When Labour condemns "Tory voters," it's condemning a section of the electorate as not worth reaching—and it may be the most important one of allby Emma Burnell / January 7, 2020 / Leave a comment
At the end of last year, the voters returned a pretty damning judgement on Jeremy Corbyn and the wider Labour Party. But often, what was heard on doorsteps was that voters felt judged by Labour: on social issues, on Brexit, on the kind of lives they were living and providing for their families.
Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has described Labour’s approach at the recent general election as ‘too paternalistic’ and she’s not wrong. But it wasn’t just the endless, unbelievable giveaways promised that left the electorate feeling disempowered. It was the sense of fatherly disapproval that voters felt from Labour. It’s a particular type of paternalism—the kind that always makes you think of the phrase “You’re not going out dressed like that!”
Some have reacted to this by arguing that Labour should give up its progressive social programme while retaining its economic radicalism. Some that they should give up their economic radicalism instead. Both sides are missing the point.
Labour cannot and should not give up its progressive values in either direction. For a start, to do so would be completely inauthentic—something voters dislike more than almost anything else. Voters don’t want Labour to pretend to be something they are not. They just don’t want Labour to pretend they aren’t who they are.
Labour has a terrible habit of projecting their own most radical instincts onto the electorate and just expecting them to be true through force of will. Just as Labour’s internal politics became a contest of who could shout the loudest in the highest numbers, so too did Labour’s approach to the electorate. Instead of trying to persuade a coalition by making a pitch to swing voters, they tried to bully, distort and imagine one into existence.
It is a truism that the Labour Party forgot that Tory votes count double: one extra vote for you and one fewer for your opponent. That’s why winning over people who have once, or might again, vote Tory matters so much. For Labour to have any chance to do anything at all—radical or not—they have to win elections first.
I have long argued that Labour members should ban the words…