Something more fundamental is reshaping the political landscape, writes a former chair of Vote Leaveby John Mills / December 20, 2019 / Leave a comment
Labour’s heavy defeat needs to be set in the context of the difficulties which left-of-centre political parties have experienced well beyond the borders of the UK.
In 2000, countless countries across the western world either had a social democratic government or social democrats had an important role in governing coalitions. By 2018, while Portugal and, more marginally, Spain fell into this category, the tally was dismal. Parties, such as PASOK in Greece, the Socialist Party in France and the SDP in Germany had imploded, with electoral support dropping as low as single figures in some cases. Others, such as the Labour Party in the UK, La France Insoumise in France and part of the Democratic Party in the US, had swung significantly to the left, although without securing much, if any, success at the polls.
Labour’s very poor result in the recent election needs to be seen, therefore, as a phenomenon running deeper than the ability of the Labour leadership to get its message across or because of Brexit. Something more fundamental has been happening which transcends borders and affects the whole of the western world.
Why, then, is the left doing so badly? Arguably, there are three main reasons—the economy, redistribution, and culture.
The economic dimension is that since 2000 social democrats have spent a lot of time either presiding over economies that were doing poorly, especially around the 2008 crash and the very slow recovery from it, or if they were not in power, acquiescing in austerity programmes without putting forward any convincing alternatives to them.
Indeed, it seems that most politicians on the left largely dropped into assuming that growth at no more than about 1.5 per cent per annum was the new normal. This is why they have sounded unconvincing when criticising right-of-centre governments which have done no better. Meanwhile, incomes for most people have stagnated while for many they have fallen, fuelling discontent and disillusionment with political leaders who don’t appear to know what they are doing.
On redistribution, left-of-centre parties have always—to win elections—had to be an alliance between working-class people, who hoped to see redistribution working in their favour, and middle-class idealists who thought that a fair society came at a price worth paying.
Broadly speaking, the tax system does redistribute income from roughly the top…