‘Against their interests’

The Hartlepool by-election result has renewed discussion about how Labour re-connects with working-class voters. This article looks at two components of this. Firstly, it examines the idea that root of Labour’s problems come from having ‘triangulated’ away from its core vote in the 1990s. And secondly, it explores the phenomenon of ‘deprived bellwethers’ (as I call them) and other poorer seats that Labour doesn’t currently represent. It asks what the party can learn from areas which — as those on the left sometimes put it — vote ‘against their interests’.

‘Nowhere to go’

A contention from the far left, so common it’s now seldom contested, is that Labour in 1997 ‘abandoned its base’. The argument is that, under Tony Blair, the party ‘took for granted’ the electors it was created to represent. New Labour assumed that the core vote in its heartlands had ‘nowhere to go’, and instead appealed to affluent seats in middle England. This is said to have denied working-class communities a voice — creating voter apathy, allowing in the far right and catalysing the collapse of the Red Wall. Just last month, Ian Lavery wrote a piece for Tribune which included this charge.

‘Deprived bellwethers’

Once you include the seats which cannot be traced back for the entirety of the period we’re looking at (which adds 11 constituencies), there are 252 seats in England which are above the median average for at least four of our seven metrics. 122 were Labour-held prior to the Hartlepool result.

Conclusion

In late 2019 I released a book, Warring Fictions. Subsequently republished as The Dark Knight and the Puppet Master, it criticised several myths inherent within left populism, including what I called the Dark Knight myth (the tendency to categorise politics into good and bad) and the Golden Era (the tendency to idealise the past).

Author of The Dark Knight and the Puppet Master, a critique of the myths underpinning left populism: warringfictions.net