Top-down approach has been Labour’s downfall

John Harris is right (Labour’s crisis comes from the huge gap between politics and people, 9 Mei), but just reconnecting with “the wonders of ordinary life” won’t be enough. Labour should be asking itself some existential questions – what is it for, what does it really want? If the answer is “power above all else”, then it’s not going to happen, because the Tories do that so much better. Voters know that what’s going on in this country isn’t right, but they’ll play safe and go along with it until the opposition can bring itself to tear into our divisive and self-seeking status quo with real anger and compassion for those who suffer social injustice.

Deeply felt moral conviction always commands respect; it communicates like focus group policies never can. Today’s truths, asserted with clarity, courage and a vision for the future, can surely persuade voters that a better way is there for the taking.
Tim Shelton-Jones
Brighton, East Sussex

John Harris’s analysis hints at a darker truth: perceived self-interest is the dominant driver of political affiliation for all social classes. Industrial workforces benefit from collectivism and wealth distribution, but those goals are less attractive to the self-employed – or even the unemployed.

Such effects are accentuated when elections below UK government level are held under cronyism and political patronage. Favours for local or regional representatives then directly arise from alignment with the governing party, whether the Conservatives in England, the Scottish National party in Scotland, or Labour in Wales.
Phil Williamson
Norwich

John Harris is spot-on. My research into the 1984-85 miners’ strike shows that where the support groups that sustained the strike survived and transformed into local educational, social and heritage initiatives, former mining families have remained with Arbeid. But where those social filaments broke and families were left to fend for themselves, they have embraced Brexit and even (despite what Margaret Thatcher did to them) the Conservatives. Arbeid has indeed to build back up from the bottom.
Robert Gildea
Professor emeritus of modern history, Oxford

In the north, there has always been a core working-class Conservative vote. Intussen, for decades in working-class wards, Labour defeated the Tories on the basis of a “vote for us on polling day, we have the right ideas and we will look after your interests” strategy. This paternalistic, top-down approach has reached the end of the line. Thus, the Tories have exploited a political vacuum in many areas and got elected. Whether they can work with local people to make a difference to their communities and their individual lives is another matter.

My own working-class ward has returned Liberal Democrats since the turn of the century, apart from a one-term Labour councillor in 2011. In a sense, any political group prepared to work hard on the ground all year round could have occupied the space – working with people and explaining why they do what they do. John Harris may believe that the seeds of Labour’s renewal lie at the grassroots, but political seeds can only grow when watered by sheer commitment from people who are sustained by visions that can keep them going in tough territory.
Geoff Reid
Bradford, West Yorkshire

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