Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson (above), stated the obvious when he said that the party had a “mountain to climb” to prevent what he calls a “Margaret Thatcher-style” landslide. There are less than four weeks to go until what could be the most important General Election since 1945, but Labour are struggling to close the large gap in the opinion polls between the Labour and Conservative parties and are failing to make themselves electorally appealing in all demographics, including their traditional heartland of working-class voters. Mr Watson told The Guardian:
“I’ve run a lot of by-elections and elections in my time for the Labour party and I know what it is like. It is going be very, very difficult to turn the poll numbers around, but we are determined to do it,”
He reflected on the consequences of a Theresa May landslide, similar to those of 140 and 100 seats she achieved in the 1983 and 1987 General Elections:
“If we get to 8 June and [Theresa May] still commands the lead in the polls that she had at the start of the election, she will command a Margaret Thatcher-style majority. […]
“A Conservative government with a 100 majority … It will be very hard for them to be held to account in the House of Commons. It means there won’t be usual checks and balances of democracy … all those things go out the window.
“You end up with governance by Theresa May without much accountability – and I don’t think anybody wants that.”
Theresa May has been deliberately focusing on targeting working-class voters this week, making personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and calling his policies “economically disastrous socialist.” Mrs May has been focusing on the leadership question, playing up the view with many voters cannot envisage Jeremy Corbyn as a Prime Minister – even though many may support his policies. Tom Watson admitted that the leadership of the party was a concern for people when he was canvassing door-to-door in Wales:
“He does come up on the doorstep, Jeremy, but so did Ed Miliband, so did Gordon Brown, so did Tony Blair,”
Mr Watson was incredulous at the idea that Theresa May has represented, or if successful on 8 June will represent the working-class voter:
“[it is] the biggest myth perpetuated by London-based marketeers.
“We’ve got to show it is a myth.
“Labour are low in the polls in all categories – we’ve got a lot to do, we’ve got to convince people we are serious about government … We’ve got to try.”
Speaking in Tyne & Wear yesterday – a traditionally Labour heartland – Mrs May said:
“Proud and patriotic working-class people in towns and cities across Britain have not deserted the Labour Party – Jeremy Corbyn has deserted them […]
“We respect that parents and grandparents taught their children and grandchildren that Labour was a party that shared their values and stood up for their community.
“But across the country today, traditional Labour supporters are increasingly looking at what Jeremy Corbyn believes in and are appalled.”
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, however later today tried to play down Mr Watson’s warnings of a possible Tory landslide. He said that senior Labour figures were “not at all” admitting defeat and that they were working “flat out to get Labour MPs elected.” Speaking at James Paget University near Great Yarmouth he elaborated:
“I’m out here around the whole country, the party is out around the whole country, putting out a message that we’re a party for the many not the few, we will invest in our NHS, our education system, we will protect our pensions and pensioners and we will ensure that there is an expanding economy that works for all. […]
“I’ve been talking to my deputy leader this morning, we have been talking about the attacks on the NHS, about the cyber-attack, and about our policies to support art and culture which is of course within his brief.
“We are both working absolutely flat out to get Labour MPs elected on 8 June.”
Meanwhile former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke of how the Tories will increase poverty to levels even beyond those during the terms of Margaret Thatcher. Speaking in Kirkcaldy, Fife, he said voters were caught between two “extremes” and said that social justice should be the key element of the election. He didn’t mention Jeremy Corbyn once during his speech. He quoted a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) which suggests that 15.7 million people will be in poverty in the UK by 2022 if current policies continue. Brown was clearly appalled by the prospect:
“That is more poverty than even under Mrs Thatcher. Mrs May’s Britain will have more poverty and inequality than even the poverty we saw in the Thatcher-Major years.
“She says she wants to unite the country, she will create a country that is more divided economically and more socially polarised than at any time in our history in the last 50 years.”
Jeremy Corbyn talks of a “Minister For Peace” and his policy on nuclear weapons
One dilemma Jeremy Corbyn faces is reconciling his long-held opposition to nuclear weapons with the reality of being a potential Prime Minister and seems determined to learn from the mistake of Michael Foot and his 1983 manifesto which called for unilateral nuclear disarmament. That manifesto became known as “the longest suicide note in history,” and helped condemn the Labour Party to a landslide defeat as Margaret Thatcher secured her second term in office. The leaked draft manifesto pledges to maintain the country’s Trident missile system and, speaking in London, Mr Corbyn said that there would be “no first use” of nuclear weapons by a Labour Government, but they would do “everything necessary to protect the safety and security of our people and our country […] that is our first duty.” He also said that a Labour Government would “reshape” its relationships with our allies, including the United States, and that there would be “no holding hands” with Donald Trump – referring to Theresa May’s visit to Trump shortly after his inauguration at which she held the President’s hand.
Jeremy Corbyn also promised to create a Minister for Peace and insisted, against popular opinion, that he is “not a pacifist.” Mr Corbyn’s anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons beliefs do not mean he is a pacifist or unwilling to fight when the cause necessitates a military response. Mr Corbyn would perhaps be more considerate to whether a war was justified and necessary, which – in light of unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – would be very welcome in a British Prime Minister who are often too quick to attack nations without any real justification.
Mr Corbyn, who is a former chairman of the Stop the War Coalition and is a lifelong member of the Campaign of Nuclear Disarmament (CND), was speaking to the Chatham House international affairs think tank yesterday and said that he had campaigned for a more peaceful world throughout his life and, although he would do “everything necessary” to defend the country, the UK’s interests were best served by pursuing diplomatic and political avenues to end and prevent conflicts.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Tom Watson: Labour determined to stop ‘Thatcher-style’ Tory landslide | theguardian.com | 13 May 2017 | by Anushka Asthana, policial editor
- Labour’s policies more popular than Corbyn, polls show | theguardian.com | 13 May 2017 | by Josh Halliday, North of England correspondent
- General election 2017: Corbyn says task is to keep Britain safe | bbc.co.uk/news | 13 May 2017
- If Corbyn has ‘deserted’ the working class, what exactly have the Tories been doing for the past seven years? | independent.co.uk | 12 May 2017 | by Owen Kean
- Corbyn pledges ‘triple commitment’ to defence, development and diplomacy | theguardian.com | 12 May 2017 | by Heather Stewart
- Corbyn downplays Watson claim that Labour has ‘mountain to climb’ | theguardian.com | 12 May 2017 | Press Association