December 19, 2019 by Paul Goldsmith
Labour didn’t lose their Northern heartland seats overnight on December 12th and 13th. They lost them when Tony Blair took their safety so much for granted that he put his staffers and friends in them.
People trying to predict the future direction of the Labour Party leadership are suggesting they go back to a Blairite, as Tony Blair won three elections.
Whilst that’s true, it is worth remembering that Blair lost votes in every election after 1997, and also made decisions that directly led not only to the 2016 Leave vote and the 2019 general election result.
Decision one was to allow in Eastern European immigrants without transition controls but also without not only an electoral mandate to do so but any discussion at all. People who questioned why their pay had almost halved and they found it difficult to get seen at A&Es or get school places were branded publicly as lazy bigots.
Even Labour politicians who suggested Blair might want to bring in a migrant impact fund or skills training to help UK workers compete were told it could happen as it would ‘admit there was a problem’.
The success of this immigration was measured in GDP, when that can rise even when only a few get a higher income whilst many lose out.
The policy opened up a need for a party that was economically leaning left but socially leaning right (as British people aren’t a fan of radical cultural change) but no party was able to fill that gap, until the Conservatives positioned themselves as doing so.
But that’s not all. To add a form of insult to injury Tony Blair decided to reward his policy advisers and political friends with safe seats in places with which they had no affinity. As Aditya Chakrabortty points out in this excellent article “Thinktankers, union HQ bureaucrats, ex-student politicians: all found careers and weekend homes for themselves.” David Miliband got a South Shields in the North East, Ed Miliband Doncaster in Yorkshire, Peter Mandelson Hartlepool in the North East. There were many more.
Consider this video of David Miliband in South Shields. Miliband apparently had to look up the place on a map when he was told that was the seat he was giving. By 2010 the impact of the policy Miliband had been one of those personally responsible for was hitting, and hurting many of the people in South Shields. Listen to the construction worker talk about his wages fall by a third.
What did David Miliband do for people like him? Can’t imagine he worried too much when he was Foreign Secretary, and when the Tories took over and austerity was piled onto the other issues the people of South Shields were dealing with, Miliband swanned off to a £600,000 a year job at a charity in New York.
Consider the alternatives available to these Northern voters on December 12th. Blyth Valley went Conservative for the first time in decades. Ian Levy was not only a former NHS worker, but he was from the area, so the voters identified with him as they thought he might identify with them.
The lessons to learn from this are twofold: Labour need to find local candidates who understand the people they represent. They then need those local candidates to be feeding into the policy and manifesto process.
What certainly needs to happen, for both political parties, is the parachuting of Party apparatchiks into safe seats.
I guess it’s helpful there are no more safe seats.