For a party established to defend working-class interests, Labour has remarkable difficulty relating to ordinary people. Of course, the primary reason is that the idea of a Labour Party is a strange anachronism in modern Britain.
There is really no place today for a party funded and effectively dictated to by the trades unions. But in seeking to reinvent itself and recapture relevance, the Left concocted a bizarre mixture of old-fashioned socialism and bleeding-edge American social justice, fomented in tired old Tory hatred and the politics of envy and grievance.
In other words, because Labour doesn’t have an interest group to protect any longer, it has reimagined itself as a party with a higher moral purpose. Yet the morality it aspires to appeals to few outside of the media and universities and its economic principles have not been deployed since Soviet Russia.
Of course, many ordinary folk not engrossed in the Guardian’s comment pages or Twitter won’t articulate their frustration with Labour that way. But they do see a party that no longer speaks their language or protects their interests – and they vote Ukip instead, tired of being told that their understandable concern about gargantuan immigration is “racist.”
That’s what Labour and the Left-wing press do, after all: call people names, instead of doing the hard work of rebuttal and research. When Labour leaders looks out at a country stubbornly refusing to elect them, they don’t seem to recognise their failure to relate to people, or to define themselves properly, as the problem: instead, they see a country full of racist, homophobic, xenophobic bigots who would of course buy into grievance culture and identity politics if only they were sufficiently educated.
That’s a far more obnoxious brand of paternalism than David Cameron’s Flashman-esque snootiness. And it comes with a side of staggering hypocrisy and a willingness to be friends with literally anyone who claims to hate the Tories (and/or Thatcher, obviously) but who dresses up their hatefulness in a Potemkin village of touchy-feely “diversity” and “inclusion.”
Take, for instance, two recently disgraced figures of the British political left: Johann Hari and Mo Ansar. Hari, a journalist, was busted for epic, career-long plagiarism – the only cardinal journalistic sin – and for slandering his enemies by editing their Wikipedia pages under an assumed name. One of his victims was a woman. It took years for him to apologise to Cristina Odone; he has still not apologised to Nick Cohen.
Yet, after a brief stint at “journalism school” and a perfunctory sorry-not-sorry interview in the Guardian, Hari has returned to the spotlight with a new book and guest spots in every newspaper in the country. He is the most dishonest journalist of his generation, but he has been welcomed back into the Establishment – even, shockingly, to the pages of our most respectable magazine, the Spectator. Why? Because he has the right politics, and because he claims to speak for victims, all the while being the most appalling bully and liar.
It is inconceivable that a right-wing journalist would ever recover from the revelation that much of his work and a slew of his high-profile interviews were either lifted from elsewhere or simply made up. But Hari appears not just to have survived but perhaps even benefited from his disgrace because his supporters put the word out that he was “depressed.” (Insinuating mental illness is a classic tactic of the Left, designed to absolve miscreants from responsibility for their actions.) Hari is, of course, still lying, and rumour has it he is back to his old ways on Wikipedia, too.
Then there is Mo Ansar, a monstrously comic fraud who claimed more than 30 professions in a few years and said whatever was necessary to get himself on television, pretending to be the moderate face of Islam (lots of talk of diversity, as ever) while silently approving of reactionary and backward bigotries like chopping off hands for theft. It had been obvious for years that there was something wrong with this charlatan, but Channel 4 and the BBC kept him on the air until it was simply untenable to have him appear any longer, because Twitter would erupt every time he showed up on screen.
Christopher Hitchens used to say that you could get away with the most appalling abuses if you only got yourself ordained first. These days, all you need to do is sprinkle your copy with a few lefty buzzwords and say sympathetic things about Muslims on TV and you can pretty much get away with murder. Even today, you occasionally see BBC and Channel 4 staff sucking up to Mo Ansar on Twitter. It’s that feelings-over-fact, look-the-other-way sort of hypocrisy that has now infested the Labour Party, too.
These are the sort of people making the case for the modern British Left, and whom the Left protects and makes excuses for. Is it any wonder that Brits, who are experts at spotting fakes, liars and self-promoters, and who hate unfairness, wanted nothing to do with Ed Miliband and his insipid, patronising, blame-everyone-else Labour Party and its supporting cast of liars, frauds, bullies, hypocrites and charlatans?
Voters care about the economy, and they want to vote for someone who can represent them abroad, too. Miliband can’t even eat a bacon sandwich without making a fool of himself. The British people voted overwhelmingly to ensure it was Cameron, not Miliband, squaring up to Putin and making the big calls, in part because he seems like such a distant, dorky weirdo.
It’s not that centre-right and Right-wing people don’t like oddballs, by the way. Katie Hopkins and Jeremy Clarkson are adored by millions because they represent two essential kinds of Englishness: gobby, eccentric iconoclast and blokey petrolhead. It’s that we don’t want an alien in Number 10.
The Left, despite its love of hurt feelings over facts, has always had a likability problem. Left-wing activists are often seen as petulant, hateful, childish people, with some justification. Look at Laurie Penny, darling of the Left, defending vandalism of a war memorial on Twitter. And Left-wing politicians too often come across like disingenuous, schoolmarmish, nannying prudes.
In addition to being populated by mediocre talents, the Labour Party has a gigantic credibility problem on the two big issues of the day, the economy and immigration, not because it has got things wrong in the past, but because it refuses to apologise properly for its misdeeds. The party still will not admit it spent too much in government. No one is buying any more; the next leader will have to prostrate himself before the electorate to distance himself from the last 20 years of mismanagement and arrogance.
Couple this with the emergence of the SNP and the near-inevitability of Scottish independence, and it’s tough to imagine Labour ever getting elected again. Some people will rejoice at that, but actually it’s tragic, because it would do the Conservatives no harm to have a serious opposition checking their figures and challenging their arguments.
Yet the entire Labour party seems only to speak to metropolitan London and the fringe concerns of a few anxious middle-class hand-wringers. If you only watch the BBC and hang out on social media, you might be forgiven for thinking that British people care about transgender pronouns, safe spaces and trigger warnings. Actually they care about the economy, immigration and having a strong leader who can represent British values throughout the world. Labour fails, horribly, on all three counts.
The next Labour leader will be more moderate, but not because Labour realises it got anything wrong, simply that its MPs know now that Miliband-style student politics make for an unelectable party. But whether the oleaginous, smirking, vacuous New Labour revival, represented today by smarmy estate agent types like Chuka Umunna, will resonate any better is an open question. After all, we tried it with Tony Blair – and look how that turned out.