Labour’s Populism Strategy

Posted on April 12, 2023

I guess election strategy always existed. There are Labour and Conservative voters who will never change allegiance, so the balance is swung by appealing to the ambivalent and the floaters.

Johnson’s Populism

Since Boris Johnson chaotically crashed into frontline politics, populism has been all the rage. The Conservative strategy of recent years has been to create fear and hate. This allowed them to take votes from deprived areas which were once industrial heartlands dominated by Labour supporting unions.

The Tory strategists knew that even when under the power of the unions, these areas had a large proportion of people who feared outsiders and favoured a protectionist workplace. All they needed was to be convinced that champagne London socialists had deserted them. Once that was achieved, what was required was a populist character with simple answers to complex questions. Enter Boris Johnson.

Labour Left Reeling

It left Labour reeling. They didn’t expect the ‘Red Wall’ to desert them but they should have seen it coming. Jeremy Corbyn, a decent man, tried to lead with honesty but he didn’t have a chance. Labour lost not only the red wall but also Scotland, whose citizens were still seething at being dragged out of the EU against their will. That’s a huge dent in the traditional voter base. Labour victories at elections are rare enough as it is.

Once the catastrophe of Brexit and Covid started taking hold, support started swinging away from the Tories. Brexit, lockdown parties and industrial scale corruption, saw Labour picking up support without doing much. “Don’t interrupt your enemy, when it is destroying itself” appeared to be the strategy, and a sensible one too. However, Johnson getting turfed out has caused enough alarm for them to chase votes they are worried about Sunak holding on to.

Vote Gaining Gamble

These appear to be Tory voters who are sick of the cost of living and the new ‘blue wall’ in the north. Both of these demographics are riddled with bigotry and are, it would appear, easily influenced by populism. As a result, it seems that to secure the swing they need, Labour feel they need to get the union jacks out. It a gamble but one they appear to be happy to take.

The gamble is this. The once red, now blue wall, might not come back. The ‘Stevenage Woman’ types who don’t like foreigners but are scared of rising bills, might well see Sunak as a safer bet than Starmer. There is another fly in the ointment. Traditional Labour purists don’t like Starmer, even less so now he is choosing populism. I’m a Labour centrist and it doesn’t sit well with me either. I don’t like populism and I don’t like nationalism and Union Jacks. I find it all a bit childish.

Strategic Reality

However, I am not a strategist. The brutal truth may well be that Labour have to chase votes from toxic people to win an election. Perhaps it is that, or another decade shouting from the sidelines. Starmer’s team will be hoping that the left of the party understand that Labour have to gain votes from the enemy. After all, the Conservatives hate red wall northerners but they weren’t afraid to pretend otherwise to get their votes. It’s a dirty game, politics and a bit sad that Labour feel they need to chase the ignorant.

Yet, if Labour stick with purists and doesn’t chase enemy votes, it unlikely to have the numbers required to win an election.

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