The 2019 General Election: Taking Stock, One Year On
By Martin Kerin
LAST week saw the first anniversary of the 2019 General Election. It was, in the truest sense of the word, a seismic election. The implications of it will be felt in years to come, and it is an election which is up there with 1945, 1979 and 1997 in terms of importance.
As a Labour member and elected Labour councillor, it is clear that it was an election which posed an existential threat to my party. As of 10pm on 12 December 2019, the party was placed on life support. As of December 2020, I believe the party is off life support, but not yet fully recovered.
For me, one of the key reasons that the party is on the, albeit slow, road to recovery is because of the leadership of Keir Starmer. Back in January of this year, I wrote an opinion piece for this news site on why I was backing him for the leadership of the Labour Party. Since his election on 4 April, he was faced with a number of immediate daunting tasks:
The Labour Party was reeling from the loss of the northern and Midlands ‘Red Wall’ seats which has previously been seen as the heartlands of the Party;
The Labour Party was languishing in the 20% bracket in the opinion polls;
The Labour Party was mired in the Equality & Human Rights Commission (ECHR) report into anti-Semitism.
The picture from the 2019 election is clear: Labour suffered its worst defeat since 1931. Sadly, Labour have suffered terrible defeats before. This one, though, is the one that saw the Tories become the largest party in County Durham, defeat Dennis Skinner and inflict an 18% swing in Bassetlaw. There is a small glimmer of hope, though.
Recent polling by J. L. Partners shows that Labour has re-taken the lead in the Red Wall. If this was translated to votes, we would win back 36 out of the 45 seats lost in 2019. A study by Opinion shows that Labour now enjoys a marginal lead amongst working class voters – a group it lost in 2019. This is a significant achievement considering that Mr Starmer has only been leader since April. In fact, Starmer consistently outpolls Boris Johnson as a leader, despite recent research by the polling company Britain Thinks showing that a quarter of people are still unfamiliar with him – therefore, there is scope for this opinion to go higher. Even with general opinion polling, it is no mean feat to have escaped the 2 April 2020 polling of 28% and to have hit 40% as of the end of November/beginning of December. As more voters get to know him, I believe that the polling will, firstly, stabilise, and then incrementally increase.
It is shameful that our party has been investigated by the ECHR, which found three breaches of the Equality Act (2010). Among the charges, was that the party was responsible for unlawful and anti-Semitic acts of harassment and discrimination. The mere fact that we were investigated by a body established by a Labour government under a law inaugurated by a Labour government was, previously, unthinkable. The only other political party to be investigated in this way has been the British National Party. Thankfully, Mr Starmer gets it, and understands the seriousness of it.
Mr Starmer has accepted the findings of the report in full and said that the party would implement all its recommendations. He has reached out to the Jewish community and authorised private settlements in the civil cases brought by former members and staff. He has said that those who reject the report or think the issue of anti-Semitism is exaggerated ‘should be nowhere near the Labour Party.’ I believe that he will ultimately succeed in rooting out anti-Semitism.
Of course, there are other issues that Mr Starmer will, in time, have to address. Scotland looms large in electoral calculation of any potential Labour prime minister. However, at the present time, Scotland looms larger in the calculation of anyone who wants to keep the UK together. Equally, winning back the Red Wall alone will only take us to the baseline of the 2015 and 2017 results. There needs to be a plan for the swathe of seats lost in 2010, but never recovered since. This includes places such as Dartford, Swindon, Harlow and Basildon. It includes our very own Thurrock, which has gone from a marginal to Tory safe seat between 2017 and 2019, swinging 19% and gifting an 11, 482 majority to the Conservatives.
Whilst Mr Starmer has been an authoritative voice during the pandemic, the new year should afford him to chance to set out winning back voters in places like Thurrock and Basildon as well as the traditional Red Wall. The key issue to do this on is on the economy. He understands that a strong economy relies on businesses being able to flourish and workers being able to share in that success, too.
In a major speech to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Keir Starmer looked at the present economy and said:
‘We’re a great country. We’re the sixth richest in the world. But our economy is one where the workers we applaud are overworked, underpaid and undervalued. Where many – especially the self-employed – lack basic security at work. Where millions of people are one missed pay-packet away from hardship. And where too few are able to save for their future and their retirement. We’ve got to change this.’
In a major speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), he looked to the future and said:
‘I believe Britain can – and must – create a more dynamic, innovative and high-tech economy fit for 2020s and 2030s…My aim is simple: that under a Labour government every community and every town has world-class local businesses. Businesses that are a source of pride, jobs and prosperity…I can pledge that a Labour government under my leadership will back British businesses.’
This twin approach of backing British businesses whilst ensuring that workers share in the success is the way out of the current economic mire in which we find ourselves. In the same CBI speech, Mr Starmer promised businesses that he’ll provide:
‘…the incentives, the corporate structures, the investment and stability you need to plan for the long term.’
In return, he’ll expect businesses to:
‘…look beyond the next quarterly statement or annual report and to focus on long-term prosperity and the long-term interests of the local community.’
The challenge for our country couldn’t be starker:
Because of Boris Johnson’s incompetent handling of Covid, we have the highest death-toll in Europe and one of the highest in the entire world. We also have the deepest recession of any G7 country and the slowest recovery.
Because of Boris Johnson’s incompetent handling of the Brexit negotiations, we will end up with either ‘no deal’ or a deal that is so far removed from original British negotiation positions that it will have made the recent grandstanding pointless. Let us not forget that the original 2019 Withdrawal Agreement was only signed after Mr Johnson agreed to abandon his ultimate red line and place a customs border down the Irish Sea – something he had previously said ‘no UK prime minister could ever agree [to].’
The people of the UK are growing tired of buffoonery, bluster and incompetence. We all deserve complete integrity, forensic competence and a clear vision. In short, we are crying out for a new leadership. This is what Keir Starmer offers. Yes, it is a long way until the 2024 election. Yes, Labour has a long way to go to win back trust. However, the first steps have been taken.
Labour is under a new leadership. Hopefully, in the future, our nation will be too.