Labour has learnt nothing from recent history, nothing from its failures and still less about the nation’s desire to improve its lot, argues political writer Gareth Thomas. 

Much digital ink has and will be spilt over Labour’s Christmas turkey of an election campaign and the party’s failure to appeal beyond woke, staunch remain, tribal or traditional voters. The immediate causes of defeat seem clear. Voters did not want to be governed by a miserable Marxist who seemed to hate their country. They expected to see the democratic exercise of referenda being respected and were reluctant to embrace economic policies that seemed too good to be true.

Yet it’s the party’s arrested adolescent worldview, mixing presumed moral superiority with a lack of workable ideas to help ordinary people improve their lives that lies at the heart of Labour’s failure to earn the nation’s trust. Those seeking to secure Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy may conclude that with Brexit no longer a Leave/Remain issue, some mildly tweaked version of the 2019 manifesto, fronted by someone less irritable than Rumpelstiltskin, might turn the tide.

I think this would be a fatal mistake for a party which had nothing to offer voters other than self-regarding pieties, fact-free scaremongering, vacuous virtue signalling and fantasy economics.

In its arrested state of development, Labour has learnt nothing from recent history, nothing from its failures and still less about the nation’s desire to improve its lot. The party needs to leave the comforting embrace of accumulated certainties about the country it seeks to govern and grow up. It can start by stop fetishising the working classes.

The world is not split between saintly workers and devious, exploitative bosses. People know this instinctively. Indeed only someone who has passed from the coddled life of student politics to a role outside the private sector role could possibly hold on to such delusions. No matter how many times you tell the stories of Cable Street or Peterloo, you’re not convincing anyone that, by extension, one entire class of people is somehow beyond reproach. What was the dominant class of UKIP voters?

Significantly less upscale than the average remain rally, I would suggest. What class were the dockers who marched in support of Enoch Powell? Who exactly was enforcing ‘colour bars’ and quotas against immigrant workers before the Equal Pay Act came into effect? You can’t have Cable Street without also owning UKIP, Mrs Brown’s Boys and mass-market tabloid readership.

The left’s adoration of the idea of a noble proletariat sits uneasily with the widespread sneering contempt with which actual working people’s views are held: When “The Daily Mail”, “Nigel Farage” and “gammon” are feel-good go-to comedy references on BBC shows, you realise that the professed reverence for ordinary people doesn’t run deep.

People are not uniquely good if they happen to be born with fewer advantages than others. Likewise, Tory voters are not ‘scum’ who are uniquely motivated by their financial ends. This matters because policies which flow from such a Manichean worldview do little to help any group of people get on in life. If, as a government, you believe that working-class people are helpless children, you are drawn to pursue policies which coddle the less well-off, while turning a blind eye to the disincentivising pull that welfare may have from the idea and practice of work. The left’s mantra that labour market inequities are somehow the fault of malign corporate or government forces beyond the individual’s control merely breeds a sense of helplessness, denying people agency in their own lives.

Encouraging inertia and resentment may motivate some people to vote for you, but does precisely nothing to help people with their struggles. At the beginning of the coalition government, Iain Duncan Smith was criticised for encouraging Job Centres to advertise vacancies beyond their immediate vicinity. Some on the left whipped up the baseless scare story that unemployed people would now be forced to travel far and wide to look for work instead of recognising that anything that might help an out-of-work person find new employment was to be welcomed. Once again, the cut-through message was that it is somehow someone else’s duty to rescue people, a mentally corrosive narrative that can be used to justify self-sabotaging inactivity and hopelessness.

By championing policies which incentivised people to find work, the Tories played a meaningful role in the creation of over 3 million jobs since 2010. To hear Labour’s grudging response – mostly misinformation about zero-hours contracts, disability assessments and temporary contracts – you’d think they would have preferred people had stayed at home, watching Cash in the Attic, telling themselves it’s the government’s fault there are no manufacturing jobs left in Abershwt.

It is opportunity that the less fortunate lack, not creativity, ingenuity or industry. Every time the Labour party hands one of its plum jobs to an insider’s offspring (as both McDonnell and Corbyn did), a talented outsider is denied an opportunity. Likewise, when frontbenchers fight all forms of selection and improvement in education while sending their offspring to private schools, they hurt the prospects of children they profess to care about.

Last Summer saw outstanding GCSE results at academy schools like the West London Free and Michaela, obtained for their local catchment pupils in the teeth of vociferous objections from the left, whose ideology would have condemned these children to worse results at existing non-academy schools. Instead, these children’s educations have the potential to transform lives. And in a world where the likes of Ed Miliband, Stephen Kinnock, Richard Burgon, Laura Murray, Sebastian Corbyn and David Prescott are handed privileges under their birth, we ordinary kids need all the opportunities we can get.

It’s high time Labour stopped genuflecting at the Durham Miners’ Gala and started pursuing ideas which improve a lot of its core voter base.

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