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Super Thursday not so super for Labour

Mike McCartney

12th May 2021

And, in particular, their leader, perhaps? What did a sample of Politics students make of it?

Had an excellent class discussion today with my Y12 on the significance of the elections held last Thursday. This was a break from our studies of the US Supreme Court, and provided the chance for a bit of a refresher on UK voting behaviour, with the end of year exams imminent (not that the topic will necessarily be on the paper, mind).

The general feeling of the room was as follows:

  • Natural Labour supporters in, for example, the Hartlepool byelection, have felt abandoned by the party post-Brexit. The party has no policies that appeal to these voters. And the party has made no real attempt to woo them. This is why they stayed at home.
  • Party leaders matter, and Keir Starmer has failed to break through. He has his work cut out to turn things around before the next GE.
  • If that GE happens to be a snap election later this year, then the Conservatives could extend their majority, and Labour could fare even worse than they did in 2019.

This is pretty much what the main thrust of the articles I had as back up stimulus material said.

For instance, this is from an editorial in the Observer:

"It is early days, but Starmer has not made enough progress in edging Labour back to electability. Externally, he should have been able to show voters that he understands why so many rejected Labour in 2019 and their aspirations and concerns in 2021: this is the first building block in the articulation of an alternative vision for the country. But Starmer appears to be a poor communicator who lacks an instinctive touch; the same can be said for too many of his top team. His attempt to adopt the patriotism of the flag came across as inauthentically formulaic; like Ed Miliband, too much of his language is technical and wonky rather than resonant. Internally, in the name of party unity, he has shied away from addressing hard truths with his membership about the need to speak from beyond the activist comfort zone. These are the things he needs to prioritise; without this foundation, Labour’s attempts to set out what it stands for are bound to fall flat. That one of Starmer’s first actions was needlessly sacking Angela Rayner last night as party chair, one of Labour’s most senior women and more able communicators, calls into question his judgment."


And this analysis from Professor Ford, Professor of Politics at the University of Manchester (in the same paper):

"Under Starmer, the party has sought to move on from Brexit. This, it seems, is not yet something English voters are willing to do. In seat after seat in Leave-voting parts of England, the Conservatives surged and Labour slumped. Leave voters, it seems, remain keen to reward the prime minister who “got Brexit done”."

Importantly, because this is a big deal with regards to explaining the outcome UK elections, he goes on to say (and our discussion would have got into this sort of territory had we had more time):

"...traditional class-politics patterns are being turned upside down by a realignment around divides by age, education and – most of all – Brexit choices. On every available measure of socioeconomic conditions, the Conservatives prospered most in the most deprived places and Labour did best in the most prosperous areas. This inversion of class politics has already been evident for several years but it has continued, and perhaps intensified, in the first post-Brexit local elections.

While the old class divides have reversed, the post-Brexit education divide has intensified. There were major swings to the Conservatives in the wards with the highest shares of voters with few or no formal qualifications, while there were modest swings to Labour in the wards with the largest concentrations of university graduates. There was less evidence of the generational divide seen in the last two general elections and Labour’s traditional advantage in more ethnically diverse areas was more muted than usual. In 2021, as in 2019, Labour’s core electorate was graduates, well-off professionals and Remainers. The problem for the party is that these groups are nowhere near sufficient to win general elections as long as the Conservatives remain popular among everyone else."

Read the article in full here:

Overall, a very enjoyable discussion with my Y12 set. Always a pleasure to have an in-depth chat with them when time allows. A very clued-up group, it has to be said. But then they would be: five out of the set of 13 campaigned while still in the junior school in the 2015 mock election. Hats off to them for developing, and then sustaining, that level of political awareness and engagement. What else could you want as a Politics teacher?

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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