Whilst all the candidates for Labour leadership have been very explicit in pointing out that we, as a Party, have lost our connection with those whom we seek to serve, no candidate has yet proceeded beyond their comfort zone in seeking to address why that might be. Each have tried to present a silver-bullet issue as the answer to their deliberations of ‘What Went Wrong?’, usually immigration or being 'anti-business', which serves only to enable the uncomfortable or inconvenient to be ruled out from the outset. As such, our candidates are unwittingly replicating precisely that which is the real answer to their question: that we, as a Party, have lost the ability to accept the legitimacy of alternative worldviews to the wholly dominant liberal paradigms within which the Party operates, and to build effective coalitions out of them.
So, below are a few contributing factors to the loss of that ‘emotional connection’ (to use Burnham's terms) - not exhaustive, nor complete as an explanation, but factors we will rarely heard spoken nonetheless.
Liberal activists – whilst believing themselves to be disseminating the enlightened and the moral, the reality is that our liberal activist core can come across as nasty and downright hateful to anyone who happens to hold an alternative point of view, caricaturing and demonising long before coming into contact with the actual people who hold such views. There is not only an unwillingness to listen, but even a hostility to the possibility that any other view might be legitimate. Whilst this could conceivably (if not desirably) prove an electoral advantage if the target is opposition parties, nonetheless the often vitriolic demand for conformism has oftentimes isolated our own core vote. In short, denouncing your own natural allies is an ineffective way of building the kinds of coalitions that win elections.
AWS – whilst an item of absolute faith within the party (witness the reams of abuse hurled at those who have ever questioned it) AWS is actually unpopular. Not only has it alienated plenty within local associations, in which we really do need to engage in some serious bridge-building, but it also lacks support among the population at large – all sectors of society, by age, gender, political affiliation and social class, reject the idea as unjust.
Identity politics – Divide and conquer is an effective strategy for beating an opponent. It is a disastrous way of treating your own supporters. Labour’s focus on identity politics has too often left us slicing and dicing our own natural constituency, creating foes where there ought to have been allies. It has also got us into some ridiculous situations in which the logic of identity politics has been paraded in all its baffling glory, much to the bewilderment of the electorate – whether it is #killallwhitemen or denouncing everyone as bigots, identity politics has pulled the rug from underneath any concept of solidarity. Or in the words of Ed West:
Labour is in danger of becoming toxically progressive to the majority of people who do not identify with 1968 derived politics. ‘Left-wing’ is already a derogatory term in many working-class areas of South-East England, not because people oppose the idea of greater equality, or fairness, helping the weak or protecting workers’ rights, but because the left has become associated with obscure and intolerant sexual politics, utopian universalism, nonsensical doctrinal purity and state-enforced equality of outcomes.
Man Problem – In short, Labour has a man problem. Those who have given up on the party are disproportionately male, just as those who are moving from Labour to UKIP are overwhelmingly male, too. This is not coincidence; there must be reasons why a disproportionately large group of males do not feel Labour represents them anymore. For any politician to publicly reflect on this, let alone suggest anything might done about it, would be political suicide. Which tells you just about everything you need to know.
Amorality – Frank Field has put it best: ‘A significant proportion of deserting Labour voters… are hostile to the kind of society they perceive Labour is now in the business to promote… They witness a Labour Party that too often stands for a distribution of public services that they find repulsive; a housing allocation system that favours the newcomer and the social misfit over good behaviour over decades. They see Labour as soft on vulgar and uncivilised behaviour that plagues their lives and from which the rich shield themselves. Moreover, they witness a leadership that never expresses the anger they feel as the world they stand for is mocked and denigrated by hoodlums for whom official Labour always seems to have an understanding word.’
Intolerance – Put short, the party will brook no dissent on an increasingly large palette of issues. We show ourselves not only willing to stand back and watch as our own people are demonised, but willing to stick the boot in too. Labour has not yet found a way to reconcile its theoretical approaches to freedom with the ways in which this has meant that dissent within the Party, and increasingly within society, is shut down – often to cheers and applause from the Party itself. In this sense, Labour teams up with the Establishment, indeed often is the Establishment, to mock and alienate the already culturally and democratically dispossessed. Instead of trying to bring these voices back into the fold, we choose instead make political hay by continuing to mock and alienate them – before then blaming them when, all of a sudden, we fall short at election time.