Imagine going back twenty years in a time machine, when a young Tony Blair was about to be swept to power on a wave of optimism, and telling someone* that in 2017, Labour would be on just 16 per cent among working-class voters – and this despite having a leader several octaves to the left of Blair.
Not only this, but that a number of Labour seats in the north and the midlands were ‘now in Tory sights’. Imagine then telling them that this was happening while the Conservatives were making spending cuts in areas like education, and that there was an ongoing crisis in health and social care. You then let them know that almost all the government’s attention is by necessity focused on leaving the European Union. Surely, your Britpop-era companion would say in his affected Mancunian accent, a competent and moderate Labour leader would have the government party on the ropes?
That’s what many people at the moment believe. But if you look elsewhere, white working-class voters are deserting centre-left parties across the western world, so it would be strange if Labour was able to buck this trend. In Austria, for instance, 85 per cent of working-class men voted for the radical right at last year’s presidential elections. Working-class voters also carried Donald Trump to power – the Orange One having a 39 point advantage among ‘non-college whites’. In France, the National Front can rely on the support of 45 per cent of blue-collar workers, a figure Labour could only dream about.
Compare Labour’s woes with the state of Ukip, a party which at the moment seems to embody Conquest’s Third Law – the idea that the simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organisation is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. Following a fairly troubled by-election campaign in Stoke, the latest news is that Ukip’s donor Arron Banks plans to stand against its only MP, Douglas Carswell, at the next general election.
Ukip suffers from the big problem all small parties do: that they seem to attract malcontents, cranks and chancers, yet despite all their problems they have not gone down in the polls. They’re doing pretty well, in fact, all things considered. Presumably if the pantomime act went on for much longer they would drop but, like most populist European parties, they’ve probably got a basement as well as a ceiling in terms of support now. It’s why, despite their mission being accomplished, I don’t think Ukip will go away.
Ukip’s biggest obstacle is that May’s Tories probably attract a broad range of voters in a way Cameron’s didn’t. So as long as Brexit happens and there is some movement in the way of immigration restrictions, Ukip will never do as well as their continental counterparts. Labour are obviously doomed if Corbyn stays in power, but I wonder if he is just a random black swan event or an inevitable product of many flaws in the progressive mindset, namely the desire for moral perfection and a tendency to get stuck in echo chambers, not to mention an aversion to borders.
I’m quite pessimistic about Brexit in the short-term. I mean, I’m pessimistic about everything – and I’d agree with Alex Massie about the curse of certainty, which really struck home during the referendum when so many Tories began to sound like Maoists. But one thing I’m fairly confident about is that, while politics is going to get more extreme, angry and identity-based across the western world, it will probably be less so in Britain. Reading Robert Tomb’s majestic The English and Their History, the one constant of our island is that, thanks to our moat, our politics tends to be as moderate as our climate. We may have had our peasant’s revolt, but it will be nothing like the Jacquerie facing the continent.
(*not a normal person, obviously, but someone interested in polling stats.)