Friday, 12 August 2016

The Myth of New Labour’s Electoral appeal to Labour Voters

After eighteen miserable years of Tory rule, Tony Blair’s New Labour was swept into office in 1997, with a landslide victory. I was as pleased as anyone to see the back of the Tories, and watching the results come in the early hours of Friday morning, it did just keep getting better. One after another, top Tories were felled, culminating in the defeat of arch Thatcherite, Michael Portillo.

I knew Labour had tacked considerably to right under Blair, and so was not expecting much from the incoming Labour government, but it was good to see the Tories, long our arrogant rulers, completely thrashed. As it turned out, even my low expectations of Labour were confounded. New Labour was actually even worse than I had expected.

The turn out for the 1997 general election was 71.3%, which by today’s standards is good, indeed it has not been bettered since. But by historical standards it is on the low side. The previous general election in 1992 had a turn out of 77.7% and every general election since the second World War had a higher turn out than in 1997 up until that point.

Turn out at the next general election in 2001, was a dismal 59.4% which recovered a little in 2005 to 61.4% and again in 2010 to 65.1% (under Gordon Brown’s premiership). Hardly popular endorsements, even though Labour won easily until 2010.

What happened is that voters in 1992 gave John Major’s Tories the benefit of the doubt, after Margaret Thatcher was ousted eighteen months previously. That benefit of the doubt evaporated after only four months, when Black Monday sent sterling hurtling out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism with the subsequent loss of billions of pounds to currency speculators, George Soros chief amongst them. 

It was a national humiliation, and the voters never forgave the Tories for it.

On top of this, Major’s government was wracked with division, over Europe, and mired in sleaze, of the sexual and financial kind, and the voters just bided their time until kicking them out in 1997, in spectacular fashion.   

So the myth of New Labour’s electoral prowess was born, but in reality it was the Tories profound unpopularity with British voters that led to Blair’s victories. The Tories also lost seats to the Lib Dems and the idea of ‘tactical voting’ took hold like never before. Basically, whoever was best placed to keep the Tories out in any particular constituency, usually Labour or the Lib Dems, got the votes.

The low voting turn outs over the Blair years were most pronounced in Labour’s traditional heartlands, Manchester, Liverpool, South Wales, Leeds etc. New Labour stalwart, Hilary Benn was elected to Parliament for the first time at a by-election in 1999, on a turn out of just 19.6%. A record for low turn out at the time, but since beaten by Lucy Powell, another anti-Corbyn rebel MP in 2012, in Manchester Central with a paltry 18.2% turn out.

This trend continued under Ed Miliband’s leadership with the 20 lowest turn out seats in the 2015 general election, all safe Labour ones. These seats are under threat from UKIP now, and the idea that a return to Blairism by Labour would halt this trend is for the birds.

Incidentally, one of the strains of the ‘Corbyn is unelectable’ mantra put about by the New Labour tendency MPs at the moment, is that Corbyn lacks leadership qualities, but the same could have been said about Ed Miliband, but wasn’t. No rebellions from MPs when Miliband was leader, although there was some muttering, no tantrums, no leadership challenge.

This is because what the New Labour faction don’t like about Corbyn is his policies, it has nothing to do with his ‘leadership qualities,’ it is purely ideological.

New Labour Tory-light policies have been rejected by the electorate twice now, so how this can be held up as a winning formula is beyond rationality, but that is because it is all bollocks. 


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  2. Excellent and very honest article, with several interesting facts thrown in. This should be compulsory reading for the 171 in order that they learn a lesson before it is too late.