Opinion

Labour may never win England again: Where does that leave the party’s unionist vision?

02 Jul 2021 4 minutes Read
Keir Starmer in the House of Commons chamber Photo: Flickr – Uk Parliament / Jessica Taylor / cropped from original (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

Labour’s narrow win in the Batley and Spen by-election, a seat they were deeply worried they may lose and threw the kitchen sink at keeping, will give the party some cheer this morning.

However, what it should not do is give the party any false encouragement that they are on their way back as an electoral force in English politics.

Batley and Spen was a seat they held on to with a reduced majority on 2019, which was itself a historically disastrous election for them overall.

It suggests that if a General Election were to be held now their position would be even worse, with even more northern seats falling to the Conservatives. At the very least, there was no suggestion here that the situation for the Labour party had improved.

There is an expectation in UK politics that after a certain period of one party dominating the pendulum will naturally ‘swing back’ towards the other.

But what if the pendulum does not swing back? The Conservatives have now been in power for over ten years and, rather then weakening, their grip on power is becoming ever firmer.

Just to give you some idea of the scale of the challenge facing Labour, the seat they need to take from the Conservatives to win power is North East Somerset, the seat of Jacob Rees-Mogg.

This is a party that can’t hold on to Hartlepool and barely scrapes a result in Batley and Spen, a seat at the centre of the West Yorkshire greater urban area. Winning North East Somerset verges on the fantastical.

And this is all before national boundary changes that are expected to favour the Conservatives even more.

The pendulum might well be stuck. England is a Conservative country and is going to vote Conservative for the foreseeable future.

That national party politics could seize up like this should come as no surprise to Welsh Labour, who have won every election in Wales for 100 years.

In Scotland too, the SNP seem to be firmly lodged into power until something major – like independence – comes along to dislodge them.

Next time

The question is where this leaves Labour’s brand of unionism. Labour are the only party left in power in the UK that properly believes in the UK as a voluntary union of four nations.

The ‘muscular unionism’ of the Conservatives at Westminster is essentially not unionism at all: it sees the UK as one entity, controlled from the centre, rather than a team effort.

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford however continues to see the union through a ‘contributionist’ mindset, with Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland on an equal footing.

But with Labour seemingly locked out of power in England for another decade at least – perhaps, indeed, forever – how does this mindset survive if it has no relevance to the real world?

If ‘muscular unionism’ is the only kind of unionism on offer, a vision based on willing cooperation between four nations may come to be seen as rather naive when the Welsh Government is, by their own admission, consistently undermined by the UK Government.

The only question might be, if England really is beyond Labour as it seems, how long will it take for the part in Wales to come to terms with the implications of that. Would losing another General Election do the trick? Another change of leader with no change in fortunes, perhaps?

Or will the attitude always be, we’ll get there next time? One more heave?

The growing support for Welsh independence in the Labour party – particularly among the young – suggests that opinion is beginning to shift, at least at a grassroots level.

The danger is that by waiting for the impossible to happen in England, by then it may be too late for Labour in Wales.

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Quornby0
Quornby0
3 months ago

Well, if Labour in Wales want to legislate for our country without being overruled by a party who are foreign in geographical, cultural and ideological terms they have a choice to make. That choice needs to be made soon, not after another lost generation of fruitless “discussion”. A good start would be to create a genuinely Welsh and autonomous party raising its own funds and standing on its own two feet. The alternative? Being bound to a reactionary and imploding London party who have more time for Ms Nandy’s “Spanish methods” of dealing with opponents than the mamby pamby unionist… Read more »

Shan Morgain
3 months ago

It’s not “too late for Labour in Wales”. The point is that WELSH LABOUR is not at all the same thing as UK Labour. Welsh Labour is a successful government. UK Labour is a wreck. Under Corbyn UK Labour gained in all directions – the biggest membership of any party in Europe – biggest vote share 2017 and a near miss at winning – massively popular rallies up and down the country and solidly supported policies. Starmer puppet lurched right and lost the lot.

arthur owen
3 months ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

I suspect you really believe all this.But the leader during the 2019 general election was Jeremy Corbyn.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
3 months ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

‘under corbyn uk labour gained in all directions’ – maybe you missed the 2019 uk general election result? UK labour’s worst result in over 80 years, and which included their ‘red wall’ in north wales where they lost 4 seats in their worst uk general election performance in Wales for decades

Rob
Rob
3 months ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

Gaining party membership is not as important as gaining votes though is it.

Jeremy Corbyn was the worst thing that ever happened to the UK let alone the Labour party. He has gifted this country to the populist right.

It angers me that there are some people on the hard left ie George Galloway are quite happy to keep this country in the hands of Boris Johnson simply because Keir Starmer is not left wing enough for them.

Dr Keith W Darlington
Dr Keith W Darlington
3 months ago
Reply to  Shan Morgain

This is the kind of delusional thinking that ensures Labour will be out of power for a generation. Corbyn’s election result in 2019 was the worst since 1935 with the lowest vote share. For goodness sake, try to understand the difference between fact and opinion.No wonder Labour is in such a mess with the opinions that supporters like yourself hold.

defaid
defaid
3 months ago

That would be the English labour party. Plaid Llafur are doing rather better. 😉

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
3 months ago

With FPTP and boundary changes that will benefit the Conservative party in England it seems to me the only realistic option of removing that party from power is for a ‘progressive alliance’ between the Labour Party, Lib Dems, Greens (and perhaps Plaid in certain Welsh seats) in which they all agree a common manifesto programme (which could include switching to STV, further devolution to Wales, environmental policies etc.) and agree not to compete against each other in certain seats for the next election (E.g. Lib Dems and Greens pull out of Labour’s top targets and vice-versa). Could you imagine what… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

The alternative is a independent Wales – the tories would never win a majority of seats in a independent wales

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
3 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

I agree, but I think we will need to take it in stages. The Conservatives will claw back more and more powers if they remain in power (and there isn’t much we can do about it under the current system). We must gain many more powers for our Senedd and the only way to get them is to get a progressive government, that doesn’t view us condescendingly, in Sant Steffan. Then we, the Welsh people (or more likely the next generation) can make our choice.

j humphrys
j humphrys
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Sorry, you have come to the wrong address……….the eternal optimist club is just down the road there, on the soft right, thank you for calling.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
3 months ago
Reply to  j humphrys

I am an open-minded person and I would be interested to see your idea Mr / Ms Humphrys, bearing in mind that the only major party advocating independence – Plaid Cymru – is not making the inroads needed to pursue that aim.

Last edited 3 months ago by Mr Williams
Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
3 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Although I want an Independent Wales I don’t think it is going to happen any time soon sadly.

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Dw i’n cytuno ~ I agree : the ‘progressive alliance’ you describe, seems the ONLY way to defeat the Conservative and Unionist Party (to give it its full name) at the next UK General Election, for all the reasons that you have described. If such an alliance is formed and results in the current UK Tory government losing the election, that would bring in a UK coalition government of – in some combination of the Labour, Lib-Dem, Greens, Plaid, SNP (if Scotland is still in the Union by then) Parties. Fortunately, each one of those Parties is willing to adapt… Read more »

Gill Jones
Gill Jones
3 months ago
Reply to  Crwtyn Cemais

Cytuno yn llwyr

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
3 months ago
Reply to  Crwtyn Cemais

Diolch. I hope the parties will give it some thought.

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

I assume you mean a ‘progressive alliance’ in England? Won’t a Lib/Lab/PC pact to remove the Tories just help preserve the union and even give Labour voters in Wales the illusion that they are forming an UK Government again? Presumably PC wouldn’t contest Ynys Mon or any Rhondda or Carmarthen seat and we’d be left with a probable Labour UK Government that soon forgets Wales is different.

Dr Keith W Darlington
Dr Keith W Darlington
3 months ago

Good post. I think it’s impossible that UK Labour can win again for at least a generation – if ever. Those who think that Red Wall in the north will crumble are living in fantasy land. Scotland was lost and there is no likely to be any Labour resurgence there. The problem for Labour is that they are bereft of ideas and a clear narrative at a time when the country is crying out for new thinking. This is because they are a party carrying too much baggage who always have one eye on appeasing factions. For too long they… Read more »

j humphrys
j humphrys
3 months ago

Nothing.

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
3 months ago

There’s also the small matter of Wales losing 4 MPs so even if labour won every seat they would only take up 36 places at Westminster. It’s possible Scotland may have no Labour MPs at all, pre independence. I see a situation where England becomes even more of a Conservative stronghold and quite enjoys having its western colony controlled by a fairly gummy Labour Senedd. Then the UK parliament can simply keep Wales slightly underfunded for ever and successive Tory PMs can just point at the inferior services provided by the Labour run government next door as proof of the… Read more »

Quornby
Quornby
3 months ago
Reply to  Huw Davies

Quite right Huw, Labour can be the governing party of an independent Wales…… Or London’s whipped dog.

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
3 months ago
Reply to  Huw Davies

“losing 4 MPs”. Wales will be losing eight MPs!!

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
3 months ago

It does appear hopeless for Labour in England. Look at how corrupt, useless and dishonest the Tories are and yet Labour are struggling to hold onto seats that were securely Labour only a short while ago. Imagine (and I really mean imagine !! ) if the Tories actually do level up the country (yeah I know – fantasy) and clean up their act – England will be a one party state for good.

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