EVENT TRANSCRIPT: The Outcome of the UK 2019 General Election
DATE: 6PM-7 30PM, 18 December 2019
VENUE: Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RS United Kingdom
SPEAKERS: Vernon Bogdanor CBE, Professor Sir John Curtice, Rowenna Davis, James Rogers
EVENT CHAIR: Dr Rakib Ehsan
Dr Rakib Ehsan: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us for this evening’s event where we’ll be discussing the outcome of the recent UK General Election. And what an election result it was, where we saw the Labour party falling significantly behind with the Conservative party breaching traditional Labour-voting territory, particularly in Northern England, provincial Midlands, and also some seats in Wales. So, plenty of things to talk about, particularly the domestic and foreign policy implications of the election result. Thankfully we have a fantastic panel here to discuss the result and what we can expect in the future in terms of policy direction. Firstly, I’d like to introduce Professor Sir John Curtice, who unfortunately could not make it tonight in person but we have him on Skype. He is a professor of politics at Strathclyde University and also a senior research fellow at the National Center of Social Research. Next to me we have Professor Vernon Bogdanor, who is a professor of government at the Institute of Contemporary British History at King’s College London. We have our own James Rogers, a fellow work colleague here at the Henry Jackson Society, the director of the Global Britain Programme. And here we have Rowenna, who has just joined us, good thing that you managed to negotiate the trains from South London, I hear there was a bit of trouble there. Rowenna is a writer and teacher, and she has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Sun, The Times, and The Economist. And she is closely associated to the Blue Labour tendency, which received a good deal of attention after Labour lost a number of seats in former steel and coalfield territory. So firstly, we are going to begin with Professor Sir John Curtice.
Professor Sir John Curtice: Thank you very much. I am going to be providing a quick overview of the results. Particularly with respect towards peoples’ attitudes towards Brexit. First thing I have to say however is that this is much more clearly a Conservative victory in some senses than Labour doing particularly badly. Let me explain: Although there has been a lot of Labour party ending up with fewer MPs since 1935, we should bear in mind that so far as the share of the vote is concerned, which is 33%, this is only Labour’s vote share since 2005. So, when we are trying to explain why Labour are doing as badly as they did, we can’t simply look at how Labour performed in the ballot box, we also have to look at the performance of their opponents. Because at 45% there is no doubt that the Conservatives did extraordinarily well. That’s an even higher share of the voter than Margaret Thatcher managed to achieve back in 1979 or 1983. So, to that extent we should be looking as much to understand the long-term increase in the Conservative vote, as opposed to the decline in the Labour vote. That said, the success of the Conservatives is very clear. The principle explanation rests on their ability to concentrate the Leave vote. We’ve now had two polls. One from Lord Ashcroft and one from YouGov, which have asked people since the election how they voted and also talks a lot about their characteristics. And those two exercises both suggest that the Conservative party ended up with just little under 75% of the vote of Leave voters, whereas its support among those who voted Remain fell yet again, it had fallen in 2017, it fell yet further this time to not much more than a fifth of the vote. And the long-term consequences of this are really quite dramatic. If you go back to the Conservative vote of 2015, which gave David Cameron his majority, indeed that instigated the Brexit process, for every 1 Remain voter there was only 1 ½ people who were Leave voters voting Conservative. That is about 35% of the Remain vote, 45% of the Leave vote. Now it’s more like 4 to 1. We’ve got 20% of the Remain vote going to the Conservatives, with nearly three quarters of the Leave vote going that direction. At the end of the day, the results of the election tell us, does not provide us with any evidence at all, of changes in public attitude towards Brexit. In fact, there are slightly more people, 52%, who voted for parties in favor of a second referendum; 46% voted for parties in favor of Brexit. That’s in line with what we expect given the polling evidence. It is the ability of the Conservatives to concentrate the Leave vote and basically squeeze the Brexit vote as hard, as Theresa May managed to do in 2017, that is the crucial foundation.
The second crucial foundation is undoubtedly Labour’s difficulties among the same, said Leave vote. Labour’s vote amongst this group, according to both Ashcroft and YouGov, is around the 15-16% mark, that is down on 2017 and even further down on the position in 2015. Labour also lost ground amongst Remain voters. By the end of the campaign among Remain voters were fewer than those among Leave voters. The second foundation is undoubtedly the fact that Leave voters were disproportionately in the North of England and the Midlands, Labour were unable to recover their losses to this group during the election campaign. They started off the election campaign losing ground among Remain voters to the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives among Leave voters. They managed to recoup much though not all of their loss to the Democrats among Remain voters. In contrast, they failed to make any progress at all, a very significant note, among those who voted Leave. And that’s the second crucial foundation.
The result of Labour’s partial recovery among Remain voters, was to leave the Remain vote much more divided than was the Leave vote. Labour in the end only had under a half of the Remain vote. Liberal Democrats were still picking up around 1 in 5 of Leave voters. That concentration helped the Conservatives to win. Certainly, on a first glance, if there was tactical voting, it did not have that much an effect in particular. Insofar that there was tactical voting in seats where Labour was trying to defend against the Conservatives. It was counteracted by the fact that because of the Leave, the Conservatives were doing relatively well in seats where tactical voting might have been going on. It has to be said, I have been talking about the evidence of individual voters, but also at the election result itself in terms of constituencies, the Conservatives actually lose ground among most Remain constituencies around the country. They go up most strongly in the most Leave constituencies. And the pattern for Labour is very much the opposite.
Now that said of course the election was not just about Brexit. It was about other things. Not least because, particularly on the Remain side, voters did have a choice about how they might vote. Three observations on the difficulties that Labour faced and also one observation on why it was possible to squeeze the Brexit party vote so successfully: It first of all started with the leadership. One of the crucial characteristics that Boris Johnson brought to the Conservative leadership was not only that he was relatively popular among those who voted Conservative in 2017, he was even more popular amongst those who were supporting the Brexit party in the spring of this year. Almost undoubtedly one of the reasons why he was able to bring the Leave vote on board was that popularity. A popularity that overcame the fact that he had not been able to deliver Brexit at the end of October. For many Leave voters they simply wanted to get out. They didn’t necessarily want to have a deal. His ability to frame the election about getting Brexit done, and I’ve done my best, it’s not my fault that it didn’t happen, even though of course he had considerable culpability for the failure to bring Brexit much earlier. It was undoubtedly a masterstroke. Second thing on leadership, the Labour party invested a lot of hope about Jeremy Corbyn being able to pull off the trick that he did in 2017 of being able to improve his popularity during the election campaign. Where as one suspected it wasn’t likely that he was not going to try twice in the same place, and there was very little ability on the Labour side to do that. Equally also, unlike 2017, although the Labour policy proposals in the manifesto were not particularly unpopular, including the policies of nationalization, they weren’t actually more popular than the policies in the Conservative manifesto. And of course, crucially, what the Labour party was not able to do was to be able to summarize what its many detailed policy proposals were meant to achieve in terms of broad policy, whereas the Conservatives undoubtedly had a very clear narrative.
To conclude, all of this has meant that there has been important changes in the demographic basis of British politics. This looks like the election at which the role of class in certainly Conservative-Labour support pretty much disappeared. The Conservatives get brownish, as you would expect, given the character of the Leave vote, amongst more working-class voters, among those with less in the way of educational qualifications, it did not make any progress at all amongst those in professional, managerial occupations. It lost ground yet further amongst university graduates. The Labour party lost somewhat more ground amongst working-class voters, though the gap is not that wide. The party by the way that is now the most clearly the most middle-class party in the UK is the Democrats. So, what was once supposed to be our middle-class party is now much more clearly the most structured party. Education is now a very clear divide. The Labour party, much more clearly has support amongst university graduates than it does amongst those in working-class occupations. That is a very substantial transformation. And age continues to be the biggest demographic division at all in British electoral politics. The Conservatives ended up, according to Lord Ashcroft, with just over 3/5s of the vote of those aged 65 plus. Only around 20% of those ages 18 to 24. And truth is that although the Conservatives are looking at the moment in a very strong position, unless that position is reversed to some degree in the course of the next ten years, by the time we get to the end of the next decade, the Conservatives will be facing a demographic time bomb so far as their electoral support is concerned. But, I mean, just to conclude, the fact again that we have once again an election in which it is age, education, and not class, is just a testament to the way in which, in some ways building on previous historical trends, Labour has had struggles with the working class for quite a while, but the way in which the Brexit process has transformed the basis of support for our political parties. And the prime minister is entirely right. The Conservative party that is now represented in the House of Commons, it finds itself built on foundations that are very different from the ones that propelled David Cameron to victory in 2015 and that’s a very dramatic change in a relatively short period of time. And I will end on that point.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you Sir John. So, Sir John, that is his segment done now. We will hear the thoughts of Professor Vernon Bogdanor.
Vernon Bogdanor: We are still I think living in the shadow of the economic crisis of 2008, which had a fundamental effect on how voters think. Financial institutions came badly out of it, so did many governments. So sad to say did many social scientists. The economists with their equilibrium models, the Queen was not alone in asking, why did none of you see this coming? The political scientist Cas Mudde, great expert on the far right, said in 2012, the radical right in Europe was of no importance. How many political scientists predicted the rise of populism? Now many on the left hoped the financial crisis would prove a social democratic moment, a fundamental change in attitudes towards the free market, they hoped it would yield a strong electoral constituency for greater regulation of markets and the banks and in favor of redistributive taxation. And the philosophy of market liberalism has certainly taken a battering. Take the Conservative party’s manifesto for the 2017 General Election, it said we must reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the liberation right, thus implicitly equating Margaret Thatcher with Jeremy Corbyn, and instead embrace the mainstream view that recognizes the good that government can do. And Boris Johnson in 2019 and Theresa May in 2017 was far from the neoliberal approach of Margaret Thatcher, as Corbyn was from Tony Blair. But the beneficiary of the weakening of the philosophy of market liberalism was not to be social democracy which also suffered a battering, and in Britain, as in much of the continent, both of the internationalist philosophies previously associated with economic progress, economic liberalism and social democracy, had been in retreat. Theresa May and Boris Johnson have reacted against the one and Jeremy Corbyn against the other. And these two elections, 2017, 2019, have marked a movement away from the consensus on the two internationalist philosophies which ruled Britain from the time of Margaret Thatcher to the time of David Cameron’s resignation. And what the economic crisis led to was not a social democratic moment but a nationalist moment. And in Britain as in much of the continent and the United States, it strengthened national feeling while weakening class feeling and social solidarity. And the alienation and sense of disenfranchisement which resulted from economic crisis has benefited the right more than the left, as it had done in 1930s Europe when Marxists wrongly predicted the collapse of capitalism but instead of that you had nationalist and protectionist movements almost everywhere, many of them very nasty.
The economic crisis has benefited the right, but it has given rise to a mood which is radical and anything but conservative with a small “c.” On a constant, the main effect has been to weaken parties of the center in favor of parties of the radical right. Though in the Mediterranean countries the beneficiaries have sometimes been parties of the radical left. But even where the radical left has grown in strength, it has really one power, and the main effect of the growth of the radical left as in Britain in 2019 has been to frighten those who might otherwise have voted for parties of the left, and thereby help the right. The great Victorian Prime Minister Lord Salisbury used to say that Mr. Gladstone was the greatest asset the Conservative party had since the most important function of the Conservative party was that of the policeman. And I expect that Boris Johnson would say the same about Jeremy Corbyn. And in Britain fear of Corbyn was strongest, as John Curtice has implied, among working-class Labour voters. As George Orwell said of Britain in 1941, the first thing that must strike the outside observer is that socialism in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle class. Labour’s appeal was less to the working class than to what the political philosopher John Gray has called Labour’s populism for the middle classes, which he said was attractive less to the downtrodden than to the material and psychological needs of the relatively affluent and the well healed, that is the graduate population.
So, the economic crisis has led to a sea change in the politics of Britain and many other democracies. Because until the crisis politics in Britain and other democracies were largely dominated by arguments about the role of the state. But now politics has come to be dominated by questions of identity. In Britain, the key question came to be less what ought to be the role of the sate than what does it mean to be British. And in particular, whether being British is compatible with being European, and whether being British was compatible with being Scottish. And both the Conservatives and the SNP, the two winners of the election, stressed these nationalist issues. They weren’t so much arguing that their opponents were not left-wing or right-wing enough, but they weren’t British or Scottish enough. And nationalism has proved a more powerful force than class or self-interest. It means that the members of a nation feel themselves to have more in common with those of another social class in their own country than with those of the same social class in other countries. And that I think is true both of England and Scotland. To quote Orwell again, “economically England is certainly two nations, if not three or four, but at the same time the vast majority of the people feel themselves to be a single nation, and are conscious of resembling one another more than they resemble foreigners.” The areas that have suffered most from austerity swung to Brexit in 2016 and to the Conservatives in 2017 and 2019, arguably against their economic self-interest. In Scotland, the disadvantaged seemed to have swung to the SNP which now holds every seat in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow. Labour did better in basins and the more affluent south. The party’s only gain, from the Conservatives, was in Putney, hardly a bastion of the proletariat. Culture and identity have trumped class.
But the outcome poses two fundamental dilemmas for the Conservative government, one domestic and one international: The Conservative manifesto, as we’ve seen, reflected the ideological shift away from the free market. But Brexit, if it is to work, requires a renewed emphasis on the free market, a fourth term of Margaret Thatcher, otherwise it makes no sense. And that of course conflicts with the new electoral constituency of the Conservative party. Because the referendum vote was a cry of rage by the victims of the economic crisis, who sought protection from the excesses of globalization and the market. And they wanted in particular restrictions on immigration. But the benefits seemed less obvious from immigration for the left behind than they did for the elite. But most of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, other than UKIP, were conservatives of the right, who had an entirely different agenda. They sought Brexit for Thatcherite reasons and wanted a Britain free of EU regulations and restrictions. Sometimes caricatured as Singapore on Thames, but resembling more perhaps Australia and New Zealand, where such policies were implemented, it has to be said, by Labour governments. The leaders of the Brexit movement, as opposed to the foot soldiers, are hostile not to globalization but to social protection. But this is the philosophy that will have to survive after Brexit because Britain will have to become more protective, opening up markets, embracing free trade, reducing tariffs and subsidies, deregulating, lowering corporation tax and personal tax. And that will disadvantage the very voters who voted for Brexit. Far from protecting them from world economic forces, they will find themselves even more exposed to them. So ironically, the very nationalist and protectionist forces which have led to Brexit and to Boris Johnson’s triumph are the opposite of those that Britain needs. The Conservatives will have to protect the less fortunate through a radical skills policy. Singapore makes the best use of its brains, we don’t. The best industrial strategies for post-Brexit Britain would be radical increase in the budgets of further education colleges, the Cinderellas of the system, and the Conservatives will also have to target welfare policies to protect those suffering from unemployment.
Nevertheless, Britain will lead to a Britain more not less exposed to the forces of globalization. It will be the revenge of Margaret Thatcher from beyond the grave. Now, the second dilemma, which is on foreign policy is that Brexit detaches Britain from the continent. As the whole of our history shows, our security depends on a continental commitment. And from the security point of view, we are definitely part of Europe. Present neither Britain nor Europe can defend itself without American aid. And the European Union is the only one amongst the four powers of the world that cannot defend itself. And it is understandable that President Trump would take objection to that. So would a President Hillary Clinton, or any other president, though they would probably be more polite about it. Britain has always and I think with good reason been skeptical of an integrated European defense policy, believing that by diverting energy it would weaken NATO. But NATO needs a European arm and that arm has to be based on Britain and France, the two leading defense powers of Europe and the only two nuclear powers in Europe, and Germany cannot lead on defense for obvious reasons. But if Britain and France are to cooperate together that must be on an intergovernmental basis and outside the EU since Britain is leaving the EU. But this revival needs a form of alliance between Britain and France on defense matters, which Macron does not favor, because as with other presidents of the Fifth Republic he seeks to marginalize Britain from Europe, assisted by many British governments, and he sees Brexit purely in economic terms as a benefit to France, rather than the geopolitical significance. Whereas in Britain the assumption is that we can have a defense and security policy detached from Europe, a mistake we made both in 1914 and 1929. So, in both areas, economic policy and in foreign policy, Brexit places fundamental problems for the Boris Johnson government which in a moment of euphoria it may overlook. Thank you.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you, professor. Thank you for that. And now we will hear the thoughts of Rowenna Davis.
Rowenna Davis: Thank you. Thanks everyone. I have just come from teaching in Crowden. I am a secondary school English teacher at the moment, former parliamentary candidate for Southampton Itchen, which is the very sort of white working-class constituencies that have helped determine this election. So, I wanted to start off, I’m afraid my head is still spinning a little bit from the result, and I’m still processing a lot with my head and my heart. What you’re going to get is some honest reflections and thoughts which I hope you can help me work out as well. Starting with just before the election and the aftermath, the children in my classroom in Crowden, they have never met a Conservative. They have never met a Conservative voter or a Conservative politician, they don’t know anyone in that party or in that support group. When they look at their social media feeds they will only see support for Labour, everybody they speak to will be a Labour voter. If they were out campaigning or volunteering during the election, they would have seen volunteers just pouring out of Labour volunteer HQs. There are people who couldn’t even get through the door because there was so much support for Labour in these urban areas. And then, for a weekend day trip, I went back to Southampton and was struck with the absolute contrast on the doors there. When I was asked to deliver some targeted mail to various undecided voters around the constituency, I knocked on three doors, and the idea of voting Labour among these three doors was unconscionable. Absolutely, completely out of the question. These lovely voters, warmhearted, going to open the door for me, going to have a chat with me, absolutely know way they would ever, ever think of voting Labour and no one they know would think about it either. So, what I was really struck by was that you had this absolute polarization and hardening of our politics. In these urban, metropolitan areas, the minority parts of the country, you had a hardening support for the left and outside of that you had a hardening support against it. And this, as a Labour party member of over ten years, is deeply saddening to me for what it means about our party and how disconnected we are and I think more fundamentally as a citizen of this country it concerns me, and perhaps concerns all of us, about the level of division that it represents in our country as a whole, and I am really quite concerned about that. Inside my party afterwards, in the wake of the election, you’ll hear in the news a lot and on social media feeds, that it was just the Brexit election, we couldn’t have won it because it was the Brexit election. In any other circumstance, it would have been okay, but this was the Brexit election and we couldn’t deal with that. And I think the remarks from Vernon remind us that that’s quite a simplistic analysis, because it seems to me that Brexit itself was a sign of our deeper disconnection with voters. It was a sign that our voters themselves were disenchanted with politics in the mainstream in general and politics on the left in particular. I think that you can trace this back even to the kind of New Labour area, where New Labour accepted ultimately globalization, it accepted that there were going to be winners, and other places were just going to lose. And that they were just going to have to change and ultimately were just going to have to receive a benefit check from us. We accepted that the market was going to completely decimate some communities and reward others and that we would just accept a centralized state to try to do the best we could to try and patch up the damage that was left. WE accepted that our economy was going to be run by London for London and that the rest of the regions could be left to decline. We accepted as well that there was going to be an advance of university and academic education, at the expense of vocational education and apprenticeship, and we massively pursued that divide in our educational system. And I think you know, you saw that again being reflected in this election when Corbyn backed a free university education service and massively said he was going to get rid of tuition fees, but actually spoke very little about vocational education. And I know we hear a lot about how Corbyn is the exact opposite of Blair, but the point I am actually trying to make here is that there is actually more in common than we think, in terms of leaving behind working-class voters or making them come second.
Another thing that I think we had in common perhaps with the later Blair certainly, is that we are in danger on the left of taking a kind of utilitarian approach to politics, in which we ask the voter to do a cost-benefit analysis and tell them exactly how many pounds they will be better off if they vote for Labour. And kind of ignore the deeper appeal I think to the heart, to the soul, of our people. The sense of a story, a narrative, or what we are part of. And I think we really neglect that to our peril because we talk about the rise of nationalism and I think one of the reasons that our sense of patriotism has become a little bit toxic is because there has been no positive patriotism that was inclusive and collective that was put forward. I would love to see Labour advancing what we are as a nation, to be tolerant, to be decent, to be democratic, and that that is what it means to be English, what it means to be British. We abandon that narrative and focus so much on economic policy, technocratic detail, that we miss something there. And I think that those issues stay way back in Labour, and we’ve been losing working-class vote for a long time, way before antisemitism, way before Corbyn, and way before Brexit, and I think now my party has a choice and we have to decide whether we are going to ask voters to change those concerns or whether we are going to change in the face of what they’re saying. And I think that if we can’t get over ourselves and accept that there are some things that we should change as well, then we are going to be a very long way from earning back the support that we were built and designed to serve.
One final reflection before I stop, I would say however in the end, there is perhaps some hope for Labour and a word of caution for the Conservatives. Many people did not want to vote Conservative, they didn’t feel comfortable about it, they didn’t feel happy about it, and that vote is brittle and fragile. And I think that Boris Johnson is very aware that he owes this victory to people who are really looking for change. And I still do not believe in my heart that the Conservative party can challenge the vested interests in the economy, necessary enough to truly change the lives of these people. If they can’t deliver this change for these people, if we do believe that we should just become the Singapore on Thames, there will be a backlash at the next election and the voters will not be forgiving. So, the Conservatives will talk a big game but ultimately, I believe that Labour is the one who might be prepared to take the steps to actually deliver it.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you, Rowenna. And last but not least, we will hear from our own James Rogers, who will be talking more about the foreign policy implications of the election result.
James Rogers: Thank you, Rakib. Many of the things I was going to say have sort of been said in some respects, but I’ll move on to the Cinderella part of tonight, and that is the issue of foreign policy. Foreign policy or strategic policy if you include also the defense aspects, is critically important but often it is invisible to the electorate in the general elections. I think the interesting thing here was in the recent election that we had last week, Britain’s foreign policy was up for grabs unlike any time in recent times, or even maybe one or two generations. Because there were at least two radically different perspectives on offer. And the way in which the British people voted was going to change Britain’s position in the world forever, irrespective of which option was selected. I think this is really important. I think this election that just took place recently was not itself a normal election and this is not a normal period of time. And not only because of the issue related to Brexit, but also because there are some fundamental changes underway not only in Europe but also in the wider world, in relation not only to the geopolitical situation but also to the economic situation globally as well. So, this was a very different election in that context and a very interesting point of time.
It might be worthwhile to go back to begin by asking what both parties wanted. Now, of all the parties, the Conservatives in the broader shape of things I think offered the most traditional foreign and defense policy options, the only difference being of course their preference to implement the 2016 referendum, and that is to Brexit, to Brexit by the 31st of January next year and then to go on for the rest of the year to implement some new agreement with the EU to begin the transition towards eventual, complete withdrawal. They proposed on the broader foreign policy agenda to retain most existing relationships and to uphold Britain’s defense spending, perhaps even to increase it a little, although that was quite ambiguous, and to maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent, to remain committed to NATO, and to facilitate future relationships through the Global Britain agenda, although that phrase was not used in the manifesto.
The Labour party’s option or offer for foreign policy was very, very different, and there was some confusion I think between the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and party writ large. We know that the Labour party wanted to initiate a new phase of negotiations with the EU and from what anyone can gather from the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, they were going to campaign against their renegotiated settlement and offer a referendum where they would support remaining inside the EU under the existing set of arrangements. On the broader issue of foreign policy, the Labour party in the last election offered some fundamental changes I think. Firstly, we saw the rise of what I define as “compensationalism” and I define that by the idea that Britain is in some ways inherently flawed and many of the problems in the world are a consequence of how Britain interacted with the rest of the world. So, there was going to be a review, had Labour won, of Britain’s colonial history and various noises were made about whether or how Britain should compensate or even provide reparations to those who apparently dealt a harsh hand in the past. More broadly in terms of the defense of Europe, and that was one of the issues that Vernon mentioned a little while ago, the Labour party was committed to upholding Britain’s nuclear deterrent, committed to upholding the 2% GDP on defense, and committed to NATO, but I think there was a big difference between the party and the leader. Because in the run-up to the election, Jeremy Corbyn made a number of statements that undermined the party’s own position and the manifesto and those were in terms of the nuclear deterrent, which he had made a number of noises in the past to say he would not use it in any eventuality, even if Britain were under direct threat, also he could not foresee any use of Britain’s armed forces, above perhaps some fundamental peacekeeping duties. He also questioned whether or not a NATO ally was under attack, an Article 5 contingency came forward, i.e. an ally asked Britain for military assistance, he stated that he could not see any possibility that he would actually provide on that military assistance and that he would rely instead on diplomatic and economic support. So, in many respects that undermines Britain’s critical role in the defense of Europe through NATO. It is the only other nuclear power other than the United States that has pledged to uphold the defense of the Western alliance in all circumstances.
Now, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists, if we move on to them, both want to do, as we know, revoke Article 50, and exist within the EU under the current arrangements. The Liberal Democrats also offered a relatively conventional perspective in relation to Britain’s foreign and defense policy, committing to uphold the 2% of GDP on defense and committing to renew Britain’s nuclear weapons system. The only difference they had with the other parties was that they wished to get rid of Britain’s Continuous At Sea Deterrent and move to something that would cost less money, but arguably be much less effective. And of course, the SNP wanted to relinquish Britain’s nuclear capabilities all together, even if they have in the past made noises that they wish to remain in NATO. I’m not really sure how they square that circle, but no matter.
So, what does this election mean in terms of foreign policy? Well, had things been different, had the electoral equations gone differently, it would have thrown up all sorts of interesting possibilities and I outline those in Vilnius last week, to an interested crowd of people in Lithuania, who were wondering exactly what this election would mean. Now alas, to some extent, history has been written, and I can’t really go into it because they don’t really matter anymore, but I think that had the Conservatives not got a majority, had it been a hung parliament, this could have offered lots of possibilities for interesting arrangements. Had some form of agreement been required with some other party or had the Labour party gained the largest share of the vote but not the majority in parliament, that also could have opened up all sorts of interesting possibilities of alliance with different parties that could have led in fundamentally different directions. But the Conservatives won and they won with a very large majority, as we know. This has left the Labour party in a very broken situation and particularly I would say in terms of defense and foreign policy. The “compensationist” drive that was promoted by Jeremy Corbyn and those around has been at least for the time being been defeated. In fact, it has probably been shattered. The Liberal Democrats are a broken force, at least for the time being, in British politics. So, where does this leave us? Well, I think this leaves us in an interesting situation because we are going to leave the European Union, that seems increasingly apparent and we will seek to implement new arrangements by 2021. I think this means that the UK will be committed or remain committed as it has always been, and perhaps it will become even more committed interestingly, to the defense of Europe even as it leaves the EU. It will simply seek to compensate for its withdrawal by doubling down in the context of NATO. And I think there will be a number of other opportunities afforded to the UK that it will seek to pursue, in terms of new multilateral agreements between European countries and new bilateral arrangements, particularly with France as Vernon mentioned but also, I think with Poland, and the countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltic region in the years ahead. And I would say that there is a possibility for a new form of arrangement there with those countries within a native context as well. Now, more broadly it seems, it has been reported the Boris Johnson is committed to the widest and deepest national defense and foreign policy review since the end of the Cold War, and this is due to take place over the next year. This will draw on foreign policy as well as security and defense policy; previous reviews have only tended to focus on the latter two, this one will draw also on foreign policy and will be a much broader and more comprehensive review. Early reports are suggesting that the government is going to be quite bold. That it might event take radical moves, relating to the rearrangement of governmental departments, those that are responsible for delivering foreign or external policy. And also, a degree of integration and merging of departments, already rumored as being the merging of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, or rather the consumption of DFID into the Foreign Office to provide greater strategic direction over Britain’s aid policy, worth some 14 billion pounds per year. I think more broadly that we are going to see attempts to rekindle relations and enhance relations with the U.S., both in terms of trade policy but more broadly in relation to foreign and defense policy, as the UK is pulled by the U.S. into supporting its broader agenda in relation to the rise and even containment of China in the coming years. And I also think it’s quite possible that we’ll see a renewed attempt at rekindling relations with the so-called CANZUK countries, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, but also potentially countries such as Japan, South Korea, and India, in the context of the changing dynamics of the Indo-Pacific zone.
Two issues that will be quite thorny: How will we deal with Russia in the years ahead. I am not sure that we will see much change here in relation to the current situation. It has been a Conservative policy to implement a more robust relationship with Russia. But the issue that is on the table and that I think will require more consideration and will be considered is the relationship with China, because there is a disconnect between the economic and strategic components. Over recent years, the UK has favored closer economic ties with China but it seems increasingly clear that China’s character under the current regime there means that the country is becoming a revisionist state and this will lead to a number of implications that the UK needs to think a lot more about. So, the whole of the future of Britain’s foreign policy is at stake. And one thing I think that will have a key determining factor here is the Union itself, not the European Union that of course to some extent is being decided, but the British Union. And here there has been much discussion of what the future holds for the Union. Will Scotland remain part of it or will it seek to separate? What will happen to Northern Ireland? And where will this leave the remainder of the UK should the UK break up? Well, I think that to some extent it will lead to some internal instability but the broader parameters are that England as the center of the Union will remain a major power irrespective of what the future holds in terms of the Union itself. It’s got a growing population, a growing economy still, and I think personally that the Union will hold. But the next couple of years will be critical in determining the extent that that continues to be true. But one thing to remember, and these are my closing remarks, is that this government has a large majority under a prime minister that wants to I think assert British power. So, the extent that Britain is back as a world power or even a European power has yet to be considered. Thank you.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you, James. Okay we’ll now be opening the floor for the Q&A session. We’ll be receiving questions in blocks of three. I would kindly ask that when asking questions, you would keep them as concise as possible and if you could kindly mention your name and formal affiliation before asking your question.
Jim Park (Thames Water): I remember four years ago there was a lot of articles written about how the Labour party under Corbyn was consuming Green Party members, liberal, metropolitan types. Can the Labour party now reverse this and basically ditch the woke metropolitan brigade and do they even want to?
Questioner: Do you think we are becoming divided between, let’s say liberal and metropolitan types and minority groups, and the rest of the country who either supports a Conservative party or supports a Conservative party as a part or votes for them because they are afraid of what Corbyn will do to their bank balances?
Dr Rakib Ehsan: All questions Labour related. To what extent can the dominance of what some people would say the ultra-woke brigade be confronted in the Labour party? How optimistic are you over that?
Rowenna Davis: So, let me challenge slightly the premise of the question. I think, especially given the demographic time bomb, that we heard about earlier from Sir John Curtice, there is a need to appeal to younger people and there is a need fundamentally to deal with the climate change issue. And I think the party that manages to do that credibly, with trust, has a real opportunity to gain. The challenge which you rightly say, how can that change, that shift, be something other than you know a small group of extinction rebellion activists, of which I am one? And how can it be made to be a broader appeal about kind of a national project? You know, something that we can actually become a part of. And I think Labour was figuring that out in the last election. We heard a lot about the Green New Deal, but it was kind of tacked on as bullet point six, after everything else, and it was kind of too much. But I think there is a sense that if you want to rejuvenate working-class heartland, that a shift of green industry may be a reason to invest and may provide jobs, as well as an important shift in our economy towards more sustainable means. So, I think we must make that shift but we must also bring people with us. That’s the answer to that one. On the question about Croydon, thank you very much, sir. There are multiple Croydons, there definitely are. So, Croydon North is basically, you’re looking at Thornton Heath, and what’s happened with the North of Croydon is that you’ve had a creeping London effect. And Croydon North and increasingly Croydon Central are now part of a kind of London demographic which almost automatically votes Labour. Croydon South remains the kind of old-fashioned, outer suburbs demographic, which continually votes Tory and is much more representative of the rest of the country outside there as well.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: So, professor I would like to sort of tie-up the sum of the questions that we heard there. Now, we saw the Conservative breach traditional Labour-voting territory. The Labour party suffered a right nightmare in County Durham for example. If the Conservatives have ambitions in terms of embedding this new-found support you could say, what are the main policies they should look to implement?
Professor Sir John Curtice: Well, as I said in my talk, I think the main thing they need to do are to implement a very radical skills policy, emphasizing vocational education, as Rowena has suggested, and also welfare policy, to tide over those who are suffering from the effects of economic and industrial change. It is no good doing what Boris Johnson advocated in the manifesto in a way, putting more money into failed industries, that was tried in the 70s, doesn’t work. Policies will only work if they go with the stream of economic change, not try and hold back the tide. On the question of social democracy, if I can say anything about that, it seems to me that the whole history of socialism shows, the only form in which it works is that form you’ve got in the Scandinavian countries. Otherwise you get a horrible dictatorship or a dreadful economic mess, of the kind you’ve got in Venezuela. Now, what you have in Scandinavia is roughly Tony Blair’s New Labour and very hard things are said about Tony Blair and the Labour party. There are some who will never forgive him for winning three elections and he said, his last conference speech, the one thing he didn’t like was losing elections. And Blair made clear after twelve years of opposition, in 1994, that Labour had changed when he got rid of Clause 4, that was a clearly symbolic thing that he did. And he wasn’t doing it for the reasons Neil Kinnock for modernizing the Labour party, that it was electorally profitable, but because it was the right policy to adopt. If Labour is going to avoid another huge period of opposition, they are going to need radical change very rapidly, and their position now is worse than it was in 1983, not for electoral reasons but for moral reasons. That it’s got a nasty tail attached to it. Well, more than a tail really. Of anti-Semitism and support for terrorism. And people in my profession and professionals have lost their moral compass and the new Labour leader has to restore all that. Labour is in a very, very deep crisis I think. Unless it adopts far more radical measures than any of the candidates present for leadership, who are compromised by their support for Corbyn, it won’t get anywhere. The best Labour leader now would be someone like Chuka Umunna who had the integrity to say I’m not putting up with this anymore. He left the Labour party and lost his seat, which is the problem.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: If I may just add onto that, so you think that a politician like Chuka Umunna is the one to win back the Brexit-voting, the industrialized provinces?
Professor Sir John Curtice: Well, I think Chuka Umunna is a decent man of integrity who would appeal on rational grounds to voters on a whole range of policies, which is what the Labour party needs. But they have lost that opportunity now and I think everyone there is compromised by the Corbyn leadership. Some of the professional shave lost their moral compass, the working class haven’t. They don’t like anti-Semitism even if they don’t know any Jewish people, they realize it is very nasty. They don’t like support for terrorism and the IRA. It is no good to say we need to build on Corbynism, that needs to be utterly repudiated. And that would begin the process of change which would end with another Tony Blair, bringing the Labour party more in line with the Scandinavian social-democratic parties. I think it won’t happen.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: Thank you professor. James, do you think one of the problems that the Labour party had in this general election was that it provided the image of being fundamentally anti-British?
James Rogers: Yes. I think something that was said earlier about nationalism. We have been living under a period in the last 20-30 years where nationalism was seen to be an inherently bad thing and we’ve moved towards a situation across both parties, both in Tony Blair’s Labour party and in the coalition government in the first part of this decade and then in David Cameron’s Conservative party, which moved away from the idea that patriotism or even nationalism could be destabilizing forces. And I think the people of this country have grown increasingly tired of the idea that Britain in some ways is inherently or uniquely problematic or it has a very negative role, or has played a very negative role in the world. And I think they can see through those kinds of arguments. Now, there has not been an active projection of Britain’s role in the world for some time and I think Jeremy Corbyn had a very different vision in that respect. It was a very negative view that Britain was responsible for almost all the world’s problems and any enemy of the UK was seen to be to some extent a friend. And I think that the people that would normally vote for Labour simply said no, we don’t accept this, and we want to see something different. And therefore, the result is what it is.
Rowenna Davis: I just really wanted to say that if we fall into this trap that thinking that the pendulum can only go between Corbyn 70s and a New Labour Blairite position, we are going to keep losing. Tony Blair himself would have said that you can’t have the politics of the past to have dealt with the 1990s, so it’s fundamentally ironic to say that okay we should go back to Blair now, because he would never have said that that politics would have necessarily fit all times. And I think that one model that is personally, from my perspective, interesting to me is the German economic model, where you have genuine regional investment, proper vocation, worker representation on boards, and it doesn’t just rely on a top-heavy, overly-centralized state, or a massive free market economy. To go back to Blair, or anything like that, or Chuka who follows in his footsteps a lot of the time, would be a profound mistake not least because the financial crisis you talked about in 2008 was in part precipitated by a New Labour government that did not regulate the city enough. And I think to go back there would just be to repeat the same mistakes. We need something different.
Professor Sir John Curtice: Of course, that’s right, Blair would not go back to the 1990s now. The essence of social democracy is revisionism, that you adapt yourself to new circumstances. And that’s the basis for the success of the Swedes and the Norwegians and to some extent the Germans, perhaps until recently. So, of course, you can’t go back to a model of the past, but you must empirical, open, and adaptable. I don’t think anyone would argue that or should argue with that.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: I agree a lot with how Labour should go in terms of economic policy, that they should pursue regional investment, for too long they’ve had almost an obsession with university education, and they’ve talked very little about vocational education. But the one thing I’d say is that in those traditional heartlands, there is a fundamental cultural disconnect and I think that going forward the Labour party should adopt a more mature and sensible approach when engaging with the more culturally Conservative instincts on issues such as immigration, crime, and national security. So, if we could just take a few more questions please.
Questioner: I think what you’ve said about vocational training is so very relevant and I think the British working class felt very disconnected from the academic approach of Labour and also a distaste that was totally underestimated for antisemitism. They thought they were on a popular wicket with antizionism, but most people in this country do not think about antizionism, they think about antisemitism. Particularly even in the blue-collar people in the north, they know their history and what happened in Nazi Germany and they’re not inclined to adopt those kinds of attitudes. And I think it’s not so much about policies and in the end, it’s an acute distaste. And I think that Labour totally underestimated that particular sector of Marxists, if you like, and they thought the Jews were all capitalists and this, that, and the other. That kind of theology got such distaste, and I must say as a member of the Jewish community, to find that the working class had that distaste and in a way swallowed the pill and voted Conservative against probably their family and own traditions.
Questioner: What are the prospects for constitutional reform? Given the primacy of the party to Marxist mindset, what are the prospects of the Labour party actually changing?
Dr Rakib Ehsan: How damaging was it that the Labour party was going into this general election while it was under EHRC investigation for institutional anti-Semitism?
Rowenna Davis: I think we had some serious issues with anti-Semitism. They are real concerns that can’t be dismissed and we handled them so badly. It’s a source of deep shame and regret, not just to me but to an awful lot of Labour members to see that happen. I think a lot of people thought that you can’t just put anti-Semitism as part of the cost-benefit analysis of whether you are going to vote Labour or not. Oh, they are going to do good things on the economy but they’re anti-Semitic. You know it was just a red line for a lot of people. They just couldn’t vote for us because of that. And I think that is a deep source of sadness for a party that has such a good record on antiracists of antiracism. And all I can say is, the thing that gives me hope and the thing that allowed me to vote Labour was that there were so many members who thought the same, who believe that this party can be changed, and that we can have a proper independent complaints process outside of any party interference. So that’s all I can say really about that. In terms of the ability to change, I just want to slightly have a look at the idea about change. I don’t think our party should become less ambitious. Some people I think would feel that Labour changing is becoming moderate, but the problems of our time does require massive change, and perhaps we all agree on that in this room perhaps in terms of the shift in regional investment, education, to name but a few, and the anti-Semitism issue. But in terms of changing to be more in line with the voters, I am optimistic. Personally, I really admire Lisa Nandy, the MP for Wigan, who I think speaks a lot of common sense, who I think speaks honestly about the problems we had and owns them responsibly and respectfully. And also, I think that if could just point to more empirical evidence, if you look at the reselection of MPs, a lot of them faced trigger ballots just before the election and a lot of people thought that there would be a lot of deselections up and down the country of MPs who have served their country and their constituencies well. But actually, in those ballots, again and again, you found that the MPs who did a good job just won. They’ve just won those votes. Because there are a minority of Labour voters who may be vocal and antithetical to our kind of politics, but I don’t think they’re in the majority actually. And I think that if you do a good job, and you work hard for your constituents, and you stick by those values, then you can survive, and you can adapt, and you can change.
Vernon Bogdanor: I agree with what the gentleman said about anti-Semitism. I think that if you ask a lot of the British people, who are non-political, about Zionism, they wouldn’t know what a Zionist was. And I think that if you told them that Grant Shapps and Margaret Hodge were Jewish, they would say what on earth is the relevance of that. I think also significant was the seeming support for the IRA by the Labour leadership. Arlene Foster’s school bus was bombed and Nigel Dodds was visiting his baby who was in an incubator when the hospital was bombed by the IRA. These are the people that Corbyn invited to the House of Commons and John McDonnell said should be honored because they were fighting for peace. I mean, people have long memories about that sort of thing, particularly perhaps in working-class areas. So, I think that did a lot of damage. Now the question about the constitution, I mean the British people aren’t as a whole interested in procedures, they are interested in substance. Sadly, for the sale of my books they are not interested in constitution much. There is the obvious pressure of constitutional reform beyond devolution. I think Scotland does not need more powers. They are not using the powers effectively that they’ve got. And they use rather badly, I mean health and education outcomes are much worse in Scotland than in England, because they haven’t adopted what you might call Blairite policies in Scotland or Michael Gove policies on education which have proved successful. I think it’s important to extend English devolution which would revive local partridges in many of the areas that feel remote from London. Particularly, extend the model of integration of health and social care which you have in Greater Manchester, which I think could lead to real improvements in health outcomes. There is a rather worrying euphemism in the Tory manifesto about rebalancing the relationship between parliament and the judiciary. I think the Conservatives would do well to leave the judges alone. And indeed, we face a right deficit when we leave the European Union, because we are no longer bound by the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Now the other 27 members are still bound by that Charter, so you have to ask the question of whether our own MPs are so much more sensitive to the protection of human rights than the MPs of the other 27 countries. And I leave the answer of that question to you.
James Rogers: I won’t take up the issue of constitutional reform, as such. But I do think we need to do something in the next few years to address the issue of national cohesion. I think Vernon said earlier something about George Orwell. He says something in the same pamphlet along the lines of people in the intelligentsia tend to think that stealing from a poor box is better than singing god save the king or the queen. And I think we do have to overcome that kind of mentality because I think it was very apparent, and it has been very apparent over the last 2-3 years, it has been brought out by the outcome of the referendum in 2016 and more broadly within the Corbynist agenda. I think it’s critical that we provide a positive narrative about our country and about our broader Union, in the context of keeping the whole edifice together. You can simply tell a group of people that if you leave terrible things will happen to you. I think you also have to provide a very positive message to say why it is very good to stay together and what we can achieve with one another in an increasingly turbulent and unpredictable world.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: If I could just make some quick comments myself. To the gentlemen who was a former Labour party member who talked about anti-Semitism, I’d also consider myself to be a traditional Labour voter. But ultimately, being a British Muslim man, a member of a British minority, I simply could not bring myself to vote for a party which is currently under investigation for allegations of anti-Semitism. I just could not do it. I think I’m no foreign policy expert, I’m much more focused on the domestic. But if you could adopt a definite position on Kashmir but you can’t on Brexit, that is going to be a problem in the UK general election.
Questioner: Scotland has got now a very strong party. If they leave, will they be accepted by the European Union because the European Union is fighting against people like Catalonia, trying to stop countries separating? So, will that not be a little bit of a break on the whole Scottish independence situation?
Questioner: [Inaudible]. How much of the election was a “leave me alone” election?
Questioner: Given that Conservatives now have a big majority, given that their electoral coalition now compromises the working-class communities that used to be represented by Labour, and given all that we know now about the impact of Brexit and the short time we have to negotiate the trade deal, what do you think the impact will be on the Conservative party if they fail to deliver the outcomes that people have come to expect as a result of their promises?
Rowenna Davis: On the question about have we considered whether everyone just wants to be left alone, I actually disagree there. I think there was something in the slogan, “take back control,” that was about saying that this isn’t necessarily about the government running my life, this isn’t about Brussels running my life, this is about me wanting to exercise autonomy in the community in which I live, in the community in which I work. I am tired of things having done to me, I would like to be an active part of the process. And actually, I think, I would really like to see certainly my party ways to ask for more in terms of contribution, that ask us to come together, that give people a sense of mission, a sense of purpose, a sense of pride in their place, in their country, in their society. And to feel like they’re not just add-ons, or just people who are there to be given handouts, but are actually leaders in their own lives, in their own communities, and they are actually shaping that. And I think a real challenge for us is to provide the space for people to do that.
I, like you, was a Remain voter who accepts Leave and I am concerned and worried about the economic costs that will be paid in no small part and in highest price by people who are the most vulnerable. I do however think that people voted clearly and understood that there will be an economic consequence for them. I was really struck by Nigel Farage actually who stood up and said there may be a cost to Brexit but we are going to do it anyway. And that I think speaks to the idea that we are more than economic beings. We have a sense of right and wrong, and of our own virtue and our own moral place in the universe. And people are prepared to pay an economic cost for that. And I think, as I’ve said before, I’d like to see Labour tap into or understand or engage in that side of people’s humanity and not just the economic side.
Professor Sir John Curtice: The first question was on Scotland. And I think you’re right, sir, that the EU would not be happy with Scottish separation, but nevertheless they couldn’t refuse Scotland membership because it would be a well-ordered liberal democracy. But the point is I think that the harder the Brexit, the more unpractical Scottish independence is, because it would mean a border between Scotland and England, Scotland cut off from her main market, rejoining the EU she would lose Margaret Thatcher’s rebate, she may be required to join the Euro, which would get her budget deficit down from 7% to 3% — that would make George Osborne look like Santa Clause. So, I think you couldn’t stop Scotland joining the EU, an independent Scotland. It’s fair to say that the SNP in the 1975 referendum were the only party in Scotland to think that Britain should leave the European Union. They changed their view perhaps when the English changed their view the other way. I think on the people being left alone, I think there is a lot of worry about public services, particularly health services. I agree with what Rowenna said on that entirely. On the other point about Brexit, the main part about Brexit is the betrayal narrative that is likely to come about. The land of milk and honey that some people will flow from Brexit will not come about and the argument will then be that it would have done if there hadn’t been betrayal by the elites, the civil servants, the experts, businesspeople, finances, whatever, choose whoever you like. I think that will not benefit the Labour party, it will benefit Nigel Farage and the extreme right. That does worry me a lot about Brexit. The difficulties will be blamed upon resistance by the civil servants to a genuine, true Brexit.
James Rogers: If the UK leaves the EU and Scotland then became independent, it would then need to become independent and then reapply for EU membership, and that could take some time. It would require a hard border between England and Scotland, a land border, and it would be very difficult. So perhaps if we favor the continuity of the United Kingdom, we should favor the hardest possible Brexit to try and deliver that eventuality. I would just say one other thing because I think that this is something that is really important, it’s often been overlooked, and to some extent the issue is now solved, but the idea that remaining inside the EU is a stable option. I don’t think that that’s necessarily the case. Because if you think about, the one constant thing over the last 70, 100, 200 years has been geopolitical change in Europe, on the European mainland. And I don’t think the current situation is going to last forever and it pains me to say that. I lived is Estonia for a long time, before I came back to the UK, and I can tell you that they are acutely aware of the strategic situation in that part of the world.
Questioner: [Inaudible]. How long do you think Boris is going to be able to resist a referendum for the Scots?
Questioner: I’m deeply concerned about the youth vote. We saw young people, especially young women, voting Labour in huge proportions. I’m wondering, is this something new? Is this more than in previous generations? What do you think is driving this? I’m not sure you can answer the women factor, but for youth.
Vernon Bogdanor: Yes, well I think that if the SNP won a large majority in the 2021 Scottish parliament elections, it would be difficult to continue refusing a referendum. I think that is the key moment. There is no point in having a referendum until our final relationship with the EU is determined, because that would obviously include Scotland. The young have always voted more left and they have voted in far smaller numbers. Young women in smaller numbers than young men. I remember, a strange episode happened to me, makes me unique in the academic world I think. In the 2005 election, only 37% of 18-24-year-olds voted, 39% of men and 33% of women. And I was run up shortly after that by the editor of Cosmopolitan, which I don’t think has happened to many academics, and I thought they wanted my photograph on the front page but they didn’t. They asked me what we could do to get young women more interested in politics and I said interviews with the three party leaders on matters of interest. They did that and it made no interest. But I used to say to my students that an old person’s vote was worth four times their vote because there was twice as many of them and twice as likely to vote, which is almost true. So, this pattern hasn’t actually changed much.
Rowenna Davis: I think we should ask young people, I’m sure there are a whole multitude of reasons. I know as a teacher in a classroom you would get a thousand different answers to that if I ask each kid. But just a couple of reflections that it seems to me that the children of 2008, children growing up and voting in that era, have this profound sense that for the first time in a number of generations that we’ve peaked in terms of our family’s progress. Each generation seems to go, I went on to university, I go a higher paying change, I managed to get my own house. This generation that’s growing up, I don’t think that necessarily feels the same for them, they don’t have those advantages. What they have instead is a growing up with climate change on the curriculum, a sense that the earth is in peril and that they will be the ones dealing with the consequences, and that economics are not going their way either. And I think that’s infuriating a lot of young people and are motivating them to vote. This if the first time a generation is growing up with climate change in the curriculum, and you’re teaching facts, the reality of the climate science, and the reality of the economic deprivation that young people are faced, I think it’s difficult to argue with in comparison to previous generations.
James Rogers: If I were Boris Johnson or the Conservative party, and I think if I were even of your wing of the Labour party, I would want to ensure those people that would rather steal from the poor box rather than stand to attention when they hear god the save the queen, are actually not in the ascendancy within our national institutions, the university, the media, the civil service, etc. etc. Because I think the Conservatives and what I would call the mainstream within the Labour party have not paid sufficient attention to that. The degree of political warfare that has been going on in our country between opposed perspectives.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: The point on young voters, so young voters were over on the Labour voting. Well, particularly, the older scale of society was far more likely to vote Conservative. One thing that worries me about the Labour party reaction was I’ve seen pro-Labour academics operating within our universities as well as some Labour party councilors, taking some sort of comfort in the fact that Tory voters are older. At least their voters are dying off quicker are some of the things that I’ve seen. Now for a major political party in any major liberal democracy, for those sorts of messages to be coming out, is quite shocking really. They’re talking about voters who have contributed to their local communities decade after decade, they’ve paid into the system decade after decade. This is another problem that the Labour party has. I would like to see a Labour party which is patriotic, that they could not even make those sorts of comments about fellow citizens, and they are fellow citizens, which is family oriented, I think I saw that in certain elements of the Remain movement with death counters for Brexit voters. I think that it speaks to almost a fundamental disrespect towards the elderly which very much exists in more leftist political movements. So, I think that this idea that a party after suffering an election result like this would take a comfort in the fact that the voters of the other party were a lot older, dying off quicker, I think it says a lot about the culture within the Labour party to be perfectly honest.
Questioner: I’d like to address this to Rowena. I understand you are extremely keen, which I’m sure most of us here are, on climate change. I would like you to understand that your party lost an election, the greatest defeat since 1934. Do you understand why? Why are you blaming it on people who don’t understand or young Labour voters who do not get educated at school? You lost. You died. You’re a Marxist group of people. The question is do you believe that you have four years to reinvent your party, because obviously in five years there will be a general election, to become electable to the wider audience?
Dr Rakib Ehsan: Rowenna, can Labour adopt a genuinely mature approach to understanding why they’ve suffered this election defeat and can they get ready for the next general election?
Rowenna Davis: If I may just come back on the point briefly about the elderly, because when you were speaking it sounded like that was an institutional thing, across the entire Labour party. And I know that there are so many campaigners within Labour and on the left who spend their lives dedicated to pushing for social care, and for the integration of the health and social care that we’ve been talking about, and who are really passionate about it and get up and vote partly because of pension. So, I think that to dismiss that as something as part of the entire left is wrong and unfair. In terms of whether we’ve learnt, so I spent quite a lot of time especially after I lost in 2015 saying that we should not dismiss the electorate as needy, greedy, or racist, and if we do that we do so at our peril. And I said earlier on in our speech, that we all have to understand that it is not the electorate that has to change, it is us that has to think about ourselves and I hope that came across in what I was saying earlier. That said, just as it is not helpful to start by insulting the electorate that you wish to seek support from, it is also not helpful to insult the Labour members who have worked so hard and care so passionately about what they believe in. And I think that we will have to listen to both sides and not abandon an ambitious politics, but think carefully about what that might be next.
Professor Sir John Curtice: The comment on Gibraltar does actually raise a wider issue, because any trade agreement with the European Union is likely to require not only the agreement of the European Council and parliament, but also ratification by every national parliament and some regional parliaments. And people may remember the Canadian trade agreement was held up by the Walloon parliament, which had some objection to it, I can’t remember what it was now. Now the Spanish parliament could easily say, look, we are not going to ratify this agreement unless Britain makes some sort of compromise on Gibraltar. So, it does raise some serious issues I think.
James Rogers: I agree, it would certainly open up an interesting situation. But the UK also has some cards that it could play. It might need to get quite messy or dirty to do that but it could certainly try. So, I think we should certainly signal to our allies, some of them certainly spending significantly less on their defense and their contributions to NATO than they otherwise should do, that this is not a viable situation, and there is a lot more at stake here than whether or not Britain or Gibraltar remain part of the European Union.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: I think that in looking at the Labour party, I think that there were actually some economic policies that commanded a decent level of public support. I think that the Labour party, where they really struggled, and I made this point before, is that they struggled on the more cultural issues. So, when it came to controlling immigration, what was their approach to crime, particularly sentencing for criminals, matters of national security. I think on these issues, Labour were not trusted by much of the British public. And I think they just need to be really honest about that. I have heard some Labour MPs such as Richard Burgon suggesting that some working-class voters were tricked by the right-wing xenophobic press into voting for other parties. To be quite honest, that is exactly the attitude of patronizing superiority which got them into this mess in the first place. So, I do think there is public support for sensible social democracy, well-funded public services, comprehensive public investment, regional investment into vocational education, but also adopting a mature approach to immigration. Perhaps a points-based immigration system which prioritizes English-language skills, for example, that would be part of that sort of immigration system. And the idea that Labour, when it comes to issues such as crime and national security, that they very much prioritize public safety and national security. I think there was a good number of British voters who felt that that wasn’t the case with this current Labour party.
Rowenna Davis: I think, looking at the numbers, in the next election we would need a landslide to get a majority of one from Labour now, because we are so far behind. We have to look at that scale of numbers in the face, we have to. That said, even Boris Johnson is aware that he is in number ten on the precarious support of those who haven’t voted Conservative before, who are economically feeling vulnerable, and who may be feeling even more so after the effects of Brexit. And if Boris does not step up and challenge some economic vested interests and invest in those regions as he has promised, you could see that precarious support I think very quickly coming back to Labour under a new leadership.
Dr Rakib Ehsan: On that note, I would like to thank everyone for braving the cold and attending the event. Thank you so much.