You’re caught in a trap: Barwell’s election advice to Labour

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Recriminations over Thursday’s elections, in particular Labour’s loss of the Hartlepool parliamentary seat, will continue for some days yet as other results, including the London Assembly and council by-elections, trickle in. Here, former Tory MP GAVIN BARWELL, pictured, says that the British voting system could see the Conservatives in power at Westminster for years to come

Many Labour MPs put all the blame for their 2019 defeat on Jeremy Corbyn. He was certainly a big factor but this narrative obscures the huge underlying challenges Labour faces. It is in a tougher situation today than the mid-1980s.

Blown up: support for Boris Johnson, and his giant inflatable in Hartlepool, is exaggerated by the voting system

On paper that might sound excessive: Labour got 32.1 per cent of the vote in 2019 compared with 27.6 per cent in 1983, and in the latter the Liberal/SDP Alliance came close to overtaking it for second place in terms of vote share.

But that potential alignment fizzled out because under our first-past-the-post system the Alliance couldn’t convert vote share into seats.

In the last few years, two seismic realignments of British politics have taken place.

First the SNP takeover in Scotland. There is no sign of Labour winning back all those formerly rock-solid Labour seats it lost to the SNP. Without them, it has to do very well in England and Wales in order to win an overall majority.

More important is the realignment in England and Wales. This has been building for a long time and is not just about Brexit. In many parts of the world, politics is becoming less about economics and more about culture, allowing the centre-right to win more working-class support.

The Conservatives have embraced this realignment; it is very hard for Labour to do so. First, Labour is increasingly the party of the young, the university-educated, the city dweller, but it still thinks of itself as the party of the working-class.

Second, it’s an electoral trap. The Conservative vote is becoming increasingly aligned with Leave, the Labour vote with Remain. But although the referendum result was close, the Remain vote was heavily concentrated in London, Scotland and [Northern Ireland].

Punchy: Barwell argues Labour don’t understand their opponents; many socialists think Keir Starmer doesn’t understand them

This means that in constituency terms, Leave has a big advantage. And the Conservatives have a virtual monopoly on the Leave vote whereas the Remain vote is split between Labour, the [LibDems], the Greens and nationalists in Scotland and Wales.

These huge challenges are compounded by the fact that as [Guardian columnist Rafael Behr] recently argued, Labour doesn’t understand its opponent.

It still thinks it’s fighting the same old Tories, but the Conservatives are changing in front of their eyes to appeal to their new voter coalition.

Today’s Conservative Party believes in relatively high spending and relatively high taxes. That makes it a much harder opponent for Labour, just as New Labour was a much harder opponent for the Conservatives.

There’s one other consequence of this change in the Conservatives. They’ve been in office for 11 years so “time for a change” should be an increasingly powerful message, but it isn’t because we have had four very different governments over those 11 years.

If that all sounds daunting for Labourites and others who don’t want a Conservative government: in his 2019 triumph Boris Johnson only got just over 300,000 more votes than Theresa May in 2017. So why the huge difference in the outcome (hung Parliament vs big majority)?

Because in our first-past-the-post system, what matters is the margin between the parties.

In 2017, Corbyn got most of the anti-Tory vote; by 2019, when voters knew him better, he didn’t.

While the centre-left is divided, it has no chance of beating a united centre-right.

  • “Lord” Gavin Barwell was Conservative MP for Croydon Central from 2010 until 2017. He was Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief of staff for two years until 2019. He now sits in the House of Lords. On May 7, he published a lengthy thread on Twitter, which is reproduced here with only minor edits for style and clarity

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15 Responses to You’re caught in a trap: Barwell’s election advice to Labour

  1. Is anyone interested in what Gavin has to say for himself , his political short lived career says it all

    • Well, clearly the Editor is.

      While Starmer’s Labour Party – including Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE – continue to pursue the false narrative that “it’s all Corbyn’s fault”, the fundamental issue, that Labour is being crushed on the anvil of the referendums, over Scotland first and then Brexit, needs to be addressed. These were twin traps for Labour laid by David Cameron, and which ultimately did for his premiership, too.
      Barwell can see that. Some on the Labour left recognise it, too.
      Meanwhile, Keith and lackeys like Reed will continue to try to scapegoat a socialist who has had the Labour whip withdrawn from him at Westminster.

  2. Lewis White says:

    “Thatcher’s children” maybe are now the new Conservative voter. White van man and woman. Working hard and aiming higher. Conservatives come out and vote. Result.

    Plus there is a lot of support out there for Bo-Jo, as he is so…….. human…….
    embodying all the species’ contradictions, foibles, etc etc. He will have to do a lot worse to lose the goodwill of the common man (or woman) . He also comes from a (posh) modern divorced family with a number of personalities in their own right, Dad and siblings.
    If Carrie can control and keep Bad Boris under wraps, his star may shine for a long time.

    I was once on a Eurostar, coming back from France, and Boris was in the next carriage. I think I might even have walked past him on my way to the loo. An elegant Frenchwoman remarked, to me, her surprise and delight that the Mayor of the World’s Capital city should be travelling without a huge security presence on a public train. Imagine what an entourage the Mayor of Rome or Paris would have!

    I’m not a taxi driver, but I on two other occasions have been “this” close to Boris, when he was Mayor. Both out in the street whenI was walking to London Bridge station.

    On one, he paused on his battered 1970’s style drop handle-bar bike at the traffic lights at the junction of London Bridge and tooley street. I was perched at the kerb, waiting for the green man to give me permission to cross. BJ looked up at me, clad in his TfL bobble hat without the bobble (and wearing other clothes), and we exchanged a slightly enquiring but non-threatening gaze. He seemed to have small, twinkly eyes. I must say that a thought similar to the Frenchwoman’s went through my mind as I nodded an acknowledgment to him and the moment. As fellow humans both using the public highway in an eco-friendly way sort of moment, but I think he knew that I knew who he was. It endeared me.

    The Corbyn factor, plus the nation’s exhaustion after Covid, seems to have affected the English Labour vote. Sadly, it has therefore not been easy for Surrey man, Keir Starmer, to deliver the necessary punches on the Tory opponent. But maybe he has the stamina to last a big number of rounds, chipping away and getting under the guard of Boris, and maybe deliver a knock-out blow in a few years.

    Labour has done well in Wales, maybe because Mark Drakeford seems to be widely regarded as having done a good job on Covid (even by a new Welsh Conservative MP who won a seat from Labour), as well as being a very decent bloke.

  3. Lewis White says:

    By the way, Could er….”Lord” ..Barwell decide to stand for Elected Mayor of Croydon?

  4. Dan Kelly says:

    Is the boxing glove to stop self abuse?

  5. Brown says:

    Everyone seems to be caught in a trap! A few months ago Harry said William was trapped. Is this the new terminology!

  6. Ian Kierans says:

    Barwell is just stating the obvious in relation to stats and causation. However Labour itself has a more fundamental issue – not just in Croydon – but in many areas. The Representatives have distanced itself from their electorate. They appear to follow their own singular and linear philosophy and tell voters what they need and how they should be grateful rather than actually taking on board the issues and addressing what is wrong. Gordon Brown at least got out to actually meet voters and did not avoid the disgruntled (though disparaging remarks were unhelpful) But the sheer disdain and arrogance of elected Councillors and MPs towards it’s own electorate is why they are no longer making headway. When in power they should stop acting like an elite and work with and for all residents instead of a select few. There should be a visible ethical core to its actions and less dubious and suspect acts. Finally be honest when it goes wrong and have a plan to get it right, then wide spread support will be a reality and it can be a force again. It should start right now and any representative that feels they are unable to take up this task should no longer stand. Constituency parties should have more control over who they select and scrutinise all candidates effectively. Clearly the Labour Party should be providing more training to candidates at the least.

  7. Well! Here’s something and someone I didn’t expect to read on Croydon’s premier news website! Quite a coup. Congrats

  8. Anthony Miller says:

    Now Gavin doesn’t need to be elected anymore who on earth picks up the litter?

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