Tony Blair's election anthem “Things Can Only Get Better” was infectious, even for those like me who were not from the same political tribe. It was impossible not to get swept up in New Labour's era of Cool Britannia. At the 1997 Labour party conference, just a few months after the Labour landslide, I was left wondering: were Labour supporters cheerful because they had won, or did they win because they were cheerful? Whatever the answer, it does not take a genius to discern that the left in general and the Labour party in particular is far away from such a place today.
Gone is the happy optimism. In its place, Labour's leading lights spew out a seemingly endless stream of doom-laden forecasts and bile about the state of our nation and its people.
David Lammy has defended comparing some Tory Brexiteers to Nazis and continues to insist the 'delusions of Brexit will soon be exposed'. Meanwhile, his Labour party colleague Clive Lewis claims the Brexit campaign had “racism at its core and its heart”.
This should come as no surprise. After all, Labour now seems to see prejudice in most things. On the basis of precious little evidence, Rebecca Long-Bailey recently tweeted:
“Let’s be honest, there is a racist double-standard in how the press treat Meghan Markle.”
Many of those on the Labour left also seem eager to talk up the language of climate catastrophe, making dire predictions of how few years we have left to save the planet.
Concerned voters are surely looking for their politicians to be taking practical steps to protect the environment rather than wandering around stoking up hysteria by declaring the end of the world to be nigh. Instead of doing so, Labour last year declared a “climate emergency”, with Jeremy Corbyn telling the Commons:
“We are talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes.”
This, coming from a 70-year-old, was certainly an eye-catching claim.
But as Donald Trump noted in his upbeat speech at Davos this week, radical socialists have often been proven wrong in their dire forecasts about the future of the planet. They have also underestimated the capacity of human ingenuity to solve environmental challenges.
Labour is certainly falling into this trap again. The language of doom and gloom and negativity beloved by some of the party's leading lights might go down well on Twitter, but does it really speak for ordinary Brits? It seems unlikely. The party is also in a muddle about most peoples' priorities for how to make Britain a better place to live.
A generation ago, Labour’s manifesto set out “early pledges” on nuts and bolts public services issues such as NHS waiting times. But in its manifesto last month a key early pledge was to: “Conduct an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy to understand our contribution to the dynamics of violence and insecurity across regions previously under British colonial rule.” Really? In Labour land everything is the fault of baleful, racist Britain, you see.
Thank goodness, for the Tory MPs who speak sense and a language Brits actually recognise. During the Meghan race row, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Tory chairman James Cleverly were on hand to offer a more upbeat assessment of their country. Cleverly declared:
“The UK is one of the least racist, most open and welcoming countries in the world.”
This, at least, is the Britain many people recognise today. According to Oxford Migration Observatory research conducted between 2015 and 2017, smack in the middle of the Brexit furore, some 72 per cent of migrants found Britain “hospitable and welcoming” to people from their country of birth, with only 11 per cent disagreeing with that assessment. Even more strikingly, 91 per cent thought people from their country of birth could get ahead in the UK if they worked hard and only two per cent disagreed.
What is particularly striking about the way the Labour left is currently communicating with the nation is also the sheer aggression and stridency of its tone. Who can forget Corbyn cheerleader Paul Mason furiously getting a crowd in Whitehall to chant:
“We are coming for you, Boris Johnson. Ready or ***king not.”
Or newly-elected Labour MP Nadia Whittome claiming austerity was responsible for the deaths of 'hundreds of thousands' of people.
Or shadow chancellor John McDonnell declaring he wanted to live in a country where no Tory MP could travel anywhere or show their face in public without being challenged.
This hysteria is not just a phenomenon of Labour, but of the broader left too. Lord Greaves, the Lib Dem peer, recently told the Lords:
“I am fearful that on January 31 some things may happen in some places which could be reminiscent of things happening in Germany in the early 1930s.”
Leftish cultural figures are also at it. Author Philip Pullman observed during the furore about Meghan and Harry’s future:
“What a foul country this is.”
While Stephen Fry’s assessment of the row over the prorogation of parliament last autumn was this:
“Weep for Britain. A sick, cynical brutal and horrible dangerous coup d’etat. Children playing with matches, but spitefully not accidentally: gleefully torching an ancient democracy and any tattered shred of reputation or standing our poor country had left.”
Unsurprisingly, British people have not taken kindly to having their country badmouthed in this way. Boris's optimism went down well with voters. Jeremy Corbyn's doom and gloom did not.
I do not know what the opposite of hegemony is, but the left has managed to find it. So much so that the not terribly well-known actor Laurence Fox popping up on television to say that Britain is the “most tolerant, lovely country in Europe” can spark a huge row.
And just as with Donald Trump channelling the spirit of Ronald Reagan in Davos, Boris Johnson has also clocked that this diet of misery is not to the public’s taste. Since becoming PM he has spoken often about his desire to “level up” and make “our fantastic country the greatest place on earth”.
Following three years stuck in a political quagmire over Brexit, this is what the British public wants to hear. And this isn't blind optimism. There is no flight of jobs from the City of London: quite the opposite as more European banks set up offices there. There is no wider economic crash on the horizon: forecasts now expect the UK to outgrow the Eurozone for the foreseeable future. The housing market is even picking up.
Some brighter sparks on the liberal-left are starting to realise that spreading feelings of hopelessness as a strategy is, well, hopeless. The Financial Times now says Brexit can work, while pro-Remain comedy writer Armando Iannucci observed this week:
“We lost and actually it is now about making sure that Britain is a fantastic place rather than sitting on the sidelines hoping that this venture fails.”
If the British left is ever to recover politically then following that advice would be a very good place to start.