by Peter Franklin
Friday, 12
February 2021
Response
07:00

Why Keir Starmer should be worried about the Greens

A halfway competent protest party on the Left could cause him problems
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

Are the Greens about to eat Labour’s lunch? No, says David Jeffery in a soundly-argued post for UnHerd. A bit of movement in a couple of polls is no cause for excitement. Keir Starmer has little to fear from the Brighton-and-Bristol party — nor does he have much to gain by chasing their votes (adds Nick Tyrone, in a post for the Spectator yesterday).

But, hang on, what’s this? It’s yet another poll, this one from YouGov, putting the Greens in third place. Admittedly, overhauling the Lib Dems right now is not the grandest of achievements. Still, if we keep getting results like this then we’ll have stop calling it noise and declare a trend.

At the very least, we should recognise the potential for a significant loss of Labour support. After all, it’s happened three times in the last twenty years. In the aftermath of the Iraq War, a lot of Labour voters went off to the Lib Dems (under Charlie Kennedy and, later, Nick Clegg). Then there’s the loss of Labour’s traditional working class support, first to Nigel Farage and, subsequently, Boris Johnson. The third great disaster was the wholesale loss of Scotland to the SNP. Remember that the reds won 413 seats in 2001; they’re now on less than half that total.

Could we see yet another iceberg calving-off the melting Labour glacier? If I were Starmer, I’d pay close attention to research conducted for More in Common, which splits the electorate into seven “tribes”. One of those tribes — “the Progressive Activists” — stands out for its political correctness, lack of patriotic instincts and outspokenness on social media.

You couldn’t think of a bunch of people less likely to be impressed by Labour’s attempt to wrap itself in the Union Jack.

In Germany, voters like these — young, urban, college-educated — have quit the Social Democrats for the Greens. As is the way with tipping points, this happened gradually at first and then suddenly.

Of course, the Germans have proportional representation, which makes things easier for minor parties. And yet UKIP didn’t need PR. First Past The Post stopped them from winning seats, but not from upending British politics — and changing the Conservative Party for ever. A halfway competent protest party on the Left could do the same to Labour.

For instance, it could take the form of a ‘progressive alliance’ between the Greens, Lib Dems and other Left-leaning movements. Obviously, this would require some hitherto ineffective politicians to get their ducks in a row, but, as Jeremy Corbyn proved, these things sometimes happen.

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Peter Scott
Peter Scott
1 year ago

The real problem for the Labour Party is very simply stated.

Currently it means nearly nothing to most people.

It has no coherent vision of the kind of country the United Kingdom should be.

It offers a glorified version of Student Union politics, and as such appeals to middle-class persons and young activists who, cushioned by personally comfortable circumstances or the bank of Mum and Dad, are not at the sharp end of the ruinous policies which Labour, like the other parties now represented in the House of Commons, have inflicted on the country these past 25 years.

Other people are living in a world where their real incomes have dropped by 40% over that period, where they and their progeny can expect a lower standard of living than their parents and grandparents have known; where there is less and less social mobility (even for the dynamic and enterprising personalities); where they are being suffocated daily by a diet of political correctness, enforced ever more and more drastically (nowadays by visits from the police if you say any wrong word); and are told that they are guilty of white privilege or some other fictitious offence.

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition bears the name ‘Labour’ but it has not so much as debated the loss of proper full-time jobs (with proper pay and prospects) for all such victims in all this while.

There are other ways in which the Labour Party has made itself irrelevant to the sort of people it used to represent or at least pretend to represent.

One proof of this is the divide between the legislators and their constituents in re Brexit. In the period 2015-17 a majority of Labour-voting persons were ardently in favour of quitting the European Union. Only 14 of the 232 Labour MPs in the HoC agreed with them. The rest were committed Remainers (and probably in their secret souls still are).

When you have got a collection of Marie Antoinettes posing as The Delegates and True Spokesmen of (say) what used to be the steelworkers – now enormously out of work – it’s not very credible, is it?

John Chestwig
John Chestwig
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

I think you’ve summed them up really well – “Currently it means nearly nothing to most people”. I think that’s where many people are at with Starmer’s Labour (noting I personally have much more serious reservations than that, as it appears do you).

They no longer even vaguely seem to speak up for the working person. They have simply become an opposition party in a FPTP voting system. Once another party comes along, such as the SNP, they risk dwindling away.

I can only hope that Reform UK develops into a credible force and starts hoovering up some of those who have been voting Labour for years, simply out of habit or because they hate the tories more.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

I keep on saying ‘wrong words’, I really do, and yet the police never visit. What am I doing wrong? (Or maybe right?) Or are you overdramatising, and weakening your otherwise quite reasonable argument?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

What Labour need to do seems obvious to me.

Talk endlessly about real jobs, schools, housing and hospitals until the traditional meme is fully reinstated.

Every woke utterance (or kneel) sets their reputation back to the disastrous perception widely held at the 2017 election.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

‘Talk endlessly about real jobs…’

And what would anyone in today Labour Party know about ‘real jobs’?
it would be like you or I talking about astrophysics.* We know nothing about it and we have no right to speak on the subject.

*My apologies if you happen to be an astrophysicist or something of that nature.

Chris C
Chris C
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Fraser, actually when I go to meetings of my Constituency Labour party I’m surrounded by people in “real jobs”.

It’s the Conservative party which is an alliance of the elderly (you’ve seen the statistics on how different age brackets vote – all the Conservative lead, when there is one, comes from the retired, and that applies to the elderly Tory party membership too) along with those still working but in jobs like:

– Investment banker

– Hedge fund manager

– Senior partner in solicitors (income £200k+)

– Senior bean counter (£250k+)

Don’t fool yourself with “we right-wingers are the people” nonsense. As far as REAL Conservatives go, if you’re not on a six figure salary in the Home Counties, you’re an exploitable prole. Look how the fishermen have exploited as part of a “real people support the Brexity Tories” schtick, but are now incandescent that Boris has tossed them aside like his former wives and girlfriends.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

If this cartoonish analysis of the Conservatives is the view most Labour activists hold, then they are likely never to be elected. Is the case of the fishermen the best example you can come up with? Yes Boris has sold them out to an extent though they will still be bit better off than in the EU.

The Tories have been in power two-thirds of the time since 1945. Labour needs to understand why. There aren’t enough hedge-fund managers and other wealthy people to elect them. The British people have a wide range of views and aren’t all convinced that it should be a crime to build up a business or make money. They also don’t admire scroungers, which can be a problem in a welfare state.

I’ve voted for both main parties, but the bile poured on the ‘Tories’ (word spat out in contempt) by leftwing activists is not a political asset with the public. Oh, I remember the glory days of going on marches when I was a young man protesting about some cause. Even then when I was pretty left wing I thought the calls of ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out were pretty moronic, very soon after she’d won a landslide victory!

John Chestwig
John Chestwig
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I think their difficulty is that their MPs simply don’t believe in those messages – they’ve someone got sucked into a world in which the key topics of discussion are trans-rights and climate change.

Even if it was just a rebranding exercise therefore, they’d struggle to do it.

Chris C
Chris C
1 year ago
Reply to  John Chestwig

Climate change is important. Only stubborn dinosaurs deny that. That’s why even the current, Conservative, Government is taking action on it. Are even they too progressive for you?

Trans rights is a fetish which attracts too much attention, I agree. Best to get a sensible policy on it and then stop obsessing over it – which applies both to the left and the right.

John Chestwig
John Chestwig
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

Sadly I’m unable to answer “Are even they too progressive for you?”, because “progressive” doesn’t mean anything. 🙂

Regarding climate change specifically, I don’t have a problem with government taking action to help tackle it, rather my point was to observe that it doesn’t feature even vaguely near the top of most working people’s list of priorities, when they are struggling to pay the next bill or actually get hold of their local GP. Also Labour politicians, like those of many other parties, are rather too quick to point to every single weather event as evidence of climate change and then bang on about it. That is not effectively representing the people who were once their core base, but it no longer matters, because they no longer represent that core base – they do not represent traditional labour.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

This article is about what Labour need to do to get elected, and not the right place for political aggression.

You don’t have to be left-wing to have an informed opinion on what Labour need to do to get back into power …

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

He is tiresome isn’t he.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

With the caveat that 2017 was a bit of a Brexit thing as well. Now Brexit is sort of out of the way, the parties stand fully exposed next time around. 2019 was, of course, a very Brexit thing.

Chris C
Chris C
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Labour does talk about real jobs. Examples:

– Action on zero hours contracts

– Care staff being paid the minimum wage AND not being reimbursed for use of their own cars

– Jobs going abroad because of a hard Brexit

The attitude of those on the RIght is, respectively:

– we’re in favour of “labour market flexibility” (remember David Cameron’s anxious expression and stressed body language when Labour brought up zero hour contracts in a 2015 election debate? – he then said he “didn’t see a problem” with ZHCs)

– we don’t care about people on low pay, they’re not people like us

– we don’t care about destroying jobs because nationalism is more important and anyway we’re mostly retired.

This thread, on a Friday daytime, is full of noisy hard right wingers (plus myself, a recently retired lefty). My former colleagues, in a private sector company, are too busy working to post comments on here, and while a minority of them are probably Conservative voters, not one of them shares the corrosive hatred of the left and love of the hard right which most commenters here do.

Ken Jackson
Ken Jackson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

I voted Labour at every opportunity since getting the vote in 1970 – including the ridiculous PCC’s – until the Corbyn farrago. I object to a party, which my family has supported tribally for generations, being taken over by crypto-Stalinists, superannuated Trotskyists and the Tooting Popular Front; all peddling an agenda far removed from the concerns or issues of traditional supporters. I’ll continue to vote AGAINST Labour at every opportunity until there is a return sanity. Kier Starmer isn’t it.

Chris C
Chris C
1 year ago
Reply to  Ken Jackson

Ken, it hardly makes sense to describe Keir Starmer as “crypto-Stalinists, superannuated Trotskyists and the Tooting Popular Front”. He was knighted for his work as Director of Public Prosecutions, while his opponent is a journalist who was sacked from the Times for lying, sacked from the Conservative front bench by Michael Howard for lying, cheated on his wife while she was being treated for cancer, and missed five meetings of the COBRA emergencies committee in early 2020 while it was deciding Britain’s strategy for dealing with the impending Covid pandemic because he needed to stage manage the announcement of his latest girlfriend’s pregnancy. Try Peter Oborne’s new book detailing how Boris Johnson’s entire career has been based on lying – and Oborne is a true-blue Tory!

With all due respect, since you turned 18 between the 1966 and 1970 elections, you are part of the well-recognised phenomenon that those over 50 vote Tory by ever-greater margins with each increasing decade, while Labour has a permanent majority among those under 40, and the 40-50 years cohort is fought over.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

You keep insulting people Chris – it’s not necessary and does nothing to encourage anyone to read your content.

Ken’s response did not describe Kier Starmer in the way you inferred he had.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

It’s a shame you have responded to my comment – which was written with the intent of helpfully reminding Kier Starmer what matters most to the electorate – as a means to air your apparent contempt of people whose views you have guessed to be more right wing than your own.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

– Action on zero hours contracts
Except, the majority of people on ZHCs are satisfied with them and think they are a significant element in their quality of life.
Why would Labour want to end such a thing? Part of its general contempt for people that was on such display in their efforts to overturn the result of the Brexit referendum.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

I’d just say that it is a grave misunderstanding that the free-market right don’t care about workers. (I’m sure some Tories don’t care that much). But in any case, it isn’t all about ‘caring’ – the road to hell can be paved with good intentions – but by having the right economic conditions. Much of the left is too certain that government can decree ‘well-paying’ jobs by fiat.

I don’t know what you mean by ‘hard right’ – the extreme right often believe in a kind of ‘national’ socialism and a lot of market intervention.

There is no doubt that too much regulation and a too high minimum wage can destroy jobs. Would you employ the most expensive workmen in your home? The UK has a high employment level, many European countries with much more protection of those in work, have much higher levels of unemployment.

I am all for workers not being exploited but I know that many people do want to have flexibility and to be able to accept or turn down work as they choose. I used to work alongside some of them. And, yes, this includes even some Uber drivers!

Matthew Taylor did a review on this issue – I’m not sure how much was implemented but he certainly didn’t come up with the conclusion that such working practices should be banned.

I read on the gov website that ‘Zero-hours workers are entitled to statutory annual leave and the National Minimum Wage in the same way as regular workers’ .

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

The various branches of the UK Left have a true talent for splitting their support across as many little factions as they can manage. Resulting in a united Right remaining in power. The UK Left is congenitally addicted to purity regardless of the cost to themselves, the Right will prioritise power even if it’s dirty.

The Left should stick to this strategy: why give up on something they are so good at?

Chris C
Chris C
1 year ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Whereas the Conservative party has been taken over by UKIP, and there are numerous examples of racism among Conservative party members and councillors, along the lines of “Enoch was right”.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris C

How about addressing the points just made, rather than indulging in “whataboutery” ….

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Thanks for dealing with this.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

“the Brighton-and-Bristol party”
Such a good name for the Greens!