The kindness of fog

England is not Labour’s country, it is the country where we are lost.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest book, The Buried Giant, is about England. In it, the countryside is covered with a dense fog of forgetting, a fog that confuses and distresses the characters, but, as they come to realise, also allows them to live in kindness, unburdened by the knowledge of past conflict and loss.

Ishiguro’s characters come to a recognition that the fog is a protection. There is destruction in truth, but still, in the end, they choose it. They strip the fog away.

Right or wrong, they are ready.

Is Labour ready? Are we ready to strip our post-election fog, our grief, away? Are we ready to face our destruction in England?

For half a century Conservative governments have been stronger in England than across the UK as a whole. For half of Labour’s life, we have been a party of London and the north, an air lock around our heart.

The Conservatives have a working majority of 16, but English votes for English laws will change that. For the planned Grand Committee – the mechanism by which EVEL is enacted – their majority will be 104, and for votes on England and Wales, 86.

If we do not win England back, Labour is lost.

Over the last few days we have started to see the foundations of new platforms, new ways of understanding that loss. From blue Labour to Red Shift Labour, we are colouring in the lines of defeat.

And we are all of us working to a sketch by Jon Cruddas.

As the man in charge of Labour’s 2012 – 2014 policy review, Cruddas is Labour’s diagnostician, the man charged with our political renewal. After the election Cruddas continued with his work uncommissioned, carrying out an independent inquiry into where Labour had gone wrong.

As part of it, YouGov interviewed 3,000 people who said that they had, had not or could not, bring themselves to vote Labour.

In an important speech this week – delivered to the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University, Cruddas considered that research, and drew his conclusions. A copy of the full speech is available here.

Cruddas found that it was pragmatism that did it for Labour. Voters who put economic competence first could not bring themselves to trust us. The public mood was for austerity, and voters did not believe that we were with them. And they could not see how in a time of constraint, we could be against them and claim to be a party of responsible government.

A hard conclusion, but right.

Secondly, we lost a generation of socially conservative working class voters, the voters that Cruddas defines as prizing home, family and country. Voters like my granddad – a Labour man all his days, a slow thoughtful veteran who lived a life coloured by the injuries he received on D-Day – his one time out of England.

The type of Labour man that we have lost to United Kingdom independence party.

This is the Labour of alienation. It is as though throughout the election campaign we were on a boat; anxious to be home but motoring away from the shore.

The voters polled said that on welfare reform particularly, we had lost our way. In a time of struggle people were working to protect what they had. They found no security in Labour.

It is a speech that pulled no punches.

Cruddas – less Labour’s Jon, more our Job – thinks the resulting defeat a deeper blow than any in our history.

There will be those who reject, or who struggle with his conclusion, that Labour ‘is losing connection with two thirds of the electorate’ and that we have one option before us: to take those voters back from the right. To win, Labour must bring our Conservative and Ukip switchers home.

We are not a better party for their loss.

It profits Labour nothing to win Brighton if by doing so we lose our soul. It profits us nothing to turn to the left if by doing so we abandon the Midlands and the North. Labour’s history deserves better of us than that.

Cruddas is right. In the England where I live – a Midlands village where industrial shells still stand empty, and the canal signs point to Preston – Labour are lost.

And it is a sign perhaps of the profundity of that loss that Jon Cruddas – Labour’s diagnostician – should have been one of the members of parliament to nominate Jeremy Corbyn.

I can see why he did so. The urge to connect with Labour’s roots is stamped across every paragraph of this speech.

But Corbyn is not the Labour of our history. He is not the Labour that speaks to the voters we left behind.

We have chosen the kindness of the fog. It is a sign of how thick, and how enveloping it is that even Cruddas, the man who understands better than anyone where we find ourselves, once lost his way.

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Kate Godfrey was parliamentary candidate for Stafford in 2015. Formerly a consultant working in international development and capital projects, Kate has returned to advisory work with a focus on health, and is also retraining with the goal of becoming a barrister specialising in judicial review. Kate lives in Derby, where she is a trustee for local charities

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Photo: virnafoto

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Comments: 4...

  1. On September 25, 2015 at 9:31 pm Abernsmate responded with... #

    So, in England, the Labour vote in 2015 increased compared to 2010. In Stafford, the Labour vote decreased (by 2000 votes) in 2015 compared to 2010. I would have thought the 2015 Labour candidate for Stafford might have offered an insight as to why we did so badly in Stafford in 2015 compared to, say, Lancaster – but apparently not.

    • On September 27, 2015 at 1:15 am Simon responded with... #

      Labour’s results were poor in Staffordshire across the board in 2015, to the point that seats like Burton, Tamworth and Stafford which were held until 2010 don’t really look winnable any more -certainly not in 2020. I would say the main explanation for this is demographic change, as the urban parts of the county are less industrial and more commuter-oriented than they used to be; while a largeish chunk of the ‘traditional’ Labour vote has switched to UKIP.

      It was pretty clear as early as the 2013 county elections that Labour just weren’t doing enough to win back or even be competitive in any of the Staffs seats that had gone to the Tories. Individual candidates are not to blame for that and it may be that Staffs (outside Stoke/Newcastle) is gone for Labour forever in terms of parliamentary representation. But things can change unexpectedly.

      As for Lancaster, it’s a university town and Labour tended to do better than average in university towns this year. Though we had a great candidate there too.

      You make a fair point though that Labour’s vote did increase in England – by 3.6%, not nearly enough but not nothing. But the results were notably awful in the midlands, a region chock full of marginals and one which is still little understood by politicians from elsewhere who tend to lump it in with “the north” or “the south” depending on their location. I did observe in the years leading up to 2015 that some of Osborne’s economic/business policies did appear to be attuned to the preferences of small scale manufacturers, who are more prevalent in the midlands than elsewhere. He had an ear for the marginals in the way we sadly didn’t.

    • On September 27, 2015 at 12:36 pm Tina Cortez responded with... #

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  2. On September 26, 2015 at 1:20 am T E responded with... #

    >The public mood was for austerity

    I’m sure if you chase after the public mood, rather than seek to change it, you will catch up with it eventually! It’s not like it’s being driven to the right by Tory propaganda.

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