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The Labour Party escaped what might have been a thrashing in 2017 through a combination of factors: a misconceived and maladroit Tory campaign; the simultaneous collapse of all the third party alternatives — UKIP (whose fox has been shot), the SNP (too much indyref2) and the Lib Dems (still paying for coalition blues) — and, of course, a well-managed and genial Labour campaign. But fundamental problems remain.



Old-fashioned class warriors with designs on Number Ten: James Schneider (left), Jeremy Corbyn and Seumas Milne (©Ben Stevens/PA Wire/PA Images)

Above all, the collapse of Labour Scotland means that the party has to completely reorient itself if it is ever to achieve majority status again. Labour has only won a majority of English seats in 1945, 1966, 1997, 2001 and 2005 but that is exactly what it needs, routinely, to aim at from now on. Even its traditional predominance in Wales is no longer safe: a poll at the beginning of the campaign showed the Tories winning over half of all Welsh seats. In fact, Labour held on comfortably but there is no doubt that broader social forces (and the M4) are slowly incorporating much of Wales into Southern England, with predictable political results.

The proposed boundary changes, involving the loss of 50 parliamentary seats, would tighten all these screws. Wales would lose 11 of its 40 seats and Scotland six of its 59, while in England many small inner-city seats would be lost. All told, 35 of the 50 seats threatened with the axe are currently Labour held. Labour’s net loss would be around 30 seats and many safe Labour seats would become marginal as rural and suburban areas are added to urban seats.

So Labour’s problem starts with the fact that its current leadership is dominated by old-fashioned class warriors of the Corbyn-Seumas Milne variety, and yet it must move at speed to refashion itself as a broad social democratic alliance able to appeal to the lower 75 per cent of the English populace. This means embracing not just the barely managing but a large slice of middle-class England. This is by no means a wishful project: there is widespread resentment of growing inequalities and the capture of almost all the gains of economic growth by the top few per cent. Indeed, while Theresa May tried to make this the Brexit election, Labour’s surge was far more about the natural pressures caused by a lengthy period of Tory austerity and its effect on incomes and public services (the NHS, police, social care, tuition fees and schools). This made George Osborne’s gloating at May’s discomfort all the more tasteless, for Osborne was the man most responsible for that austerity.

Labour did launch itself towards capturing Middle England once before. That is what Tony Blair and New Labour was all about: hence those three consecutive elections (1997, 2001 and 2005) with a Labour majority in England. Yet Labour’s current leadership abhors Blair and has no wish to learn lessons from him. But that is, of course, exactly what it needs to do. The truth is that Labour has never really faced up to the task of working out where New Labour went right and where it went wrong: typically Blair is written off because of Iraq, and Brown because of the banking crisis.

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