The Labour Party has failed its working class voter base and must win back their trust if it ever wants to gain the keys to Downing Street, Express.co.uk has been told. Labour famously lost its Red Wall stronghold in the north of England at the 2019 election. It was the party’s worst defeat since 1935 – with many attributing former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s monumental failure on his leapfrogging on Brexit.
Yet, although acknowledging Brexit was a decisive factor in Labour’s loss of its working class, Paul Embery, a firefighter and trade unionist who has been a Labour member for 26 years, said the issue was merely a symptom of the party’s lack of grasp on people who used to call Labour their home.
He also said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic may not tip Red Wall and working class voters back to Labour even if the Government fails the people who “lent” their vote to the Tories.
Mr Embery explained: “In terms of Boris Johnson’s relationship with these communities and whether they’ll vote for him again, I don’t think that’s necessarily going to be driven in terms of what happens to the negotiations around the deal: I think that’s more likely to be driven by what happens in the next four years.
“Many of these communities, these Labour Red Wall seats, place their faith in the Tories for the first time and they want payback.
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“It took a lot for many of them to vote Tory, it went against everything that they stood for – there were stories of people having their grandfather whispering in their ear when they were in the polling booth. But having done it once I think they’ll do it again if the Tories deliver.
“These Northern and Midland constituencies, if the Prime Minister is seen to be tangibly improving the lives of those communities, investing in them, bringing back jobs, really industrialising, regenerating, then I think people may well vote for the Tories again and that’s Labour’s real danger.
“The truth is that there’s no route back to power for Labour that does not pass through those Red Wall seats and win them back.
“And that has got to be the guiding mission for the Labour Party.
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North of England: Many Red Wall seats in Northern England fell in the 2019 election
“It can’t just keep doing what it’s been doing for the last few years, appealing to the middle classes, appealing to people in the cities, appealing to the liberals and the Guardian readers – it’s got to win back those working class communities who were once its backbone that they’ve abandoned.”
It is true that many of those Red Wall seats that fell in 2019 were also areas that voted Leave in the Brexit referendum.
Scores of former mining towns in the North, like Workington, were seen as representative of swathes of the country that Labour had got wrong.
High-profile constituencies fell – Tony Blair’s former Sedgefield went blue, as did former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson’s West Bromwich East.
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The Conservatives also carved unprecedented paths through Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire, the Black Country, Northumberland – all traditionally Labour areas, heavy in industry, the trade union movement, who felt Mr Corbyn and his modern Left no longer represented their voice.
Mr Embery, as well as others, said one of the biggest failures comes in the form of Labour’s lack of willingness to commit to patriotism and pride in national identity.
Sir Keir appears to have picked up on this, having previously said he wants the party to be “proud of being patriotic”.
In his first speech to a Labour conference as party leader – albeit virtual – in September, Sir Keir told voters: “I ask you: take another look at Labour. We’re under new leadership. We love this country as you do.”
Labour loss: The party suffered its worst election defeat since 1935 in 2019
It is something that seems to chime with many members of the party.
According to a YouGov poll in January, as the leadership contest began, 50 percent of the party thought it was important for the new chief to have a sense of patriotism.
The public also feels strongly about this too, as a separate YouGov poll in June found that 67 percent of respondents were proud of being British.
Members of Mr Corbyn’s own Cabinet often commented on the former leader’s failure to understand many British communities’ sense of place.
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Owen Smith, MP for Pontypridd, said in 2016 of Mr Corbyn: “To be honest, he doesn’t really understand sometimes the way in which people have a very strong, perhaps socially conservative sense of place, sense of where they’re from.
“I’m not sure I’ve heard him talking much about Scotland and identity, or about Wales and identity, or indeed about England and identity.
“I suspect that Jeremy’s got a much more metropolitan sense of that, and that’s not one that I think is central to the Labour tradition.
“I think it’s not something that’s not core to his set of his beliefs… nationhood and nationalism and patriotism aren’t really part of his makeup.”
Paul Embery’s book ‘Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class’ is published by Polity and comes out in 2021.