Sorry to have to point this out again but centrists/moderates/grown-ups or whatever they want to call themselves seem a little hard of hearing.

Centrists want to return to the third way politics of the Blair era and talk about New Labour’s three successive election victories. They choose to ignore the way the UK political landscape has changed and the effect that has had on Labour’s success.

Of course what matters in reality is the number of seats you win but demographics change over time as populations age and move (indeed COVID-19 could be a factor in the next shift especially if it stays with us for a while and if other pandemics in the UK follow close behind). Also, constituency boundaries change over time so when looking at electoral success over a long period, it makes sense to look at vote share rather than the number of seats: it is possible to consider this a more accurate way to compare a party’s success while acknowledging that they must also win enough seats to get into power.

Here are UK’s popular vote share figures for the last 42 years:

YearUK
197936.9% ↓
198327.6% ↓
198730.8% ↑
199234.4% ↑
199743.2% ↑
200140.7% ↓
200535.2% ↓
201029.0% ↓
201530.4% ↑
201740.0% ↑
201932.2% ↓

The Labour victories in 1997 and 2001 unsurprisingly show the biggest UK-wide vote share to Labour in the last four decades, with the 2017 result coming third less than 1% behind the 2001 result.

Left-wingers will rightfully point out that whilst there may have been one or two Labour backbenchers who weren’t keen on New Labour’s direction, Blair and Brown didn’t face the internal sabotage that we know plagued the 2017 and 2019 elections. And then there’s Brexit: all but two of the seats Labour lost in 2019 were leave-voting constituencies which, we can assume, weren’t impressed by Labour’s decision to back a second EU referendum.

But let’s park those two potential factors and just break down those popular vote figures a little.

YearUKScotland
197936.9% ↓41.5% ↑
198327.6% ↓35.1% ↓
198730.8% ↑42.4% ↑
199234.4% ↑39.0% ↓
199743.2% ↑45.6% ↑
200140.7% ↓43.9% ↓
200535.2% ↓39.5% ↓
201029.0% ↓42.0% ↑
201530.4% ↑24.3% ↓
201740.0% ↑27.1% ↑
201932.2% ↓18.6% ↓

As you can see, Labour always did well in Scotland until 2015 when the SNP destroyed the centrist Labour party led by Miliband and Balls. Corbyn managed a tiny positive swing in 2017 before the downward trend continued in 2019.

If that doesn’t underline the importance of the Scottish vote, then perhaps this will:

YearEngland
197936.7% ↓
198326.8% ↓
198729.5% ↑
199233.9% ↑
199743.5% ↑
200141.4% ↓
200535.4% ↓
201028.1% ↓
201531.6% ↑
201741.9% ↑
201934.0% ↓

Only the landslide 1997 victory was a better result in England than the result under Corbyn in 2017. Again, even if we ignore what we know about the huge divisions in the Labour party between 2015 and 2019, that result is astonishing given that Blair had the backing of the Murdoch press and Corbyn didn’t really have any mainstream support whatsoever.

The arguments for a return to the centre ground really hold no water when you look at the election results since 1997. The 2019 result, which Labour centrists will tell you was the greatest disaster since Thatcher died (joke), was a far better result than the centrist Labour results in 2010 and 2015. And in Blair’s last election, the Tories actually won the English popular vote by 0.3% – under Michael bloody Howard!

To somehow conclude that going back to centrism is the right move, not only do we have to ignore the SNP’s total dominance since 2015 (and the possibility that Scotland might not be part of the UK for very much longer), and the internal sabotage wreaked on the Labour party by the anti-socialist factions, and the fact that Blair was backed by the kind of press no progressive would ever want to associate with, we also have to remember the financial crash.

New Labour embraced the deregulation of the Reagan/Thatcher era and let the city look after itself. The 2007/08 crash happened on their watch and the Tories pinned it on them to put Cameron and Osborne into Downing St and a hell of a lot of cash into the pockets of the already wealthy. 13 years later, we are living with the Tories’ disastrous handling of the pandemic. That and the hard Brexit we’re stuck with could potentially combine to create an even bigger financial crash in the UK. The UK is a very different place to the one that elected New Labour in the 1990s and we have gone so far down one track that the kind of managerial tinkering around the edges that you can expect from self-proclaimed ‘moderates’ just isn’t going to fix our problems.

People seem to like sports analogies, so I’ll end with one.

If we were to take the 1997 Premier League-winning Manchester United team and drop them into 2024, would they win? You could argue that side, which went on to win the treble two years later, was as good as any in the Premier League today. But the game has changed. Players are generally a lot more skilful today than they were 22 years ago and today’s tactics would make Ferguson’s 4-4-2 look like a League One side. Also the rules are far more strict: Roy Keane and Nicky Butt would spend half the season suspended and today’s forwards would win a hatful of penalties against Gary Pallister, David May and the Nevilles.

The opposite is also true: put van Dijk up against Alan Shearer or Dominic Raab against Robin Cook and they wouldn’t know what hit them. But, no matter how many people seem to really want to, we can’t turn back time.

Do you hear that, centrists? WE CAN’T GO BACK.

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

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