Britain’s Labour Party was formed in 1900 by working class people for to stand up and protect the rights of working-class people. At a time when people were being worked into an early grave in ship yards, coal mines and other heavy industries whilst having little to no rights, the working class needed a party to truly represent them. Labour was the answer and came into existence to be a beacon of hope for the downtrodden who felt overlooked by the both the Liberals and Conservatives.
Labour, unlike the other traditional parties of the UK, was not given an opportunity to grow organically within the seams of society. It was brought about as a reactionary necessity to the cruel late Victorian/early Edwardian social structure. Over the last 100+ years, the Labour Party have grown to meet the needs of those worst off in society.
Representing the working class is what Labour have been passionate about for almost all its existence. The Party helped to oversee improvements to workers’ rights and living standards in early 20th century Britain. Under Clement Atlee, Labour built the foundations for the welfare state and the National Health Service. Even in times of heavy defeat, such as the Thatcher years, the party flourished through being the party of the working class. They have a rich history of strong left-wing politicians and leaders. Most importantly, they built up hardened cores of support in the north of England and across Wales. These were branches of the Labour heartland. Guaranteed safe seats for Labour under leaders from Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson to Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.
Recent years have shown that the working class votership which have historically been Labour or die have started to be challenged. The main issue is the party’s attitude to Brexit, however it is a decline which can be dated back to sometime in the early 1990s. ‘New Labour’ initialised by Neil Kinnock and passed over eventually to Tony Blair. It was a movement, one which was started during the Thatcherite era, to continue to focus on London as the financial hub of the country. The years of Thatcher government had dismantled the northern powerhouse, and 90s Labour didn’t want the responsibility of reviving the decimated communities.
The engagement with the North of England after this point became somewhat token gestures. The irony comes from the fact that key instituters of ‘New Labour’ all held or were from North Eastern constituencies. 2019 has seen a drive for the return of the northern powerhouse and financial emphasis on the region as a whole, but it may be too late for many traditional Labour voters.
An annual event which Labour Leaders would rarely miss is the Durham Miners gala. The second Saturday of every July, the city of Durham swells with banners and representatives of mining communities from across the North of England. In 2019 it is a thriving event to reflect on a proud industry, but it is an event which was shunned by Labour leaders from 1989 to 2012; seemingly out of fear of being associated with a Labour of old. An alienation of groups of people who are some of the loyalist Labour voters was not a wise decision.
In the current political climate, Labour are at risk of losing leave voters to the other side of the spectrum. The Brexit Party and, to a lesser extent, UKIP are parties which will appeal more to those who voted leave in 2016. Furthermore, The Brexit Party have a clear and precise aim to win seats in the impending election and to make themselves heard in Parliament. The Conservatives and Labour have had poor showings in the last three years and even the most hardcore Labour seats may be in for a shakeup.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Liberal Democrats will take some of the remain votes from the hardcore Labour votership too. At the end of the day, why shouldn’t they? Votes can be lost both left and right and the upcoming election could be telling.
Keeping the loyalty of the Labour heartland is crucial to future success of the party. Having a firm line on Brexit for whenever the next Genera Election comes is vital, however it may come too soon for some of Labour’s hardcore voters. 2019 could be a ground-breaking year for Jeremy Corbyn and his party.