Illustration by Hannah Robinson
This Monday (the 20th of January) will mark the last day to join the Labour party in order to be able to vote in the upcoming Labour leadership election; for students, membership costs only £3. Because of this, the number of Labour members is steadily rising. However, the Labour party still has a massive uphill stint ahead of them. The 2019 general election was undeniably a terrible defeat for Labour.
The biggest defeat they faced was the loss of its heartlands. ‘The red wall’ was the constituencies in the North of England that had continuously returned Labour members of Parliament for many decades. This red wall turned blue. The Conservatives managed to win seats across the North of England on an unprecedented scale.
Similarly, Labour was almost annihilated in Scotland. Formerly another Labour heartland, there has been a waning of support for Labour in Scotland since the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum. The 2019 General Election saw Scotland elect Labour MPs as only 1 of a possible 59 seats. Ian Murray for Edinburgh South is now Scotland’s only Labour MP. The Scottish National Party have firmly positioned themselves as the party of the centre-left. Under our two-party electoral system First Past the Post, there is simply no room for Labour in Scotland.
With the loss of these heartlands it is now important to assess the proportion of the electorate who did vote for Labour. Yet again, age (and not class) was the biggest dividing line in this election. YouGov data highlights that voters in social class ABC1 are just as likely to vote Labour as voters in social class C2DE.
This election also saw education level become a firmly rooted measure of voting behaviour. Whilst 25% of people with GCSE or below levels of qualification voted for Labour, 58% of people in this category voted for the Conservatives. On the other hand, 43% of people with a degree voted for Labour whilst 29% of these people voted for the Conservatives.
One of Theresa May’s former Chief-of-Staff, Nick Timothy, wrote in the Telegraph this week that Labour’s core voters are no longer the working classes in traditional heartlands but “metropolitan liberals living in ‘woke’ university towns and the inner cities”. Whilst this is a particularly damming depiction of labour voters, the electoral data is clear that younger people and those with higher levels of education are more likely to have voted Labour than any other group. Labour must work to reconcile the differences between their traditional heartlands and their growing section of young, highly educated voters.
These necessary reconciliations do not differ hugely from the challenges facing the Democratic party in the US. The election of Donald Trump created an earthquake within the US political system. The Republican voter base that was traditionally built on older and wealthy voters, now includes voters from across America’s social classes and income groups. Trump has engaged and won the support of many poorer working-class Americans and managed to maintain the Republicans’ traditional billionaire donors and voters. Like the Labour party, the Democrats are losing their traditional working-class base.
Both the Labour Party in the UK and the Democrats in the US must find a way to unite the growing divides within their voter bases in order to be successful in the next elections they face. The next leaders that these parties select will be absolutely crucial to their performance.