A New Leader, A New Time for the Labour Party, but Big Challenges Remain

With recent events you may not have been aware, or perhaps you forgot, that the Labour Party was having its long and drawn out Party Leadership Election. The results are in anyway, Keir Starmer is victorious and will succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Party Leader. Starmer’s task is not an easy one, he takes over at a dire time for the Labour party. Like the Tories during 1997-2005, Labour are in their new “wilderness years”, if they are not careful, they will suffer another defeat in 2024 and Tories will be in power for another 5 years. Starmer must rebuild the Labour Party after the recent general election, where the party won 202 seats having lost 60 from 2017, making it their worst performance in an election since 1935.

Starmer needs to decide how he is going to regain trust and support of traditional Labour voters and regain Labour heartlands, the so called “Red Wall”, where the party collapsed in 2019. He will also have to decide what a post Brexit Britain Labour Party will look like, and what it will say on the big issues facing the country. But also, and probably a more difficult task, he must decide where the ideological fate of his party will lie, whether he remains to the left or moves to centre, similar to where New Labour went or perhaps somewhere in between. Whatever he does decide to do, not everyone will be happy in the Labour Party. And of course, he must tackle the evil of anti-Semitism in the party which will be a true test of his leadership early on.

 This article will aim to show just how big a task is facing Keir Starmer, and what those problems are. Labour have until 2024 to prepare for the next general election, and as Harold Wilson once said “a week is a long time in politics” so there is plenty that could go wrong for the Conservatives and plenty that could go right for the Labour Party in that time. Only three men have won elections for Labour since 1945, Attlee, Wilson and Blair. Time will tell if Starmer joins them or whether he joins the ranks of Kinnock, Miliband and Corbyn.

The 2019 Election marked another turbulent time in British politics. This was the third general election in four years and the ninth major electoral contest in the decade. The Labour Party and the UK were going into this election against the backdrop of Brexit, a Parliament that was unable to agree a Withdrawal Agreement or anything in fact and a mood of great anger in the country. The Tories had been in power for nine years and the government saw the lowest satisfaction scores for the way in which it was running the country for any administration since John Major’s (Ipsos MORI, 2019). Normally, after the “cost of governance” and satisfaction levels like that, this should have been an easy win for the Labour Party. Far from it.

One reason for their defeat was that Labour faced an electoral dilemma, how to hold onto their collation of voters from the 2017 election? At the time, the party on the one hand had a majority of Labour MPs (61%) represented constituencies that had a majority leave vote in 2016, whilst on the other a clear majority of Labour voters (68%) supported Remain in 2016 (BES, 2019). Labour was doomed from the start, there was no way the party could hold onto both of these very different and distinct groups at the same time. And what we saw at the 2019 election was exactly that, Labour losing in many leave voting areas. The Conservatives captured ‘fifty-seven seats, all but three from Labour. These included traditional Labour heartlands in the so-called ‘red wall’: Great Grimsby (Labour since 1945); Bishop Auckland (1935); Basset-law (1935); Wakefield (1932); Leigh (1922); Don Valley (1922); and Bolsover (a seat Labour had never lost when contesting) (Cutts, et al., 2020). So, the challenge for Starmer and the Labour Party going forward is: how to win these voters and seats back? How to build a more permanent and united coalition of support for the Labour Party? Unfortunately, for the Labour Party the loss of support amongst their traditional working-class base, known as the “falling ladder”, has been a long time coming, as Figure 1 shows:

Figure 1: The difference between Labour and Conservative vote share by class composition of English and Welsh constituencies, 2010–2019

Fig 1

(Cutts, et al., 2020, p. 17)

Figure 1 shows the enormous task facing Starmer, he must pick the ladder back up and prevent this election from becoming a realigning moment. Many in Labour will be hoping that 2019 was a one off, that people lent their votes to the Conservatives because of Brexit and will return to the Labour Party after. Of course, Labour will have to earn their vote back but there is a logic to that idea. Now that Britain has left the EU but is in the transition period as it negotiates a future trade deal with our European neighbours, perhaps this dividing line in our politics will weaken. In a recent poll there was 46-54 split in favour of staying out indicated a small swing in favour of Brexit since January (Woodcock, 2020). So perhaps once, excuse me here, “we get Brexit done” there will be a focus on other issues in a post Brexit Britain. Issues that the Labour Party can be stronger on, and issues that enable them to start winning back the support of the voters it lost in 2019.

So, what drove former Labour voters to other parties? Understanding why these voters left might help the party in winning them back. As you can see in Figure 2, Jeremy Corbyn/leadership was the main reason voters did not support Labour in the 2019 election according to this poll. The Labour Party will now hope that the election of Starmer as leader will settle this issue and his name will not be as toxic for the party on the doorsteps. However, Figure 1 also shows that there was much to Labour’s failings in 2019 than just leadership.

Figure 2: What drove former Labour voters back to other parties?

lewis fig 2

(YouGov, 2019)

Brexit, as mentioned above, played a significant role. Perhaps, like leadership, this will now be settled, and voters will not be turned off by Labour. But the other telling issue raised by Figure 2, is that people did not trust Labour on policy and economic competence. There was a feeling this time around that the Labour manifesto and policies were undeliverable and would cost too much. This was consistent with polling before the election, which showed that the majority (63%) thought that Labour’s policies are not realistically deliverable, and that the party would not deliver on its promises. Former Labour voters said in their own words that they: “did not trust the manifesto, you cannot keep borrowing to pay for services”, that “the socialist policies were frightening” and “the sums didn’t add up for all the things they promised if they got in” (YouGov, 2019). This represents a significant challenge for Starmer now coming into the top job in the Labour Party. He and his party need to convince voters that Labour can be trusted on the economy and the public finances if they have any hope of becoming a credible option for the voters.

Finally, I would like to talk about another major problem for the Labour Party. Scotland does not get raised enough in terms of Labours problems as much as it should; Scotland is another once traditional heartlands that they have lost. In 2010, even right in the dying days of New Labour, the party manged to have forty-one seats out of fifty-nine in Scotland (BBC News, 2010). At the 2019 election the Labour Party lost six seats and was left with just one seat (BBC News, 2019). The massive decline in Scotland creates a big problem for Labour. For the Labour Party to win a majority, the party must start winning seats back off the SNP and other parties. Otherwise Labour will have to win more seats in England and Wales. This requires an even bigger swing, as the party will need to take seats of the Conservatives, where there are majorities of over 10,000, no easy task. Labour must re-find its political place in Scotland amongst the Nationalist versus Unionist debate or risks remaining in the side-lines of Scottish politics and out of government in the UK.

If the Labour Party is to start winning elections and return to government, then it must address the issues listed in this article. It is currently facing a significant moment in the party’s history, whether it chooses to return to power and credibility, or whether it continues deeper into the political wilderness. It will not be easy, but the path back to having a Labour Prime Minister and a Labour government can start now. We will see if they, and Starmer take it.

Written by Lewis Virgo

Bibliograpy

BBC News (2010) Election 2010 [Online] BBC.
Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/election2010/results/region/7.stm
[Accessed 4 4 2020].

BBC News, (2019) Election 2019 [Online] BBC.
Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2019/results/scotland
[Accessed 4 4 2020].

BES, 2019. Labour’s electoral dilemma [Online] BES.
Available from: https://www.britishelectionstudy.com/bes-findings/labours-electoral-dilemma/#.Xoc-UIhKhEY
[Accessed 3 April 2020].

Cutts, D. Goodwin, M. Heath, O. & Surridge, P. (2020) ‘Brexit, the 2019 General Election and the Realignment of British Politics’. The Political Quarterly, 91 (1), pp. 7-23.

Ipsos MORI, (2019) Worst public satisfaction ratings for any government since John Major [Online] Ipsos MORI.
Available from: https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/worst-public-satisfaction-ratings-any-government-john-major
[Accessed 3 April 2020].

Woodcock, A. (2020) UK still divided over Brexit with almost half country wanting to rejoin EU, poll finds [Online] The Independent.
Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-brexit-latest-poll-rejoin-eu-younger-older-divide-a9384661.html
[Accessed 3 April 2020].

YouGov, (2019) YouGov In their Own Words: Why Voters Abandonded Labour [Online] YouGov.
Available from: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/12/23/their-own-words-why-voters-abandoned-labour
[Accessed 4 April 2020 ].

 

 

Israeli Ambassador visits Royal Holloway

The Politics and International Relations Society once again host the Israeli Ambassador, Mark Regev, in an evening filled with questions ranging from relations with the British Labour Party, to unsurprisingly, relations with Palestine. The evening was expertly chaired by PIR Society’s very own President Joshua Trood, leading an array of questions and pursuing clarity from Ambassador Regev.

Ambassador Regev opened with a speech regarding modern diplomacy, highlighting Washington as the capital for mediation, the first remark that hinted at Israeli relations with America. Later on, being questioned on the US ordered killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the Ambassador gave complete support for the killing, stating he had no moral qualms about the assassination. Despite fears from many that this action by America could escalate tensions within the Middle East, Ambassador Regev assured the audience that the actions were de-escalatory as it proved to Iran that they would be held accountable for their immoral actions.  From observing Ambassador Regev’s language towards America, it is evident that allies with the West is an essential piece in Israel’s plan to be considered a credible state, worthy of international recognition and stature. Talking of the US, Trumps so called ‘peace plan’ was raised, Ambassador Regev praised Trumps’ plan for dealing with the question as to whether Jews actually have the right to their homeland, and raised discontent with UN Papers which Ambassador Regev deemed, ‘problematic’. It seemed that every question raised  regarding plans for Israel’s future, was a platform for Ambassador Regev to promote Israel’s democracy and strengthening relations within the region. Boasting of two peace treaties with more than half of the Arab league, Ambassador Regev subtly portrayed the effect these relationships will have on Palestine.

In Ambassador Regev’s promotion of Israeli democracy, he did highlight that Israel is in the aftermath of two unsuccessful general elections in the last year, with the third due in March. However, to reinforce democratic legitimacy, Ambassador Regev added commentary that unlike Syria and the former USSR, he did not know the election outcome. This was the beginning of an assault of reassurances that Israel is in fact a democratic, credible state with a vast future ahead of itself. Questions from the audience about the future of Israel was met with an ambiance of  optimism from Ambassador Regev, boasting of allies within the region. In contrast to Israel, Ambassador Regev persisted, Palestinians cannot vote, they are persecuted if they are to demonstrate and are not in fact living in a democracy, however under Israel they would enjoy democratic rights. Despite the negative, yet expectant light, being shred on Palestine, Ambassador Regev looked to the future of reconciliation and a Middle East which looks, in his eyes, in the spirt and form of the  European Union. In an realistic tone, Ambassador Regev, observed that this would not happen anytime soon. The realism being shred on future relations within the Middle East, did portray how far the region has to go to create peace. However, Ambassador Regev’s attitude and answers to almost every question regarding the Middle East and Israel was of the strengths of Israel as a functioning democracy and of increased relations with its neighbours. With Israeli leaked footage of Israel, Saudi and UAE talks, under the patronage of Mike Pence, there is further emphasis for  the hoped direction  Netanyahu and Ambassador Regev have for Israel.

Ambassador Regev also took questions regarding relations within British politics, specifically, the British Labour Party. With Ambassador Regev being at the centre of criticism against Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, it was no surprise that Ambassador Regev saw Corbyn as hostile to Israel and highlighted the investigation of anti-Semitism within the Labour  Party. Despite condemnation of Corbyn, Ambassador Regev proclaimed Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as ‘friends of Israel’ and inspiration from their university reforms were put in place in Israel. The divide between Israel and the British Labour Party was one Ambassador Regev perceived as closing, with the leadership contest well underway, there is certainly hope for a new relationship between British Labour and Israel. Answering an audience  question regarding if relations will change between Britain and Israel now Britain has left the European Union, Ambassador Regev saw an opportunity of improved relations now the UK is looking outside of the EU for trade. Boasting of a nine billion of bilateral trade with the UK, and twenty billion bilateral trade for India and Britain; there was a certain sense that Israel, now seeing the reliance the UK has on US and outside-EU trade deals, could foresee a new relationship with Britain. This ‘opportunity’, as Ambassador Regev framed it, would indeed be vital for Israel, with as stronger relationship between the US and the UK, it seems realistic that the UK can be swayed to support the US in its relations with Israel.

The evening was interesting and thought provoking, however it certainly raised questions about Palestine. Ambassador Regev effectively painted Palestine as another issue within the Middle East, like Syria, that needed fixing. Of course, as a true diplomat, Ambassador Regev ensured that peace talks were always on the table with Palestine, however I felt with the alliances made with Trump’s America, there would be much more bargaining on Palestine’s part than Israel’s. Will there be peace in the region? Certainly not within the next decade, with Israel’s upcoming election, this could be an integral moment for Israel’s in sustaining its strength in continuing the operation for allies both inside and outside of the region.

Written by Sarah Tennent

Runnymede and Weybridge Candidate Hustings- What you need to know

On Monday 25th November, Royal Holloway Politics and International Relations Society proudly hosted Runnymede and Weybridge candidate hustings. With a strong student and public turnout, candidates from the Green Party, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and an Independent made their way through audience questions. The Green Party candidate, Benjamin Smith was unable to attend, however Green Party Councillor Michael Brierly stood in answering with honesty and consistency. Our very own President Joshua Trood expertly chaired the event, holding the difficult task of controlling the audience and candidates alike. A mostly calm evening, the hustings housed a range  of questions from social housing to honesty, support for those on zero hour contracts to, of course, Brexit. Conservative candidate Dr Ben Spencer, came under fire for not living in the constituency. Liberal Democrat candidate Cllr. Robert O’Carroll had a clear focus on climate change as the primary issue of our times, when discussing Brexit, he equated the feeling of change he had at the referendum result, as the same feeling he had finding out about the 9/11 terrorist attack. However with the other pressing issues raised, Cllr. O’Carroll lacked enthusiasm. Independent candidate Lorna Rowland, originally a prospective candidate for the Brexit Party, provided an impressive CV from business strategist and transformation expert, to a consultant physiotherapist. Rowlands stance on the EU was definite, Britain must leave. Rowland had also notable clarity on all other issues raised, most popular among students was Rowlands stance on the complete outlawing of zero hour contracts. Not unsurprisingly Cllr. King for Labour promoted an end to the casualization of contracts, himself offering relatable first-hand experience of the injustices of such contracts. Dr Spencer presented the Conservative stance on zero hour contracts, focusing on extending employee rights to those on all types of contracts. When questioned more by the audience on zero hour contracts, Dr Spencer stated that people should be wise about what jobs they want. This statement was met with disgruntlement, this claim did not resonate well with many students who are unable to find employment that is not on a zero hours basis. This seemingly implies the unsettling conclusion that Dr Spencer believes, the job market is currently working at a take it as you please basis for low income workers. Cllr. Michael Brierly offered to the audience what he could with honesty, stating the Green Party believes universal basic income will create job competitiveness, leading to a decrease in zero hour contracts.

Brexit, to no surprise, was a key issue addressed by all candidates. An audience question, that sources say where raised by none other than Rowlands campaign manager, also raised issues of important truths, with Dr Spencer having to explain two months of missing tweets prior to the EU referendum. As it transpired Dr Spencer believed in the importance of remaining within the EU. Dr Spencer had another disregard for the importance of honesty on social media, when confronted with the controversial Conservative twitter handle change that has made headlines, Dr Spencer spoke of it as supposedly tongue and cheek, stating it was still obvious who the twitter handle belonged to. Back to Brexit and Cllr. King relayed Labour’s stance on supporting a second referendum once a Labour deal with the EU has been reached, with the choice to vote for the deal or to remain on the ballot. Cllr. King also used this opportunity to state and reinforce that he will support remain if there is another referendum. Cllr. Brierly of the Green Party also promoted a second referendum but offering on the ballot the current Conservative deal or remain, a seemingly no nonsense approach that could appease uninspired Conservative Remainers. Also offering some humour to the debate, Cllr. Brierly speculated to the origins of Brexit as coming from two waring Etonian egos, which raised laughs from the audience. Cllr. O’Carroll reinforced the need for a peoples vote, also highlighting problems of the Union brought into the light by the 2016 EU referendum. However Cllr. O’Carroll, whilst supporting his party, did call into question the parties competence by insinuating the party will suffer at the election. Independent candidate Lorna Rowland presented an array of anti-EU facts, quoting predictions by scholars of the near future crash of the EU’s economy. The Brexit debate was of course of keen interest to the audience, all candidates used their time to reinforce manifesto pledges and personal stances.

With a wide student audience came questions over student debt, Independent candidate Lorna  Rowland promoted her stance on scrapping university fees and in responding to an audience question, promoting the increase in vocational training. Labour’s Cllr. King had a concise answer reflecting his recent time as a student at Royal Holloway, the abolishment of student fees, a review on interest rates and stressed the priorities of university investments. Green’s representative for the evening discussed the disparity in fees between his brothers, one getting a grant and no fees, the next brother no fees and himself a £3,000 yearly tuition fee. Cllr. Brierly linked this to the disparity of payback abilities between graduates and promoted Green’s policy of scrapping fees and wiping student debt. An ambitious task of clearing student dept was met with contempt from the audience, and with no plans on how to go about doing so, left the audience disillusioned. Conservative candidate Dr Spencer stated that costs should be shared between the state and the public and Liberal Democrats Cllr. O’Carroll did not offer a clear stance on university tuition fees but did highlight the need to recognise interest rates as graduate tax. There were no surprising offers by any candidate in addressing student debt and tuition fees, the clarity in most answers however will at least enable accountability to fulfil their election promises.

Aside from primarily student based issues, a member of the public in the audience asked questions regarding migrants arriving via boats to British shores, when there are many Britons, such as the large homeless population, that deserves priority. Initially candidates and many audience members were shocked by the question in hand, however impressively all candidates supported the intake of refugees and migrants. Dr Spencer proudly stated that migrants made this country great, mentioning no controls the Conservative government wishes to instate on migrants or refugee quotas. Cllr. O’Carroll also pressed that there is a responsibility to look after those that have crossed treacherous seas, stating that people do not travel  here in a dingy to live in a one room bed and breakfast. Lorna Rowland did highlight her desire for a need to control economic migrants but in no way condemned incoming refugees. It must be noted that Rowland wants refugees settle in the first safe state they reach and does reject EU refugee quotas. Green Party’s representative Cllr. Brierly recalled his own family’s history as immigrants to the United States and reinforced that Britain should not sacrifice its ideals in supporting refugees, also highlighting austerity increased homelessness and this does not equate with assisting refugees. The candidate for Labour stressed social housing should not be sold off and should remain social, with time limits in place there was no opportunity for Cllr. King to reply regarding refugees.

The final statements by candidates reinforced their manifestos and visions for Runnymede and Weybridge. Rowland reinforced that it was not a safe seat, a glimmer of hope perhaps for any candidate other than Conservative. Cllr. King reiterated that Labour was on ‘your side’, using the opportunity in the closing statement to show the failure of the Conservatives, arguing NHS waiting times were lower under Labour and reiterating his remain stance on Brexit. Cllr. O’Carroll and Cllr. Brierly both stressed the importance of green policies and holding individuals account on green initiatives. Dr Spencer pressed equality of opportunity for all, seemingly calling to the students in the audience that the Conservative Party can offer a strong economic future and, of course, concluding with ‘Get Brexit Done’. The evening was full of important questions and integral answers, the audience created a lively atmosphere and were not afraid to show their enthusiasm, or lack thereof, for candidates.

Writers Opinion

By the end of the opening statements, it was clear which candidate was most popular with the audience, and myself. Cllr. King spoke with clarity, confidence and persuasion. Cllr. King, who holds many positions on various Runnymede council committees as well as seats on outside bodies such as Deputy for the Heathrow Community Noise Forum, was able to reinforce every statement made with facts and personal experience. Having been a student at Royal Holloway it was clear he had many allies among the audience, yet in no way portrayed himself as overtly confident in a setting he was familiar with. I had hoped for some inspiration from the Liberal Democrat’s Cllr. O’Carroll in order to secure a half hearted vote to lower a Conservative majority, however these hopes were swiftly diminished within the opening minuet with a lack of charisma and, well, ability to speak to the crowd, which did not put him in good stead for speaking in the House of Commons if elected MP. Conservative candidate Dr Spencer did not appeal to me prior to the event, but I attended with an open mind as Dr Spencer seemingly sat towards the centre of the Conservatives political spectrum. It is as if however, the Conservatives do not understand the implications of picking candidates from thin air and far away lands and arriving them in Runnymede and Weybridge would not appeal to the residents of, Runnymede and Weybridge. As a Conservative stronghold however, this did not slow him down. Dr Spencer’s appeasing knowledge on  mental health and strong Conservative stance on Brexit drew favour from the audience despite two months of missing tweets and his somewhat ridiculous ‘tongue and cheek’ comments on the Conservative twitter handle. Cllr. Brierly for the Green Party’s sense of humour certainly held him in favour when tasked with questions he simply could not answer, he came out well from the hustings. I hoped as much could be said about the ever persistent Green Party itself, but there was no such luck. Lastly but certainly not least, the one female Independent candidate Lorna Rowland changed and challenged perceptions. Entering the hustings I did not think much of an Independent candidate but her seemingly well collected mannerisms, apart from calling out audience members who had trolled her on twitter, and array of facts which we were told to go and look up, made her a challenging opposition.

The five different personalities which showed themselves at the hustings proved to me who was worth my vote, I truly believe Cllr. Robert King deserves a seat in the House of Commons, his clarity in speaking, response to audience questions in a thorough manner and the odd crack at the Conservatives made him likeable and his experience made him feel trustworthy. Although I feel somewhat dismal about the chances of Runnymede and Weybridge turning red, I know I can laugh that the Conservative candidate does not believe in leaving the European Union, nor understands the basic geography of his potential constituency.

Written By Sarah Tennent 

Varsity 2019: A Remainer’s Consideration of the Cons of the European Union

Varsity-Logo-Colour-not-date-2017By Allen Wesson (Politics and Economics student at University of Surrey)

Due to the current climate in the UK I am left wondering if this spell of warmer weather is a cruel trick played by the Gods to send more Patriotic Brexiteers to British holiday destinations this year, knowing full well that whatever happens on the 29th March or beyond, they will probably flock to mainland Spain, Magaluf and Ibiza anyway. Satire very much not aside, in a holy crusade of knowing what’s best for you, the archetypal hard-line ‘Remainer’ has in fact become what it set out to destroy – a fount of satirical nonsense, spouting stereotypes and further pushing divides between themselves and those who disagree.

Continue reading “Varsity 2019: A Remainer’s Consideration of the Cons of the European Union”

Independence Day

By Thomas Sherlock

It’s 1981 all over again…kind of.

Instead of the ‘Gang of Four’ (4 MPs who broke away from Labour to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981), there is a ‘Magnificent Seven’. Angela Smith, Ann Coffey, Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes and Luciana Berger have resigned from the Labour Party and formed The Independent Group.

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Commentary-Brexit: What Now?

On Tuesday evening, the Government suffered a historic defeat in the House of Commons. The Withdrawal Agreement that Theresa May has spent years negotiating and months trying to sell to MPs was decisively rejected-202 ayes to 432 noes. In the aftermath of this catastrophic defeat and the subsequent failed Vote of No Confidence, what now for Brexit? Some of our writers share their thoughts on the situation.

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To Be or Not to Be: UK’s EU Withdrawal, a Shakespeare Tragedy in the making? Opinion Piece on British Reality

brexit

By Sophie Minter

On the 10th December 2018 the press release published by the Court of Justice in the European Union, while perhaps representing a figurative and patronizing shrug of the shoulders as if to say “it’s ok, we all make mistakes”, represented a significant public acknowledgment. We (The UK) now have other options than simply those of insanity. The contents of the press release outlining the judgment made in Luxemburg offers an essential second chance.

Continue reading “To Be or Not to Be: UK’s EU Withdrawal, a Shakespeare Tragedy in the making? Opinion Piece on British Reality”