The election of a Conservative MP in Hartlepool for the first time in the constituency’s modern history is yet another wake-up call for my party. Peter Mandelson once enjoyed a 17,500 majority here. Now the Tories are deep into what was once safe Labour territory – the industrial heartlands of the North – with a 7,000 majority of their own. In the West Midlands it looks again like Labour will lose out on the mayoral race and more. What has gone wrong for the Labour party and our wider movement?
My view is simple: in the past decade, Labour has lost touch with ordinary British people. A London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of brigades of woke social media warriors, has effectively captured the party. They mean well, of course, but their politics – obsessed with identity, division and even tech utopianism – have more in common with those of Californian high society than the kind of people who voted in Hartlepool yesterday. The loudest voices in the Labour movement over the past year in particular have focused more on pulling down Churchill’s statue than they have on helping people pull themselves up in the world. No wonder it is doing better among rich urban liberals and young university graduates than it is amongst the most important part of its traditional electoral coalition, the working-class.
A bit of superficial flag-waving – reinforced by urgent memos from party HQ – isn’t going to fix that. We have to recognise that the patriotism of these voters runs much deeper than that. They are more alert to rebranding exercises than spin doctors give them credit for. Their patriotism is about historic pride in their places, the heritage and stories of those places, and the Britishness and Englishness of the people and families that call them home.