campaign not to alienate those millions of Labour voters opting for Brexit. But more than that, what these tales from the 2015 campaign expose is Labour’s need to shed its metropolitan squeamishness about England. It needs to express its admiration and love for the people and culture of this great country.

An admirable sentiment, but at present a futile hope. As Hunt himself admits, the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party has done nothing to change the core of the party’s disdain for that bulk of people lumped together under the umbrella term “white working class”. While this blog hailed Corbyn’s leadership bid not because of his odious foreign policy opinions but because of the opportunity he represents to inject some real partisan choice back into our domestic political debate, there is sadly little evidence that the army of new members Corbyn helped attract to the party hail from outside the urban, middle class clerisy first identified by Brendan O’Neill as the Labour Party’s new de facto rulers.

You see the effect in Jeremy Corbyn’s immediate U-turn on the European Union the moment he became Labour leader. Corbyn had always held a principled eurosceptic stance and had voted to leave back in the 1975 referendum, and yet here he is in 2016, chanting the praises of Brussels. Why? Because while the Labour party membership will forgive many things (including supporting the IRA, as Alex Massie reminds us), the one thing they cannot abide is a failure to support the mindless, anti-democratic pseudo-internationalism of the EU, or the failure to take a firm, unapologetic stance in favour of unlimited immigration. Those things are simply non-negotiable for Labour activists, most of whom can scarcely conceal their disdain for anybody who fails to hold the “correct” view on immigration in particular.

And that’s the problem. Too many Labour activists actually hate the people of this country – or at best they view those not already convinced of Labour’s righteousness as dangerously ignorant, as Tristram Hunt goes on to explain:

Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland, in Cumbria, takes the analogy further by suggesting that, if Labour fails to embrace Englishness, it will face in northern towns and villages the same fate as the Democrats in the US south: a failure to connect “culturally” with a socially conservative working-class electorate, increasingly willing to vote against their own material interests.

Jamie Reed presumptuously declares that it is the cultural issues surrounding English identity which make natural Labour supporters spurn the party and vote against their own material self interest. But this lazy “what’s the matter with Kansas?” attitude is itself part of the problem – the arrogant assumption that people are voting Tory or UKIP despite rather than because of their right wing economic policies, and that of course they would see that good old fashioned socialist policies would be much better for them, if only they were a little more educated.

The headline of Hunt’s piece in the Guardian is “There’ll always be an England – and Labour must learn to love it”. But from all the evidence currently on display, aspiring for love is setting the goal far too high. First, Labour must learn simply to tolerate the country again – to look upon the white working class and others of their former supporters not as godless infidels who spurned the One True Faith and threw their lot in with the genocidal Tories and racist Ukippers, but as decent and rational human beings who simply don’t like what the Labour Party is currently selling.

Meanwhile, Labour shadow ministers and the army of activists who knock on doors and deliver leaflets need to dial down the moral sanctimony from 100 to about 50, and accept that maybe they, rather than the electorate, made the mistake on May 7 (and the days leading up to it) last year.

If these extracts from “Labour’s Identity Crisis” – and the behaviour of Labour supporters in the year since that fateful general election – are anything to go by, the party has a lot of unresolved anger toward the British electorate. If this were a marriage, couples therapy would most definitely be in order. All of which is quite ridiculous, because it is Britain which has every right to be angry at the Labour Party, and not vice versa.

The white working class and many others spurned the Labour Party in 2015 not because they are morally defective, but because the centre-left, urban, woolly Fabianism of the Miliband era had absolutely nothing to offer them.

And what remains uncertain, despite a radical change in leadership and a plucky first attempt at introspection from Tristram Hunt, is just how the Labour Party ever expects to win a future majority when they continue to hold such a large segment of the population in open contempt?

 

Tristram Hunt - Labour Leadership

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Bonfire Of The SpAds: How The Bright Young Things Ruined British Politics

2 - Ed Miliband - EdStone - General Election 2015 - Ed Stone

Bring back the big beasts – young, arrogant and ignorant politicos are to blame for modern Britain’s soulless politics, and Labour’s resounding general election defeat

When Ed Miliband stood in a field last month and unveiled his universally mocked policy monolith – swiftly renamed the EdStone by political journalists who couldn’t quite believe their luck – the brains behind the doomed operation was a young whippersnapper named Torsten Henricson-Bell, a 32-year old special advisor and Oxford grad described by one MP as being “totally devoid of any politics”.

A few days later, when the #EdStone fiasco forced the Labour Party into full damage control mode, it was 40-year old campaign manager and Miliband acolyte Lucy Powell – another politico without a day’s real-world work experience to her name – who managed to make things even worse by suggesting that Ed Miliband shouldn’t actually be expected to keep the vague pledges he had taken the effort of carving into tablet form.

The rise of these people is hardly limited to the Labour Party. A former policy unit apparatchik and ministerial bag carrier from the John Major administration now sits in Number 10 Downing Street, re-elected to serve a second term as Prime Minister having transformed the Conservative Party into an ideologically rootless but effective vote-winning machine. The difference between David Cameron and Torsten Henricson-Bell is only one of competence, not of kind.

Nearly a month after the ideologically barren, soul-sappingly irrelevant general election – and Labour’s abject defeat at the hands of David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservatives – it is time to face facts: the Bright Young Things of British politics, the embryonic career politicians shimmying up the greasy pole in search of a safe Westminster seat courtesy of their party machines, are the symptom, not the cure, of Britain’s political ills.

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Voting UKIP – No Buyer’s Remorse Yet

 

Having made the immensely difficult decision to abandon the Conservative Party (which itself has largely abandoned its own conservatism in the successful hunt for centrist votes) and lend my vote to UKIP in the general election, I have been waiting expectantly for Ukipper buyer’s remorse syndrome to kick in with a vengeance.

Surely by now, in the cold light of day – and following a period of rather amateurish internal warfare over the party leadership – I should be consumed with confusion and shame at my actions? Well, two weeks on and I’m still waiting.

In some ways, this is only to be expected – UKIP actually declined in terms of Westminster representation, and to suffer buyer’s remorse one has to actually have gained something. And since a majority Conservative government was the least worst option of all the possible outcomes involving the major parties, again there is little cause for regret – we will finally have our EU referendum and a few more token efforts will be made to restrain the growth of the state.

But this isn’t why I have no regrets about my voting decision. I stand behind my choice because nearly every objection to UKIP’s policies – both in politics and the popular culture – is based on a two-dimensional cartoon villain caricature of what it is to be a small government eurosceptic, and because so very many of the people leading the anti-UKIP mockery are virtue-signalling simpletons who couldn’t construct a coherent political thought if one came packaged with IKEA-style self-assembly instructions.

Take this effort by Russell Howard, released just before the election, shown in the video above.

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The Battle For UKIP’s Soul

UKIP Battle Bus - General Election 2015

 

More concerning news about UKIP from today’s Guardian:

The author of Ukip’s general election manifesto has said the party should concentrate on “compassionate, centre-ground” policies, denying the party was riven with bitter infighting.

Suzanne Evans, the party’s deputy chairwoman, said the party’s post-election troubles were related to advisers who had now left. “I don’t think anyone hates anyone,” she said on Sunday […]

“I think if you look at the manifesto – and let’s not forget I wrote the manifesto – I think it was very compassionate, very centre-ground, very balanced and Nigel called it – bless him – the best manifesto ever written. So it was a great sort of feather in my cap. That I think is where he wants to take the party and where the party needs to go.”

On “shy kippers”, a phenomenon repeatedly alluded to by Farage during the campaign, Evans said it was crucial to find out why those people were reticent in showing their support for the party. She added: “If we’ve got it absolutely right and if our party brand is working at the moment, why don’t people want to sing and dance about it?”

This was always the danger for UKIP – not so much the bitter infighting, which is disappointing yet predictable, but rather the growing impulse to move further away from its guiding principles toward the political centre.

The frustration within UKIP is quite understandable – the party dramatically increased its level of support from 2010 to 2015, continuing an exponential rise over the past five years, but was rewarded with only one Westminster seat thanks to the diffusion of its support across the country.

And looking at the parties which performed well (namely the Conservatives and the SNP) it is easy to come away with the impression that the path to electoral success lies in wittering on endlessly about public services – the Tories because they only sold their Long Term Economic Plan on the basis that a stronger economy means more cash for things like the NHS, and the SNP because of their reflexive opposition to ever shrinking the state.

Smarting from the loss of half its Westminster representation and trying to keep a lid on very public infighting which threatens to make the party look foolish, the impulse to move to the political centre is clearly very strong. But it is equally misguided – the British political centre is already overcrowded, with the rudderless Labour Party and David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservatives fighting over the same ground.

Suzanne Evans apparently now believes that UKIP and conservatives in general are to blame for the often hysterical response of many people to right-wing ideas, and that they need to change their “brand” so that people want to “sing and dance” about their beliefs rather than remaining shy Tories or shy Ukippers. But this misses the point. To avoid public opprobrium would be to adopt the same tired, worn-out centrist policies which have led the establishment parties to such unpopularity and irrelevance.

UKIP received just under thirteen per cent of the national vote in the general election because that is currently more or less the ceiling of support for eurosceptic, quasi-libertarian thinking in Britain. But the correct response to this fact is not for UKIP to change the policies to encompass a larger number of potential voters. The correct response is to engage in debate and win over more people to the pro-sovereignty, pro-personal freedom worldview – raising the ceiling rather than lowering the ambition.

Of course this won’t be easy. It takes time – and the gradual accumulation of evidence that the centrist policies pursued by the other parties are failing – to persuade people  that a radically different direction is needed. And in Britain, so accustomed to the post-war settlement policies of an active, interfering government and welfare state, persuading people that lower taxation and greater freedom can result in more prosperity rather than less is particularly challenging.

This means that despite the strides made by UKIP since the party was founded, dramatic electoral success was never going to come in 2015, and nor will it come in a rush in 2020. Weaning people away from big government is a long, difficult process – especially in a country where 52 per cent of the population receive more in government benefits than they contribute in taxes.

But selling out by becoming just another centrist party that drones on about “compassion” while failing to restrain the state and free the individual is the worst possible idea, and would represent a grave betrayal of all those people who were originally attracted to UKIP’s cause.

UKIP is clearly being moved by the impulse to make a comfortable home for the legions of former Labour voters who have switched their loyalty to Nigel Farage, and we are now witnessing the beginning of a battle for the party’s soul. But the answer is not to recreate the Labour Party under a purple banner – to do so would be hugely insincere, and would undermine the true foundation of the party’s support.

Four million votes in a general election is a huge accomplishment, and the temptation to exploit and artificially increase this number by repositioning to the left is immense. But a principled political party – the party to which this blog, after much soul searching, lent its support on 7 May – should not seek quick shortcuts to greater public favour.

Real progress is difficult, and comes slowly. UKIP’s warring factions must not forget this simple truth.