Monday, May 10, 2021

It Can Happen Here: Lessons from the UK Labour Party's Election Debacle

My old pal John Judis has been doing some thinking about the Labour Party's extremely poor performance in the just-concluded UK local elections. And he is worried, justifiably in my opinion. In particular, he is not so sure what happens in the UK stays in the UK.
"In December 2019, the British Labour Party suffered its worst defeat since 1935. Last Thursday, with a spate of local races and a parliamentary bye-election as the result of a resignation, Labour under its new leader Keir Starmer had a chance to redeem itself. But Labour lost the bye-election in Hartlepool decisively and seems to have been drubbed in local elections outside of London and university towns. These sorry results suggest that Labour may in for a long-term decline similar to that which it endured after Margaret Thatcher and the Tories’ victory in 1979.
To rehabilitate their party, some Labour party leaders are looking to the example of Joe Biden and the Democrats. But Democrats would be wise to look across the Atlantic at what happened to the Labour Party. Some of the factors that have doomed Labour in the last elections — for instance, the rise of Scottish nationalism, Jeremy Corbyn’s personal unpopularity — have been peculiar to the United Kingdom, but other factors, such as the rise of a cultural ultra-leftism, could equally affect the Democrats in the United States and lead to their decline. There are, in other words, lessons that Americans can learn from Labour’s fall....
After Thursday’s election, Prospect [UK] editor Tom Clark was among those who advised Labour to try to emulate Biden’s success in 2020. Labour, Clark wrote, should “look to the US, where Biden won nationwide last year while being crushed more than two-to-one in that traditionally safe Democratic state of West Virginia.” But the Democrats’ success in 2020 could prove fleeting. In 2020, they were blessed with a candidate who was able to stem, and in a few instances slightly reverse, the flight of working class voters in middle America from the Democratic Party. That was critical to Biden’s success in a state like Pennsylvania.
But Biden is a 78-year-old relic who in his person and in his emphasis on economics reflects an older labor-oriented Democratic party that is being replaced by a party preoccupied with culture and identity. Many of the young Democrats elevate racial issues above those of class — framing what could be universal appeals to national betterment in racial terms; they want to increase immigration and grant citizenship to unauthorized immigrants, but appear indifferent to securing America’s borders; they justifiably champion the rights of transgender women — biological men who identify as women — to be free from discrimination in employment or housing, but dismiss concerns that a blanket identification of sex with declared gender could threaten rights specific to biological women; and as homicides rise, and as justifiable protests against police brutality turned into mayhem and looting, they have advocated defunding rather than reforming the police. Democrats’ identification with these kind of views played a role in Democratic losses in Congressional races in 2020.
Democrats in 2020 were also blessed with a perfect opponent in Donald Trump. Trump’s bigotry and corruption turned off far more voters than it attracted. It contributed, among other things, to Democrats’ surge in upscale suburbs that might have otherwise backed a respectable Republican who espoused some of Trump’s policies. (Note that Boris Johnson is no Trump. While sometimes criticized for clownishness, he is a seasoned politician, a two-term mayor of London, who has displayed a keen eye for the center of the British electorate.) If Trump continues to be the poster-boy for the Republican Party, Democrats will benefit in 2022 and 2024, but if he recedes, and his most ardent followers fade into the background, the Democrats could suffer defeat in Congressional elections and in the presidential election of 2024. The Democrats’ response to what has happened to Labour shouldn’t be, “They should look to us,” but instead, “It can happen here.”
That's right. It *can* happen here. In fact, it could happen quite easily should Democrats fail to learn the lessons from Labour's decline and from their own shortfalls in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

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