Work­ing-class re­gions desert UK’s Labour Party

Cor­byn blamed as Brexit shifts votes to Con­ser­va­tives

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Alex Turn­bull and Jill Law­less

GRIMSBY, Eng­land — Like the North Sea cod that was their liveli­hood, Con­ser­va­tive vot­ers in the fish­ing town of Grimsby once seemed in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing.

In ev­ery elec­tion since 1945, vot­ers in this port in eastern Eng­land elected a Labour Party law­maker. Un­til last week.

Grimsby, 200 miles north of London, is one of a swath of seats stretch­ing across cen­tral and north­ern Eng­land — dubbed the “red wall” af­ter the color tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with Labour — that turned Con­ser­va­tive blue as Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son swept to elec­toral vic­tory on a wave of Brexit frus­tra­tion.

It’s a re­sult many here never thought they would see and that was made in towns like this one — work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties whose tra­di­tional in­dus­tries have with­ered, and where many feel ne­glected by re­mote London-based gov­ern­ments.

“I think it’s just a time of gen­eral dis­con­tent,” said Stephen Wake­field, who works for the lo­cal coun­cil. “It is a real time of flux. Peo­ple are will­ing to look at what is most af­fect­ing them and ac­tu­ally go against a life­time’s habit.”

John­son’s Con­ser­va­tives won 365 of the 650 seats in the House of Com­mons in Thurs­day’s elec­tion. Labour took 203, its worst to­tal since 1935.

The re­sult was an ex­tra­or­di­nary turn­around in a town where most peo­ple had re­fused to vote Con­ser­va­tive since Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher presided over the dis­man­tling of the U.K.’s in­dus­trial base in the 1980s.

Kelly Brown, who once fil­leted fish at Grimsby dock, said she ended up on wel­fare af­ter “Con­ser­va­tives sold the fish­ing in­dus­try off,” and the fish fac­tory closed.

“I voted Labour back then — Con­ser­va­tives got in and they trashed the coun­try,” she said. “(Thatcher) de­stroyed the fish­ing in­dus­try, steel in­dus­try, the coal in­dus­try, you name it, it all went down­hill from there. But now, I’m hop­ing Con­ser­va­tives look back on their mis­takes and I’m hop­ing they’re go­ing to bring some things back.”

Loy­alty to Labour has been de­clin­ing in Grimsby and other work­ing-class towns for years. Fewer peo­ple these days be­long to the trade unions on which the party was built. Un­der “New Labour” Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair, who gov­erned from 1997 to 2007, the party moved to­ward the cen­ter, gain­ing sup­port among mid­dle-class pro­fes­sion­als while ne­glect­ing its work­ing-class base.

In 2016, Grimsby and other “left-be­hind” towns voted to leave the Euro­pean Union, and last week they ral­lied be­hind John­son’s vow to end years of wran­gling over the de­par­ture terms and “get Brexit done.”

Many Labour politi­cians pinned blame for the trounc­ing on Jeremy Cor­byn, the vet­eran so­cial­ist who has led the party since 2015.

Un­der Cor­byn, the party cam­paigned on a rad­i­cal do­mes­tic agenda, promis­ing to na­tion­al­ize key in­dus­tries and util­i­ties, hike the min­i­mum wage and give free in­ter­net ac­cess to all.

But Labour strug­gled to per­suade vot­ers that its lav­ish spend­ing prom­ises were de­liv­er­able. And its po­si­tion on Brexit — a new di­vorce deal with the bloc fol­lowed by a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum — lacked the sim­plic­ity of John­son’s bullish prom­ise to “Get Brexit done.”

Former Labour Home Sec­re­tary Alan John­son called Cor­byn “a dis­as­ter on the doorstep. Ev­ery­one knew that he couldn’t lead the work­ing class out of a pa­per bag.”

Cor­byn — a long­time cham­pion of the Pales­tini­ans — has also been dogged by al­le­ga­tions that he has al­lowed anti-Jewish prej­u­dice to fes­ter in the party.

As the scale of Labour’s drub­bing be­came clear Fri­day, Cor­byn blamed the me­dia, ac­cus­ing it of mis­rep­re­sent­ing him.

“When you an­a­lyze the cover­age that was made of the Labour Party, an­a­lyze the cover­age of me, over 80% of it was neg­a­tive,” he said.

But many Labour mem­bers said the leader — and his “Cor­bynista” ide­ol­ogy — were re­spon­si­ble.

“This party must lis­ten, this party must re­spond, or this party will die,” said Ian Mur­ray, a Labour leg­is­la­tor who won re­elec­tion in Scot­land.

“For the sake of the la­bor move­ment, for the sake of the Labour Party, but more im­por­tantly for the sake of the coun­try, not only does the per­son have to go but the pol­icy and the ide­ol­ogy has to go as well,” he said.

Cor­byn called the elec­tion re­sult “very dis­ap­point­ing” and said he would step down — but not yet. He said he would stay on dur­ing a “pe­riod of re­flec­tion” and that an in­ter­nal elec­tion to choose a new leader would take place early next year.

That was not good enough for some.

“Cor­byn talk­ing about a pe­riod of ‘re­flec­tion,’ ” tweeted re­elected Labour law­maker Mar­garet Hodge. “I’ve re­flected. You’ve failed. Please stand down.”


While Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn, cen­ter, blamed the loss on the me­dia, those in his party were un­for­giv­ing, with one law­maker say­ing, “You’ve failed. Please stand down.”

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