It really is the majority of the time whether we on the left are willing to admit it or not.
There have only been 4 General Elections since the 2nd World war when the the left has had a significant majority in the House of Commons. Then again it could well be argued that whilst Tony Blair had a huge majority his was hardly a government of the left and probably it was only just left of centre. Could the same or similar be said of Harold Wilson’s Government?
What started this line of thought was that I happened upon a lecture by Vernon Bogdanor being shown on the BBC Parliament Channel recently. It was actually about the history of the Conservative Party. Now whilst I don’t care to be told about the regular electoral success of the Tories Bogdanor is always interesting, impartial and factual in his work.
One thing he mentioned has long been a matter of great interest to me and that is the working class Conservatives who have regularly helped put a Tory government in power. You could be forgiven for thinking that the working class (not a term a personally subscribe to but one that is widely quoted) will usually be voters of the left and therefore for Labour, but up to a third of them are not. What’s more many of them may be conservative (with a small c) or simply right wing whilst at the same time tribally aligned with the Labour Party.
I have regularly been fascinated by the group of Labour MP’s (and there have always been a fair number of them in each Parliament) who come over as reactionary, right wing, anti progressive politics or just Tories wearing a Labour rosette. I saw similar people in the trade union movement in my time as well. They must come from families that are loyal to Labour yet their stance on things such as equality issues, gay rights, crime and punishment, immigration etc. are firmly based on the politics of the right. Often these MP’s and trade unionists will be from the industrial midlands and the north and they will be utterly loyal to Labour, no matter what it stands for.
That loyalty will stem from the early days of the trade union movement and the need for trade unionists to stick together through thick and thin. It will have been inbred into them through families, trade unions and the Labour Party, yet often these people will be as far away from progressive politics as you can find. Sticking together is the most important thing, backing their leaders almost come what may is also big for them and I think it is what is in part driving the cult of Corbyn.
He’s either a very, very late political developer or he really is a second division politician of the left who has, almost by chance, found himself leading a political party. If you look at his history prior to being elected as Labour Leader he had pretty much no positions of responsibility in public life much at all. The Labour left will say that was because he had always been down-trodden by the right wing of the Labour Party (the Social Democrats) and held back and that he was always going to be a working class hero of the left one day. Well it’s a view but hardly a credible one I would venture to say.
Corbyn’s big problem is that he has some right wing tendencies and Brexit is the one that really stands out. Brexit has always been about internal battles within the Tory Party. UKIP was set up as those within the Tory Party who could not get the Tories to back leaving the EU felt they had to take a different route. Of course they succeeded in turning the Tories into a Brexit Party and they won over many people within Labour too. Remember the successes of UKIP electorally have often been in areas of England that are working class and where they won council seats they were often in Labour areas. Now UKIP has all but expired its supporters have drifted back to the Tory Party or indeed Labour. That Corbyn backs Brexit is bizarre to many of us on the left of British politics but he does and the Labour Party is backing him despite, we are told, the vast majority of Labour voters not backing Brexit.
But Corbyn is loyal to his right wing working class supporters who of course were the part of the Labour vote that helped the Tories/UKIP give us our Brexit. His party prides itself, or at least it used to do, on being a very broad church. At one end true socialists looking to break up the capitalist system and at the other people who would be at home in a Bluekip type Party if only it was called the Labour Party. That is indeed a very broad church, you could say so broad that internal power struggles would be almost impossible to to stop. The Social Democrats within Labour have gone very quiet these days (with a few exceptions) especially those in elected public positions as their stance is particularly unwelcome in Corbyn’s Labour Party and they need to be seen to be complying with the wishes of Momentum if they are not to be deselected.
So at face value Labour is presently seen to be a party of the hard left under McDonnell and Corbyn but, with Brexit in particular, they are peddling a Bluekip line. Also the party is having more than its share of infighting over racial issues at present and this is another indication of people of the left holding what seem to be intolerant right wing views.
Across Europe in many counties Social Democrat and Socially Liberal Parties have been a part of the mainstream. Labour has tried to be that in the UK but the drag of having illiberal and far left members in the same party has meant that it has struggled far more more than it has succeeded. Many thought that the victory of Tony Blair signaled a new (or New) Labour Party with broad center ground and moderate appeal but the medicine did not work and now Labour is in the hands of both the socially illiberal and hard left at the same time!
The point of all this? To show that the right has a huge influence on UK politics and that’s not just in the UKIP and Tory parties. Labour has it’s right wingers too and it can be quite easily argued that even the Lib Dems all but ceased to have a Socially Liberal leadership during Nick Clegg’s unfortunate time as Leader. Thankfully and even slightly surprisingly, under Cable, it seems to be regaining its radical and socially liberal edge though.
Which ever way you look at it the right usually predominates in UK politics and its because, in my view, there’s no electorally successful Social Democrat/Liberal Party at the heart of our mainstream politics and I say that as someone who looks upon some Social Democrats as being too right wing.