AMAC Exclusive by Daniel Roman
Voters in the U.K. went to the polls on May 6th, and from Scotland to London to coal-mining country, they dealt a serious blow to the left-wing Labour party, as working-class voters continued their exodus to the Conservative party that began with Brexit and presaged Trump’s success in the United States.
As we predicted last month, as part of our series chronicling the Great Realignment taking place across the globe, the struggles of the British Labour party to hold the previously safe seat of Hartlepool were highlighted. Formerly a center of Britain’s shipping and steel industry, the seat had been represented in the British Parliament by the left-wing Labour party since the party’s founding in the 1920s. Hartlepool voted last week, and in the end, there wasn’t much of a struggle. With 15,529 votes and 51.9% of the vote, Conservative Jill Mortimer had nearly twice the support of Labour’s Paul Williams, who managed a mere 8,589 votes or 28.7%. Not only did Mortimer double the Conservative vote from the last election, consolidating the support of the Brexit party, but support for the Labour candidate actually fell by 9% since 2019. Now that’s a realignment.
Nationally, the picture was equally disastrous for Labour, especially in working-class areas. The party won 1,344 local councilors, a loss of 267, while the Conservatives gained 294 for a total of 2346. Labour’s losses were especially brutal in its one-time strongholds. Labour lost control of the Durham County Council, formerly the heartland of the British coal mining industry, for the first time since 1919. The Conservative Mayors of the West Midlands and Tees Valley won reelection by increased majorities, a lopsided 73% in the latter’s case compared with 51% in 2017. In 2017, every parliamentary constituency in Tees Valley was held by the Labour party. Today, six out of the eight seats have Conservative MPs, including Tony Blair’s old constituency of Sedgefield.
Even in areas where the Conservative party has struggled in recent years, Labour failed to benefit or saw the Conservatives make gains. In London, where Labour’s incumbent Mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to hold the office and a man who famously picked fights with former President Donald Trump, was expected to cruise to reelection. Conservative support in London in general elections had fallen from 35% in 2015 to 32% in 2019 even as it increased nationally from 37% to 45%. Khan did make gains in the leafy, affluent Tory suburbs in the south of London, but his overall margin was nonetheless down from 56.6% in 2016 to 55.2% in 2021. In 2016 he had faced Zac Goldsmith, the Eton-educated son of a billionaire who had made his political career campaigning against climate change. By contrast, in 2021, he faced Shaun Bailey, a black son of Jamaican immigrants who attended the state school system. Growing up poor, he later confessed to joining friends in a burglary before earning a university degree in night classes he funded by working as a security guard and founding his own IT firm.
Wealthy, white voters who had opposed Brexit clearly found Bailey’s origins less compelling than Goldsmith’s silver spoon environmentalism, but in East London, dominated by immigrant communities, Bailey’s story resonated as did his focus on the issues of crime. He argued that Khan was ignoring crime in favor of a focus on issues such as Brexit and attacking Donald Trump, which had no particular bearing on the lives of Londoners. While Bailey did not win, the Tories gained a seat on the London Assembly for the first time since its establishment in 2000.
In Scotland, the pro-independence Scottish National Party was re-elected to a second term, albeit falling short of a majority. The Scottish Conservatives, despite the perceived unpopularity of Brexit and the Johnson government in Scotland, and leadership squabbles which saw the party pass through three leaders in two years held onto all of its 31 seats and actually increased its vote by half a percentage point. By contrast, Labour and the Liberal Democrats lost two and one seats, respectively, their worst performances in history.
Wales was perhaps the brightest spot for the Labour party. The Conservatives had hoped to make large gains. While they did, increasing their share of seats from 11 to 16, the incumbent Labour government of First Minister Mark Drakeford, perceived as having handled the Covid19 pandemic well, also performed well, increasing its share by a single seat. That single-seat, however, brought Labour to 30 out of 60 and therefore proved far more significant to the media narrative than the five the Conservatives gained.
The one truly bright spot for Labour was in Oxfordshire, the former stomping grounds of the up-scale, David Cameron era Conservative party. In fact, David Cameron’s own local councilor is now a member of the Labour party. However, these successes have led to infighting within the Labour party between those who feel that the party should try and expand these successes among educated and high-income voters and those who believe that no such base exists for a “worker’s party.” They point to the results in Bristol, where Labour suffered heavy losses to the Greens after making gains under the previous far-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour’s leader, Keir Starmer, has come under fire from all sides. After a disastrous interview where he promised to “take full responsibility” and to “change the things that need changing through the change which I will bring about,” he fired his leftwing deputy Angela Rayner only to backtrack under pressure and claim she was actually being promoted. Amidst this Labour infighting, the lead for the ruling Conservatives in national polls expanded to 11%.
The results of May 6th, 2021, reveal that the realignment in Britain, which began with the Brexit vote, continues apace. Not just in the old Labour heartlands of the north, but even, as Shaun Bailey’s performance shows, in London. Along with the success of “Spain’s Trump,” Isabel Ayuso, the weekend before in Madrid, it shows the Right can win elections in working-class areas without having to write off cities. And that the Left is increasingly adrift without a clue.
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