Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson says that he is ‘hugely disappointed’ that the party lost the Copeland by-election earlier in the week and, in a veiled dig at Jeremy Corbyn, he called on the party to become more pro-business again in order to win over Labour’s ‘natural supporters’.
Speaking at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth, Watson said:
here in Scotland you’ve seen what happens when Labour’s long-term supporters stop voting Labour.
And, implying that he believed the party is losing its ‘natural supporters’ because the party is too anti-business, Watson said that Labour:
have to make it clear that we are on the side of the people who create prosperity as well as those who need the security of good jobs.
Watson’s call for a return to Blairism comes just hours after failed leadership contender and arch-Blairite, David Miliband, said that he was ‘deeply concerned’ about the party’s future.
Despite the right-wing’s concerns about the party’s prospects, Tom Watson ruled out the possibility of yet another leadership coup, stating that:
this is not the time for a leadership election, that issue was settled last year.
Whilst it’s fair to say that Labour’s loss in Copeland was a terrible result, the seat had never been a traditionally ‘safe’ Labour seat. Labour had won just 3 of the constituency’s 11 previous elections by more than 10% of the vote ahead of the Tories – meaning that elections in the area were always tight.
Also, given that Copeland’s residents enjoy the third highest salaries in the UK (£721 a week, second only to the City of London and Tower Hamlets), it’s hardly surprising that there was a swing away from a left-wing Labour towards a staunchly pro-wealth Tory party.
However, whilst Watson’s assertion that Labour aren’t pro-wealth enough are relatively justified in relation to affluent areas such as Copeland, the same cannot be said for Labour’s heartlands.
Labour’s ‘natural supporters’ are the working class, and they are never going to be won back by a pro-business Labour party. Labour’s lurch towards neoliberal corporatism was the defining reason why it was wiped out in Scotland, and Blair’s legacy continues to be a huge issue of distrust amongst Labour’s once loyal working class support in northern England.
There are huge problems in the Labour party at the moment, and with a majority of MPs unwilling to fully get behind their leader’s anti-establishment message, it seems unlikely that Labour’s woes will end any time soon.
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