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Does Sir Keir have the guts to rescue Labour? This is his last chance to save the party from extinction

Sir Keir is upwardly mobile. His party isn't. Credit: Ian Forsyth-Pool/Getty

Sir Keir is upwardly mobile. His party isn't. Credit: Ian Forsyth-Pool/Getty


September 25, 2021   6 mins

Have things ever been so dire for Labour? The party’s priorities are so out-of-kilter with so many millions of voters, and its activist base so unrepresentative of them, that Sir Keir Starmer is going to have to tell his delegates at this year’s conference some hard truths.

By God, they need to hear it. And if, by doing so, he attracts the opprobrium of those who have led the party to the brink and have no desire to do what is necessary to drag it back he should wear it as a badge of honour. It would certainly do him no harm in the eyes of the millions beyond the conference hall who see Labour as having moved to the outer fringes.

I think, in fact, it’s time we re-introduced a little masochism back into politics. A bit more bravery. So many of our politicians take every precaution imaginable to avoid the prospect of negative publicity — the unfortunate encounter with the angry voter, being heckled during a speech, enduring the brickbats that come from stating an unfashionable opinion, from within the party, as well as from outside. The age of the spin doctor has seen a generation of senior politicians wrapped in cotton wool in an effort to head off these sorts of unwelcome scenarios. As a result, politicians look like automatons, living cocooned existences removed from the lives of everyday folk, and whose public interventions are stage-managed to within an inch of their lives.

These politicians need to open themselves up a little more — to risk taking a bit of a kicking from time to time. Most voters are, in my experience, sympathetic towards —even admiring of — elected representatives who are willing to submit themselves to the hazards that inevitably go with lowering the barriers between themselves and opponents. Witness, for example, John Major’s decision in the 1992 general election to ditch his party’s slick PR strategy and, armed only with a soapbox and loudspeaker, mix it head-on with the masses in town centres around the country. Sadly for us on the Labour side, it worked a treat.

So Starmer mustn’t shy away from reminding his party that it stands where it does as a consequence of its own failings. Its predicament — heading for a future as a pressure group rather than a serious alternative for government — is entirely self-inflicted. It forfeited the support of its traditional working-class base, voters in places such as the Red Wall without whom it simply cannot win power, because it took them for granted. Worse, it privately sneered at them and thought them unenlightened. In assuming that these people would never throw their lot in with the Tories, as millions of them eventually did, the party had gravely miscalculated.

The rupture was long in the making, but it ought to have been obvious to everyone in the movement that it was coming. While Labour was embracing the new global market, blue-collar Britain was becoming angry and disorientated at the deindustrialisation and rapid demographic change that came with it. While the party saw the world increasingly from the vantage point of our fashionable cities, those in the provinces felt a deep sense of neglect. While Labour was preaching the gospel of a militant cosmopolitan liberalism, post-industrial Britain was mourning the weakening of common cultural bonds and a lost sense of community and belonging. While the party was falling under the domination of the professional and managerial classes, the working-class saw that its representatives no longer looked or sounded very much like them, nor shared their priorities. The adoption by Labour in 2018 of a policy favouring a second referendum on the EU was, for the relationship between the party and its one-time core vote, the final nail in the coffin.

The party needs to hear all this. Starmer himself — upwardly mobile, north London liberal lawyer that he is — embodies the party’s ideological and demographic shift, of course. He also unquestionably — as the architect of the second referendum policy — contributed to the breach between the party and its working-class base. But he now needs to say and do what is necessary to put things right. There really is no alternative.

Starmer must implore the party to face up to the fact that, in no longer being an object of affection for the very people it was created to represent, Labour is betraying its heritage. He must tell the rank-and-file that Labour cannot be a party only for social activists, student radicals and middle-class urban liberals, but must also understand the lives of — and speak for — those living in small-town Britain. He should remind the party that a small ‘c’ conservative thread still runs through many working-class communities and, once upon a time, voters in these places felt no compunction about voting Labour. They stopped because they sensed, rightly, that the party started to see them as embarrassing elderly relatives; it wanted their votes at election time, but it had no desire to be seen in public with them.

The party must stop obsessing over issues that have little traction in the real world — the current internal squabble over gender identity being one example — and concentrate on the doorstep issues that determine the outcome of elections.

Starmer should be bold and tell the party that, for too long, it has indulged — sometimes actively supported — those who seek to stifle freedom of thought and expression, and that ‘cancel culture’ and a suffocating woke orthodoxy are not merely contrived props in a Tory ‘culture war’, but are alarming realities. If Labour is to return to being a broad church, there must be space in the debate for those with nonconformist political or moral opinions — especially when those opinions often resonate loudly in the world beyond the political class.

Voters who aren’t supportive of taking the knee, voters who oppose mass immigration, voters who supported Brexit, voters who believe that someone with a penis cannot be a woman, voters who worry more about law and order than they do Palestine and more about national security than they do climate change: these are the people, many of them rooted in our working-class communities, whom the ranks of the Left have increasingly come to despise, but without whose support there is, for Labour, no path back to power.

The messaging from next week’s conference should be geared almost exclusively towards reconnecting with these voters. Perhaps a bit less resort to the usual buzzwords of “equality”, “diversity”, “tolerance” and “inclusion” — always in heavy supply at Labour conferences — and more focus on the themes of “family”, “community”, “work” and “nation”. If you want to win the votes of the mainstream, you have to speak their language and share their priorities.

There can be no pulling punches at this conference. Labour isn’t about to go out of business, but neither does it stand an earthly chance of forming the next government — indeed, any future government — without a major recalibration of its priorities. Starmer must make sure this message hits home, no matter the boos and catcalls it may attract from elements of the liberal and radical Left (from which most delegates will be comprised). It would, at least, be a signal to the outside world that he has the guts to do what is necessary to drag Labour back to electability.

Warm words will not be enough (as we can see from the reaction to Starmer’s prosaic essay). Any strategy designed to reconnect the party with its lost voters must also be rooted in hard policy — in particular a clear programme for delivering economic justice after more than a decade of austerity. Achieving full employment, reviving our industrial base, addressing regional inequalities, closing the gap between rich and poor, rebalancing the economy away from finance capital and towards the productive sector — all challenges for which Labour must provide answers. A recognition that, for too long, it has focused disproportionately on the public sector (crucial though it is) at the expense of those who live and work in the real economy, where goods are made and wealth produced, will also be necessary to show that the party is willing to break out from its comfort zone in its quest to be the voice for all sections of the working-class.

Most crucially, Labour must seek to answer the question confronting all political parties of how we might maintain a meaningful sense of social solidarity and community in the age of a deeply atomising liberal globalisation. It was, after all, the failure to properly consider this question that has served in no small measure to bring about a fissure between several parties of the Left across the West and their traditional bases.

If, as seems possible, next week’s Labour conference is remembered chiefly for the fact that a female MP felt unable to attend on account of her defence of women’s sex-based rights, or the ongoing internal wrangle over voting systems, it would encapsulate everything that was wrong about the party. Instead, Labour must turn outwards. It must show that it once again understands there is a world beyond the M25, that provincial Britain exists, that the private sector matters, that hyper-liberalism has proven not to be the answer to the social and economic injustices that still bedevil our country, and that many voters still yearn for something that transcends money and individual rights.

And if, in conveying that message, Starmer riles up the assembled delegates, so be it. The objective of making Labour palatable again to the wider public is all that matters.


Paul Embery is a firefighter, trade union activist, pro-Brexit campaigner and ‘Blue Labour’ thinker

PaulEmbery

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Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

“Does the Labour leader have the guts to tell his party the awful truth?”

That today’s Labour Party is almost entirely comprised of middle class graduates and is committed to preserving their economic advantages at the expense of the working class?

Even Paul can’t bring himself to accept this. So I doubt Starmer has any interest in reaching this revelation.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matthew Powell
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Possibly it’s just an appalling lack of empathy in the character of many of Labours SJWs that is the problem – rather than an economic driver 
 ?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

In the same way that feminism is designed to enrich prosperous women further at the expense of poorer women but cannot admit it, Labour today is about entrenching and expanding the advantaged position of middle-class liberals and also cannot admit this.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

No it isn’t. Working class women have always worked. Feminism’s aim was that they had secure contracts, wages and pensions. Modern ‘feminism’, which isn’t feminism at all, has abandoned economic issues for the ‘identity’ nonsense, but that doesn’t take away from the original intentions.
’A housewife in every home’ is the dream of middle class bullies and incels. You’ve been rumbled.

Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
2 years ago

I remember the 1980s as a period when the then Labour party leader Neil Kinnock spent fighting Militant Tendency and the like for control of the party. Whatever else I think of Kinnock, I give him full marks for that effort.

But Starmer is no Kinnock, plus it seems to me that while Kinnock was fighting a grouping that was outside of the PLP, the problem is now internal to the PLP – and Starmer himself is part of the problem.

I cannot see how Labour can fix this any time soon, or maybe never. More likely the party will just double down and become ever more disconnected from the people they need to vote them in.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

I remember the Bournemouth speech when Kinnock attacked the Militant Tendency (in 1985) as though it were yesterday, and I still feel the intensity of his passion.

“ I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers”

And no, there isn’t a “snowballs chance in hell” of Starmer matching that speech.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

He always was a self-righteous windbag little prig. What an utter little twerp. The effrontery of Labour, really, in putting these empty suits up for the job of PM.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Sure – but at least he could “rouse a rabble”

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

Well, maybe I’m chasing rainbows, but there might be a positive outcome to even that — the Peter Hitchens scenario. He posits the view that Britain missed its chance in 2010 when the Tories were returned to power. He believes they would have collapsed had they not been, and once they went, Labour would have crashed behind them. The analogy he uses is the image of two corpses in a state of rigor mortis, leaning against one another and propping each other up. If one goes, the other follows. The same holds true if Labour goes first, does it not? The Tories, after all, have been in now for 11 years. That’s as long as Thatcher was, and they look jaded. And it’s not even as though they have a talented team to lead them. Johnson’s cabinet is an absolute clown car.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

The best thing that could happen to this country is the complete disintegration of the Labour Party

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Well, it depends what you mean by jaded. If you mean ahead in the polls even in mid-term, if you mean with a vote that’s increased for six consecutive elections, if you mean with a majority so large it can’t be overturned within the next two elections, sure they’re jaded. In which case I’d be interested to know what you thought ‘buoyant’ looked like.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Many people voted Tory at the last General Election on a ‘least worst’ basis – hell, we were ready to leave the country had Corbyn and his band of reprobates won. That Tory support is falling the more the Tories break their manifesto promises and abandon conservative values. Tax rises? Control of our borders? Taking on the BBC’s monopoly (maybe Dorries has the b***s?) Law and order? The police are becoming a joke in this country – rainbow coloured cars, asking those blocking the M25 if they have any requests the police would attempt to sort them out? Opinium asked voters who said they would no longer vote Tory where they would place their vote. From memory, for every 8 who said they would no longer vote Tory, only 1 would vote Labour, 6 wouldn’t bother voting at all and the last one would vote Reform.

Last edited 2 years ago by Leon Wivlow
Addie Schogger
Addie Schogger
2 years ago
Reply to  Leon Wivlow

I bet they will vote Conservative when it comes to the crunch. The alternative is just too awful to contemplate.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
2 years ago
Reply to  Addie Schogger

That was Matthew Goodwin’s analysis and he is usually spot on.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The Tory Party may be all of those things, but it’s the ecstasy of the widow who has a few years to live at best after her no-good husband has died.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

I don’t know about Peter Hitchens but what I imagine would follow a collapse of the Tories would at least be a SPACE, an opportunity, for someone to create a truly conservative party. And it occurs to me that Hitchens is not the only person around with a “nothing does any good” attitude.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

What do you mean by truly conservative? Are you talking small c conservative which merely protects people’s way of life, or Thatcherite whereby government and public services are slashed in pursuit of a total market driven ideology? Personally I think there’s very little appetite for the second after the austerity of the Cameron years, and returning to that would be electorally damaging for the Tories. I think their current positioning of appearing to be centre left financially and centre right culturally is a sweet spot as far as England is concerned

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

Maybe yes, maybe no. The Conservatives (and their prior versions) have performed several key policy reversals over the years to maintain their ‘appeal’. You can read the article in Britannica to gain some idea of how they changed (often after a period out of power): https://www.britannica.com/topic/Conservative-Party-political-party-United-Kingdom
Arguably Tony Blair and ‘Clause 4’ was a policy pivot for the Labour Party – and they hated him for it in some parts. Perhaps the refusal to accept the results of the Brexit Referendum was another opportunity to ‘pivot’ which they fluffed.
So although ‘the Tories’ have been in power (of a sort) for 11 years they are not the same party now as back then. They have dropped support for the the EU (right or wrong) and are edging toward ‘green’ policies.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

I don’t think the cabinet is that bad. No worse than any other. But if the media keeps screeching liar liar Nazi fascist enough times people just believe it. Nothing is ever as simple as that. If anything the nuts world we live in is partly of our own making because we expect too much of government, we rely on it too much. No human beings are capable of handling that responsibility or power well. If anything it’s an advert for less government not more. And the media play a massive role in our perceptions. We think this government is particularly incompetent – but are they?! Or is it just the attention paid is far greater – and more ideologically driven? For example who says Jacinda is that brilliant? Michel Barnier is now proposing things that would have made Brexit unlikely if the EU had been reasonable enough to see it yet Brexit was somehow considered an invalid choice? No, it was about real problems that are also reflected across the whole of the EU and the EU was too arrogant and stubborn to see it and they lost the UK. It didn’t need to come to that. But we know full well that coverage of Barnier saying it is not the same as if Farage or Boris said it. Biden is basically implementing Trump policies yet the media are not treating him the same way. The media are very very dangerous and are creating narratives that represent the establishment. They are a propaganda machine now, chasing profits, not really a free press. They represent the ones you can’t criticise, the ones they want you to vote for because it suits them, the people be damned and called stupid racist little Englanders for daring to challenge them.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

It almost makes you wish Kinnock was back. He at least made Labour electable, even if he didn’t make it to Downing Street himself. But today, the problem is far wider than just the Labour Party. There’s a worldwide sickness infecting people, and I’m not talking about covid. It’s a mental condition whereby they flatly refuse to recognise categories of reality and distinguish them from what merely exists in their minds. That’s going to take more than straight talking to shift.

Robert Kaye
Robert Kaye
2 years ago

“He must tell the rank-and-file that Labour cannot be a party only for social activists, student radicals and middle-class urban liberals, but must also understand the lives of — and speak for — those living in small-town Britain.”

The problem is that it is not at all clear a party can be both of these at once.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
2 years ago
Reply to  Robert Kaye

Exactly, they don’t share the same values.

Carol Moore
Carol Moore
2 years ago

I remember Neil Kinnock’s speech confronting Militant Tendency well and it was brave and audacious. I cannot imagine Keir Starmer having the courage to seize the moment in that way. Even if he did, the furore that would follow in a social media obsessed parallel world would overtake the core of his argument. There is an ever increasing gap between the reality of our lives and a kind of hypnotic groupthink media where the news industry lives. He would need enormous strength of conviction to face it down. He seems a decent enough man, but I doubt he has what it takes. Not only is that bad news for Labour but for democracy in general. We need an opposition.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Carol Moore

That speech also conceded the next two GEs to the Tories because it proved the truth of what they were saying about Labour. Labour really had been infiltrated by loony pro-Soviet Marxist fifth column wreckers, and we knew this because its own leader said so. Bye-bye 1987, bye-bye 1992.
Political parties generally have members who are much harder-line than their poll supporters, their MPs and indeed their leaders. The average LibDem member is much more leftist than Ed Davey, the average Tory is a lot more right wing than Boris. Labour, uniquely, has the problem that its loony members directly elect loonies to the leadership. This is how gobby Stalinist chavs like Corbyn, Rayner, Burgon, Abbott and all the rest of the shower get on TV, and they warn us that this is exactly what Labour is actually like.
This problem is basically intractable, and when the obituary of the Labour Parteh comes to be written the architect of its demise will be agreed, I think, to be Ed “Ted” Miliband, the fool who made this happen.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

A solid summary.
If Starmer ain’t booed – then Labour are screwed.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Perfrect line. Wish Starmer had you as a speech writer.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Cheers Adam 🙂

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Excellent essay from Paul as usual. A couple of nitpicks though:

It forfeited the support of its traditional working-class base…Worse, it privately sneered at them…assuming that these people would never throw their lot in with the Tories

Does this demographic even still exist?

a small ‘c’ conservative thread still runs through many working-class communities

Why the coy “small ‘c'” qualifier? The Conservative party is for conservatives. It has a big C because it’s a proper noun. Labour needs to understand this. Conservative values are widley held and highly regarded. Tribal displays of hate are counter-productive.

there must be space in the debate for those with nonconformist political or moral opinions

Or even more simply, how about “Labour must tolerate more than one opinion”? One of the major problems leftists have is their stratospheric narcissism. They all seem to believe themselves to be not only moral paragons but uniquely so. They are thus profoundly conceited and self-regarding, whence the hectoring, self-adoring tone of much leftist discourse. So Labour needs first to recognise that it has been wickedly, profoundly wrong about literally almost everything ever, and start from there.

here is a world beyond the M25, that provincial Britain exists, that the private sector matters

Given that Labour literally hates the world beyond the M25, provincial Britain, and the private sector, this is surely like asking Stalin to appreciate the kulaks.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
David B
David B
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

“The facts of life are conservative,” as someone once said.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The small c qualifier is important, as to some Conservatism can mean Thatcherism which is far removed from being conservative as you can get in my opinion, as she conserved nothing

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago

As Paul points out, Starmer is part, indeed a very significant part, of the problem. Should he boo himself?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Taken to it’s logical conclusion, it should be like the end of Terminator 2, where Arnold Schwarzenegger lowers himself into a metal smelter once his mission to save John Conner and the human race is complete, destroying himself so he himself won’t pose any more danger to the human race. I would definitely pay the entrance ticket to the Labour conference to watch that.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Thanks, made me laugh.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Smith
Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I’m regretting not signing up and going full stop. Pantomime season has returned early.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

Here’s a thought: perhaps many left-wing activists are pretty happy with the way the Tories are running the country, having spotted that using Labour to espouse utter lunacy in terms of left-wing ideology now seems to have the welcome (for them, at least) effect of pulling the government leftwards, much like using a magnet to alter the direction shown by the compass and hence controlling the direction of the entire ship of State.

That is, after all, what’s happening: the Tories have dispensed entirely with their traditional principles and are now wholly signed up to populism. They are therefore easily blown off course by the media etc, and can consequently be controlled much of the time by simply controlling the news agenda. This is much easier than running a government yourself and taking all the flak for the mistakes: right now, the Tories are in government but the Left is in power, and it’s just using the Tories to do its dirty work. All they need is Starmer to claim that he’d be doing whatever the Tories are doing except more so, the BBC to applaud Starmer for saying it, and bingo: Boris does exactly what the Left wants.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

A Conservative Party that is not remotely conservative; a Labour Party that despises labouring folk; and as for the Liber… I can’t go on…

Ron Wigley
Ron Wigley
2 years ago

Sorry Paul too late, Starmer is the epitome of the problem within Labour and like Corbyn are the unrepentant architects of the chasm with their voters, nothing short of resigning will make any difference with these voters, I was not surprised at all that so many switched their votes to get Brexit, and my sincere gratitude to them.

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
2 years ago

Up to a point I agree. BUT – politics is (should be) about leadership and influencing minds, not just following the majority in order to attain power. So the key is not simply to adopt a pro-Brexit, anti-immigratipon, climate change s ceptic etc. position to keep the working class people who tend to support those views on board, but to engage with people and have honest debate rather than cancellation and tribalism. You and I will, I suspect, disagree profoundly about both climate change and Brexit, and we may not see completely eye to eye about immmigration, but I’d be happy to be in the same party as you, Paul, provided we can talk about it!

Al M
Al M
2 years ago

“Voters who aren’t supportive of taking the knee, voters who oppose mass immigration, voters who supported Brexit, 
 these are the people, many of them rooted in our working-class communities, whom the ranks of the Left have increasingly come to despise, but without whose support there is, for Labour, no path back to power.“

These voters, at least by the above metrics, have a great deal in common with the more affluent and, yes, well educated core Tory vote; Johnson managed to tap into this where Cameron and May failed.

For Starmer to succeed, he needs to reconcile this cohort of voters with those New Labour acquisitions of the past three decades who believe the absolute opposite: they hate the UK and believe our government should put its own citizens behind other problems elsewhere in the world, while living lives detached from the effects of their own viewpoints. Throw in reducing the dominance of the SNP (which as a pragmatist domiciled north of the border I would welcome gladly) and he has his work cut out for him.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al M
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Labour has been captured by activists, utopianists, globalists, technocrats and Orwellian authoritarians. Time for a new party that reflects and represents the working class. Patriotic, aspirational, fair-minded, hard grafters, culturally conservative, the backbone of society, people who call a spade a spade and tell it like it is. A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Leave people be and let the market do what it does but also know the limits of capitalism and let the state take the edges off. I’d nationalise (or have strict rules of ownership) for key things like energy, water, defence and food production. I’d limit foreign ownership of property. I’d definitely limit immigration and put an expectation on what it means to be a citizen. That kind of thing. I’d vote for a party like that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cheryl Jones
Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

This would appear to be what the Conservative Party should be about. And I would vote for one that proposed most of the above.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al M
Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

I sympathise with much of this, but I fear what will come though is something far nastier than that. People who have been abandoned by the mainstream parties, who (rightly) mistrust the mainstream media, who have been knowingly deceived by the medical establishment into harming themselves are not all suddenly going to suddenly want to support something like the British version of the Bavarian CSU. They’re going to be angry and that will be reflected in our politics.

I cannot overstate how let down and disappointed I feel at the centre-left and the centre-right in this country in parliament, in the press, and in academia for their arrogance, credulity, naive realism, and lazy deference to so-called expert authorities on things they could and should have looked into with more circumspection and in more depth. The centre isn’t holding.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Horsman
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

I would love to hear him do a speech like Kinnock’s in 1985 (‘I’ll tell you and you will listen’), but he won’t and, if he did, it wouldn’t have the same effect.
Labour Conference in those days was mainly attended by working class people who were representing their communities and their workmates. They weren’t interested in arcane ideologies; they were interested in making life as good as possible for the working class. Whether we agreed with their views on whether, or how, that should be done is immaterial; they were representing their own people and interests which, in a democracy, they had the right to do. There were always a few nutters, such as the Corbyns, but they were largely ignored.
Now Labour Conference is attended by middle class ideologues and student identity politicians with blue hair. That is who the Labour Party is and such as Kinnock, or Alan Johnson (‘Corbyn couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag’) would cut no ice with them; they despise the working class.
It’s time for the working class to start another new party, without the ideological baggage of Labour. Its aim should be to represent, not to impose alien views.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

They weren’t interested in arcane ideologies; they were interested in making life as good as possible for the working class.

Nonsense. They were interested in strengthening union power, undermining law and order, expropriating people they hated, and supporting the Soviet Union.
The Labour Party has never in my lifetime given a flying proverbial for “the working class”. It has always been a movement based on crass fantasy: that there’s such a thing as the 1920s style working class, that if we disarm the Warsaw Pact is sure to follow, that there’s no such thing as a woman, and so on.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago

“Voters who aren’t supportive of taking the knee, voters who oppose mass immigration, voters who supported Brexit, voters who believe that someone with a p***s cannot be a woman, voters who worry more about law and order than they do Palestine and more about national security than they do climate change 
”

True and you could add to that list, “Voters who know that lockdowns are vile and abusive, and can see through the lies spun by corporations and politicians interested in keeping people fearful of one another and obedient to authority”.

The trouble with Starmer is that he seems to believe his own lies, and lacks the humility to be able to even question the righteousness of his own worldview. That makes him unlikely to win power, but to be a real menace to public wellbeing if he ever does; and he has already done a lot of damage from opposition. As Hannah Arendt said, “The deceivers began with self-deception”.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

Normally, I can’t wait for a John Embery article containing basic common sense. I couldn’t find any in today’s essay.

So Labour should be supporting the working classes? Where are they and what do they want? Do they even exist? What would make them happy?

More money for everybody! Inflation? More money for pensioners? Inflation!

More money to the NHS = more jobs in management = inflation.

Tax the rich, the very middle classes who would support Labour today.

Nationalise everything, more powerful union leaders, poor services. Would this help the working class?

Where are the actual policies and actions to support this working class?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Is that Pauls brother?

David Crowther
David Crowther
2 years ago

That’s what he should do… but we all know that he won’t. Labour are done.

Colin Baxter
Colin Baxter
2 years ago

Totally agree
But where is politics full stop going in this country?
I’m a working class businessman who has voted Conservative for all of my life.
We now have a Conservative party that throws money at the public sector that has let us down, and tells businesses to pay their staff more to counter a crisis that they have allowed to happen.
I don’t trust Boris Johnson’s party anymore, don’t recognise anything to vote for in the ‘working class’ Labour Party and wouldn’t vote for the laughable Lib Dem’s if I was paid to.
Having taken pride in voted in every election since age 18, at the age of 64 I’m beginning to think that it is a waste of time.

Leon Wivlow
Leon Wivlow
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Baxter

A lot of Conservative voters, including me, agree with you. Raising taxes I can just about stomach but open borders to people who contribute nothing and despise us for our values, is a step too far. But Labour would be even worse.

Simon Hodgson
Simon Hodgson
2 years ago

The problem is worse than just Labour, unless there are 2 parties which can carry broadly enough support for either to be chosen by the electorate the present system does not function. The electorate rejected PR, the German disaster caused by PR and the deals necessary to form a government.
I doubt there is much cross party socialising going on between Labour and Tory which certainly happened in the past.
Feeling hatred or contempt for half the country you are trying to govern does not make for good government nor for much chance in being elected if your party has more hatred and contempt for the other half of the population.
So we end up with Johnson, US end up with Trump followed by Biden.

Tim Crocker
Tim Crocker
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Hodgson

There is little point of anyone getting control of the Labour Party unless the centre-left formulate some economic policies that are grounded in reality. BoJo’s government is indeed a joke, but there is some basal brain instinct not to bankrupt the country. The moderm economy does not work the way that 19th century socialist theory, still the basis of Labour left thinking, likes to imagine. It never did. There are things that can be done, but I have never heard them come out of a Labour politicians mouth

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Hodgson

Where’s the evidence for Johnson “Feeling hatred or contempt for half the country you are trying to govern”?
That is Labour’s problem and Labour’s alone. It doesn’t describe anyone else. Labour is, as Paul says, the cause of its problems.

Tony Lee
Tony Lee
2 years ago

If only the pain etched in Paul Embery’s piece was being felt in any real sense, by Starmer and whoever advises him. I’m not a Labour voter but this country desperately needs (I was going to say an effective opposition) any form of opposition. The thought of Starmer et al ever being in charge of anything, let alone the country, is simply terrifying.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago

Thanks Paul for an article that focuses on what Socialism needs to do to recover it’s position – this is what I read Unherd for. I tired of Nick Cohen’s Xerox rent-a-rants in the Spectator which ignored party’s policies, preferring to trying to convince me that the most left wing Conservative government in living memory are actually far-right fascists.
There’s no “unity candidate” that can hold together a party with 2 significant power blocs – the self-appointed middle class intelligentsia who hold the South-East, and the coalition of hard left/religious conservatives who hold areas of the North and Midlands. All three groups probably hate each other as well. It’s simply impossible. And below all that you’ve got London and mayoral fiefdoms generally.
Events are similar to 1995/6. You’ve got a media, creating a s***storm of bad news to demoralise the country. CoVid-19 scare stories move from front burner to back burner depending on whether they want to promote Afghanistan chaos, Shortages/whatever. The media don’t care about the Labour party – THEY are Her Majesty’s Opposition now.
They just need a front man who isn’t Boris to lead a party that isn’t the Tories, that’s weak enough to take the knee for SNP and Sinn Fein, in return for Power through the illusion of normality in Northern Ireland, and the Scots being nice to us again.
Starmer’s trump card is he can be whatever anyone wants him to be and, regardless of what the Labour party thinks, someone, somewhere wants him in power. He will leave no footprint in the snow on the road to power, nor the road out. He is the perfect politician for our Age.
Meaning in reality he has to do very little, other than wait for the country to be ground down at which point an election can be called..
Yes, events of the past 5+ years have made me paranoid.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dustin Needle
John McGibbon
John McGibbon
2 years ago

A good article hitting the nail on the head.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
2 years ago

I think one of his problems is that he stood as a continuity Corbyn leader, so he started without a mandate and hasn’t really built support for his project over the past 18 months. I don’t see that he is ever going to get clear of a bad beginning.

Sue Whorton
Sue Whorton
2 years ago

As someone who remembers the ‘70’s and studied Social Policy then, I struggle to know how we can get back to some sort of courteous, intelligent discourse. Ms Rayner’s comments are reminiscent of Mr Prescott taking us out of Agenda 21, the UN requirements for sustainability, because the Tories could do nothing right. When we studied policies from the 19 th century on, it was clear that there was always a consensus about what should be done and the political differences were how best to achieve it. A balance between making sure there is safety net through which no one can fall and minimizing a poverty trap stopping people from progressing. The poverty of thinking that one side has all the virtue is leading to a poverty of effective action too. I mean well and I am a good person does not mean I have effective policies. The vast majority on all sides want to make things better. A minority on all sides will be in for the power and status. Politics is the art of balancing conflicting wants and needs and building consensus, not creating out groups.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

After watching Starmer on Marr this morning, one thing I know – Starmer is will lose more heavily than Corbyn come the next election. I mean, this will happen even if the next Conservative conference ends with the entire Cabinet doing a Fred Astaire number on stage with each minister wearing nothing but a top hat and boater.

There is simply no way back from that. Starmer is toast – the only question is if he is served up with jam or marmalade. Tens of millions of women will watch that over and over on social media and so on (because the tory media machine will make sure they do) all the way to the eve of the next election – and the reaction of the vast majority of women over 30 will be: thanks but no thanks. Setting the stage of course for the Reign of Rayner. On the plus side Labour party finances should in good health, as long as they are savvy enough to start charging for all this entertainment – me and I’m sure countless others would pay good money for the next episodes.

Last edited 2 years ago by Prashant Kotak
Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

Sounds like Paul Embery should be running the Party – or at least writing Starmer’s speeches. For those who remember earlier Private Eye, Labour has been taken over by the entity Dave Spart along with Citizen Smith, parodies of Labour activism. The party seem to have taken these as endorsements and sport the clownish Rayner, Abbott, Lammy and Butler to receive not laughter but mockery.

Dominic Campbell
Dominic Campbell
2 years ago

It ain’t going to happen, Paul. The Labour Party is too far gone. No leader can influence a party whose activists have made up their minds and are impervious to reason. True, Labour will probably never see office any time soon, but still they wield power, having infiltrated all our public and private institutions and made a good start on brainwashing the next generation. They are biding their time..

Al M
Al M
2 years ago

Interesting. My post from yesterday evening is in quarantine now, pending approval. Somewhat surprising as it contains nothing offensive whatsoever and looks at the problem of Labour needing to reconcile people with opposing views as well as restoring its Scottish vote. Someone clearly offended by this 


Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago

John Major’s soapbox campaign was his finest hour.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

It’s a low bar…

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

I’m not sure any human can or it would have been achieved already. Life, and humanity, are messy.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
2 years ago

Indeed – I despair of the Labour Party. Although I am a (sceptical) conservative myself, I would welcome a proper Opposition.

chasfgeor
chasfgeor
2 years ago

I hope he does – we all need a counterweight to the sprawling Conservative Party.
British Democracy only works with two equally matched parties in the ring. Corbyn nigh destroyed the Labour Party.

Cyril Kinsky
Cyril Kinsky
2 years ago

“… focus on the themes of “family”, “community”, “work” and “nation” … it sounds to me as if you’re looking for the SDP. Check it out. It’s back.

Bernie Wilcox
Bernie Wilcox
2 years ago

I don’t agree that these changes (that I personally support) will make Labour more electable. They might gain the Hartlepool but they’ll lose Hampstead and, with the present Labour-lite Government, they might lose Hampstead to the Tories. And I don’t have an answer either. The two parts of Labour are so fundamentally divided now there really isn’t any hope.

Matty D
Matty D
2 years ago

I’m glad Paul didn’t become a DJ – he’s only got one broken record in his collection. As he set out in his book, his solutions to the challenges of the 21st century seem to centre on returning to the economics and politics of the 1970s. Reopen the factories (making what exactly? Tractors?), hang ‘em and flog ‘em law and order, get the women back in the kitchen social policies. I am waiting for him to call for the reopening of the pits.

And nothing about the things people want – owning their own home and car for example. A growing prosperous middle class, many of who are employed in, you guessed it! Financial Services, is a much better explanation of Labour’s retreat in the Red Wall. Funnily, despite what he wants, the new middle class don’t aspire to a dead end factory job. Yet that’s what he advocates.

Most glaringly is his continual refusal to discuss Scotland. Labour only has a chance of winning a majority with 40+ Scottish seats. What’s your solution there Paul? Bang on about Brexit and putting England first?

Paul wonders why he isn’t listened to in Labour anymore. I don’t.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Matty D

As with the Labour Party so with Paul: easier to see a problem than to forge a solution.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

This is the same Embery writing much repeated. There really are a number of points to make.
1) The last Labour Manifesto had less that a side about gender identity in a document of many (perhaps too many) pages. I have to say that Embery is far more obsessed by it both on here and in his writings on social media. Most of us really are not that interested in what may be in someone’s pants.
2) The idea that the Working Class vote was the preserve of the Labour Party is totally at odds with history, were it to be true the Party would have been continually in power from 1929 to at least 1979. The working class Tory was highly prized by the Conservatives and the Beaverbrook and Rothermere press spoke directly to them.
3) Social Class classifications largely date from the 1950s and 60s when the Labour force was very different. A call-centre worker on a zero hours contract is now probably classed as middle class, unskilled manual workers virtually no longer exists except amongst the retired. Many jobs, such as nursing now have university degrees (whether Embery likes it or not) so the idea of someone with a degree doing a middle-class job is not necessarily living a life of fabulous luxury and may well have less disposable income than a retired skilled worker owning their own home.
4) The change in the so-called “red wall” constituencies was not a sudden change at a realisation that the Labour Party had become “woke” (a stupid word) but a change largely driven by a changing, and indeed dwindling population which had been coming for a while. Equally the areas where the Labour Party vote is growing is not amongst wealthy middle-classes but amonst those in the service economies often with very fragile job securities. Places like the much-derided Islington have far higher levels of poverty and deprivation than much of the former red-wall.
An intersting thing happened recently. There was a council byelection in a former “red wall” ward in County Durham which the Conservatives won in May, They held the seat but with a reduced majority and in second place were the Greens whose vote had increased massively at the expense of the Labour Party. This rather indicates that Starmer’s policy of drifting around photo-opportunities with a Union Flag and making conservative noises about family is not cutting it.
The people Embery refers to are not the future for a left-wing radical party and they won’t be. They should be content with the Brexit that they have got though who knows now where that will end up. If the Labour Party loses the votes of younger people without economic security to the Greens or (possibly) the Lib Dems then the game really will be up.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Perhaps these enlightened middle class progressives should have started their own political party to see how popular their ideas are outside of our university towns, rather than hijacking an existing party and trying to piggy back off its historical support?

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

That would be the Green Party?

A similar situation has occurred in Scotland, with a party leadership that has succeeded in both coalescing a wide voter base around the idea of independence and hijacking the party with, for the sake of brevity, “woke” ideology and policies. Poor performance across most areas of government seems to make little difference. Perhaps the question is how much their older (as in pre 2014) support is willing to accept increasingly oppressive and intrusive policies and laws.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al M
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Al M

Even the Greens have been hijacked to a certain extent. They used to just focus on environmental issues, now what appears to be similar crowd to that which has made Labour unelectable to large parts of the electorate (Momentum and their ilk) runs the Greens which promotes extremely left wing policies