It is not difficult – day after day, door after door the message remained the same – Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour hierarchy didn’t listen after the poor local elections in May and the inevitable happened.
Many of those Northern post-industrial places which voted for Brexit lost not just an income when their industries closed but a way of life. They then had a ‘triple whammy’ of being hit hardest by public service cuts. All they had left was a vote and they used it only to find Parliament and Labour in particular standing in the way. What did we think was going to happen when the election was called?
We sat down with Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, in July and spelt it out. Not only that we gave him an alternative Brexit strategy. “Sorry that’s too difficult we have to remain in Europe unless the Theresa May deal improves.” And ordinary working class voters in the North? “They just need a narrative.” We despair.
Ironically Labour’s problem is not to understand why we lost the election, it’s to understand ordinary working class people. The party is now dominated by a London-based membership and too many metropolitan politicians are out of touch. The London and Westminster bubbles don’t reflect the reality faced by the rest of us.
Instead of insulting people in the North for voting to leave Europe, MPs should be embracing them, not seeing them as a problem to be solved.
Working class – and particularly white working class post-industrial communities – have complex political cultures.
When it comes to the economy and public services they’re Labour through and through but when it comes to defence, law and order, migration and foreign policy, their cultural instincts are small ‘c’ conservative.
The London-centric left policies and actions of Jeremy Corbyn were doomed from the beginning. Indeed, Labour’s defeat in the North would have been annihilation but for the Brexit vote splitting two ways in many places.
The Labour Party has always been a broad church and, of course, there’s a role for Jeremy and progressive thinkers. But traditional Labour aspirations have been squeezed out and the party is unbalanced. If we can’t convince traditional Labour voters to support us we won’t convince others we need to vote Labour in order to form a government.
Labour has to move back towards the centre ground and to appeal to a wider audience. That is not to abandon everything we fought for at this election. But it is to recognise fiscal responsibility matters, and the public have to be listened to on our future as well as the activists.
Being an opposition helps no one – especially those who need a Labour government most. We hear people say we won the argument but lost the election. Sorry give us the latter every time. The Blair government had many faults but it won three elections.
The Holy Labour Trinity of Blair (image), Brown (substance) and Prescott (history) covered all the bases. We weren’t Tony Blair’s greatest admirers but at the risk of misquoting him, he did say one thing to the party which rings in our ears.
The choice you have isn’t between me and the Labour government of your dreams – it’s between me and the Tories. If we’re still not sure, ask the people of Sedgefield.
Whether those lost Labour voters return to the party or not won’t be determined by anything the Prime Minister Boris Johnson does. It will be determined by the Labour Party itself. More of the same will beget more of the same.
Boris Johnson has offered a transactional relationship with the North – money for votes. Labour has to offer something deeper.
Investment yes but a greater philosophical understanding and commitment to people without whom there would be no Labour Party at all.
Ros Jones is the mayor of Doncaster and Sir Steve Houghton is leader of Barnsley Council. Both are Labour politicians.