There were not many moments of gloom on election night. I spent most of it, so far as I can recall, in a state of inebriated euphoric gloating — enhanced by the fact that I had hitherto been extremely worried about the outcome. Winning goals are always the most enjoyable when scored, unexpectedly, in injury time. In this case, the exit poll at ten o’clock, a little later confirmed by the equivalent of VAR, Blyth Valley going blue. And then Stockton South — even the local Tories, whom I know well, had not expected to win.
From then on it was a mirth fest, reaching its apogee when the fabulously witless Labour MP Richard Burgon was wheeled out to explain the debacle, which he did in the manner of a village idiot attempting to explain the theory of relativity. But there was one moment of sadness, late on — the result from Don Valley, an emotional Caroline Flint evicted after 22 years. You may not have mourned, but I did. For a bit, at least.
I think it remains the case that had Caroline Flint been the party leader, it would be Labour, not the Tories, now enjoying an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons. This is not simply because she is a much more intelligent — and principled — politician than Magic Grandpa, although that undoubtedly helps. It is because the policies would have been very different — firstly on Brexit, for Flint was insistent that the wishes of the majority be respected, but in more general terms, too. Londoner she may be, but Flint is also a social democrat, convinced that her party exists to help the poorest in society and reduce inequality, rather than as a conduit for infantile agitprop attitudinalising. She understands that her working-class constituents are often socially conservative and have little time for identity politics, and that they are patriotic, too.
The deposed Labour MPs, Flint included, bemoaned the Corbyn factor, almost exclusively blaming him for their defenestrations. Understandable, I suppose. But it is a little wide of the mark. Corbyn, remember, was a capable campaigner in 2017. And while this time around I think his affection for terrorists and dislike of everything British people, especially working-class British people, hold dear did at last cut through, he was not much more reviled on the doorsteps in my home area of Teesside than, say, Ed Miliband was.
The problem for Labour is that it has long been on a dogged march away from its supporter base, a process only exacerbated, rather than begun, by Momentum’s control of the party and Corbyn’s stewardship. It is now in a position where it actively despises the core values of the people it was set up to represent, thinking them regressive as opposed to progressive. And so it is left to fight for electoral territory among a more metropolitan and affluent class, vying with the Lib Dems and the Greens and even the socially liberal Tories. There are not enough votes there to go around.
At the moment Labour can depend on the votes only of students, who are sometimes remiss in turning up at polling booths. The group who have been most likely to vote Labour in recent years are Muslims (85 per cent did so last time), but for how much longer will Labour be able to take the Muslim vote for granted? A community which is even more conservative, socially, than the white working class? Look at the largely Muslim protests outside those schools in Birmingham, the fury that their children should be indoctrinated with fashionable beliefs in gay and transgender rights. My suspicion is that the Muslim vote will slowly turn away from Labour too. The party will be left with a few hipsters in London and, of course, the kidz.
The question is: can the party be changed? Can it find itself a leader who can return Labour to its old core values? My friends and former colleagues in the Blue Labour branch of the party believe it can. Their argument is that Tony Blair was able to take the party over and, later, Jeremy Corbyn was able to take the party over. So — it is possible to take the party over. But that is forgetting the fact that Momentum, whose members are even more removed from Labour’s old voter base than Jeremy Corbyn is, now have total control over the entire machinery of the party, not least the National Executive Committee. They have seized control of local branches, and those branches which show dissent have Momentum candidates imposed upon them, like it or not. Moderate politicians are harried and bullied until they leave the party or, like the excellent Gavin Shuker, are threatened with deselection.
Momentum’s supporters are relentlessly active on social media, in demonstrations, in meetings — and are utterly intransigent. They may represent a tiny strand of the electorate, both demographically and ideologically, but they have been able to impose their idiotic belief system upon a huge party. I may have mourned Caroline Flint’s passing, but Momentum will have been breaking open the bubbly. Another one down! It is hard to see how their stranglehold can be broken — and as Labour’s vote dwindles and dwindles and the good people get the hell out, that stranglehold will surely increase in its intensity. Just three quid to take over an institution. How Labour’s old-school members must curse Ed Miliband.
Some, like Chuka Umunna, may find refuge in the Liberal Democrats. But the majority, I think, would not be happy there, because they have no more in common with the liberal voter base than they do with the Momentum voter base. As you might expect, I would urge the likes of Caroline Flint and Ian Austin and John Mann and Kate Hoey to join my lot, the Social Democratic party. There is nothing in our manifesto with which they would disagree. Come and help us consign Labour to the fringes and represent the people Labour was founded to represent.
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