POLITICS: Why voters turned away

It seems incredible that Mrs Green, who has been in local politics for years, could make the comments she did, (News Guardian, July 14).

Monday, 1st August 2016, 6:00 am

Labour did, in fact, have plenty of immigration policies, the most corrosive of which continue to haunt us to this day. It was the Labour government which made mass immigration a key policy in the early 2000s, opening the doors to people from new EU member states.

Between 1997 and 2010 net annual immigration quadrupled and the UK population was boosted by more than 2.2 million immigrants. In Labour’s last term in government, 2005-2010, net migration reached on average 247,000 a year. Even now Labour struggles to explain the decisions that were taken on its watch.

The referendum exposed Labour’s breach with its traditional voters in a way that has profound implications for the party.

Despite the vast majority of Labour MPs wanting to stay in the EU, almost half of its voters did not know the party’s position was to remain. Even more worrying is that while the metropolitan voters in areas such as Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North constituency were overwhelmingly in the remain camp, Labour’s traditional working-class supporters favoured Brexit.

The post-referendum blame game is now well and truly up and running, and Labour apparently sees it as crucial that no responsibility attaches to the party for the Brexit outcome. The message has gone out that the reason Labour voters voted for Brexit was because of those nasty Tories and their austerity policies.

This is the same Labour party that has refused to apologise for its over-spending and borrowing when in government, evidenced by the note the chief secretary to the treasurer left for the incoming Conservative-led coalition in 2010 – “There’s no money left”. No wonder voters chose not to trust Labour on the economy in the 2015 general election.

At the last election, the party lost support to UKIP in many of the areas it has always called its own, but got away with it because it was sitting on such big majorities that it still managed to win seats. In the referendum, where every vote counted equally, Labour reaped the whirlwind of years of ignoring its core voters.

The answer to the question Muriel Green poses as to why Labour supporters did not “stay with the party” is that many traditional Labour voters gave up on their party a long time ago. A disproportionate number of Labour members who joined since last year’s election are “high-status city dwellers” – more than 11 per cent of the party are in this group compared with four per cent of the general population. Poorer voters, who were once the core of Labour’s support, are now under-represented in the party.

It is also difficult to overlook the Labour party advocating imposing austerity measures. Austerity proposals were not unique to the Tories.

In 2013 Rachel Reeves, shadow work and pensions secretary, stressed that a key part of her task would be to explode the myth that Labour was soft on benefits and to prove that it would be tough and fair. Ms Reeves also vowed to cut the welfare bill and force long-term jobless to take up work or lose state benefit.

So there we have it – three facts: Firstly, the Labour government opened the doors to mass immigration, which led many people to become fearful about the scale and speed of immigration and the impact that rapid population change was having on public services. Second, had it not been for Labour crashing the economy and piling up debt, there would be no need for austerity. Third, the Labour Party is on record as being just as keen as the Tories to introduce tough austerity measures.

Muriel Green would do well to study her party’s recent history, although perhaps there are just too many toxic legacies from the Blair era for her sensibilities to cope with.

Jean McLaughlin