Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn and media key reasons for Labour’s defeat in 2019 general election
December 12th has been and gone. It was a horrible rainy day, yet people stood en masse to have their say on the way our country should be run for the next 5 years with many polling stations reporting voters queuing down the street to get their ballots completed.
The results came as a surprise for many, with the Conservative Party winning a landslide majority and taking over a huge number of previous Labour strongholds with the “red wall” crumbling into blue. While many are quick to blame Corbyn or Brexit as the only reasons for Labour’s defeat, MPs Lucy Powell and Shabana Mahmood claim their “losses were about both and much, much more.” But why did Labour suffer so badly in the 2019 election?
Get Brexit Done
Obviously and undeniably, a lot of the results were focused around Brexit and the outcome the British public want to see in terms of a relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. While the Conservatives were clear on their message to “Get Brexit Done”, Labour took a more reserved approach in an attempt to keep both hard-core Brexiters and Remainers on board. Whilst this approach may have worked with more information and a stronger approach, it’s clear that the British public, for better or for worse, are sick of Brexit and sick of politicians focusing solely on the European Union to the exclusion of other pressing issues here at home.
Whilst some are arguing that in a way the 2019 General Election was partially the People’s Vote many have been campaigning for, with many of Labour’s losses coming from Leave-voting constituencies, is it fair to look at the situation as that black and white, or are there more issues at play?
With the shadow chancellor, John McDonnel, claiming this election was a “Brexit Election” as the exit polls were announced, it’s clear that the party’s and public’s views on Brexit were a huge part of the influences and decision making in this year’s General Election.
For the firmer Remainers out there, Corbyn’s policy to offer a full and detailed vote to the British public on any agreement made with the EU, including an option to remain, was an attractive compromise. Offering the chance to allow people to change their minds (both ways) based on facts and new information, a People’s Vote has been widely approved of by the public since the referendum results and it’s likely that a People’s Vote offered by Labour and Jeremy Corbyn would have been presented accurately and with the public having access to all relevant information to ensure informed decisions were able to be met.
The argument being offered by the “winners” of this election, however, is all based on Leave constituencies firmly voting for the harder line offered by the Conservatives to “Get Brexit Done.” Speaking to people on the street, it’s become incredibly clear that voters are fed up with Brexit and getting it over and done with is attractive to those on both sides of the fence at this point.
By trying to take a middle ground, Peter Kyle, Labour MP for Hove, suggested “we landed in the absurd position where Leavers thought we were a Remain party and Remainers thought we were a Leave party,” meaning Labour’s Brexit policies appeased few and alienated many.
Famously controversial, Corbyn has been a key issue raised by both voters and fellow MPs when it comes to looking at why Labour suffered the defeat they did, with MP for Edinburgh South, Ian Murray, damning Corbyn as a bigger reason for Labour’s failure to persuade voters than Brexit.
With claims of antisemitism and possible connections with the IRA being at the forefront of many now-Conservative voters’ minds, Corbyn’s lack of appeal and middle-ground policies clearly influenced the votes and not to his favour; whether or not the facts support the claims.
What’s more, the division within Labour itself may not have helped things. Rather than putting forward a united front, 100% behind their leader, many Labour MPs have been known to call out Corbyn and have been quick to blame him for any defeats their party suffers. Whilst the criticisms themselves are worth investigating, a bigger issue may lie in the lack of unity shown within the Labour party.
When MPs are arguing amongst themselves, how can the public believe in them to come together and fight for what’s right?
Corbyn himself has now spoken on some of the issues raised, stating he will take his “share of the responsibility” and will step down as Labour leader following a “process of reflection on this result and on the policies that the party will take going forward.” This could mean a major reshuffle of Labour leadership is on the cards, as shadow chancellor John McDonnel will also likely step down based on his strong support of Jeremy Corbyn over the years.
Fake news & social media
Another undeniable aspect during this election has been the use of media and social media to get messages across. Whilst having part of the election run in the online sphere isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the lack of restraints by companies such as Facebook and Twitter have enabled the spreading of ‘Fake News’ and claims which are unsubstantiated or even simply untrue.
While we are overloaded with information online and don’t always have the time to personally fact-check every claim, one Labour MP suggested the breading of fake news is permitted as “people have a sense that some of this stuff is probably wrong but they have no compass… They think there are gatekeepers but there aren’t…” causing voters to be influenced by a bombardment of propaganda without any way of validating the claims.
One hugely successful (depending on how you look at it) strategy wasn’t even used by the Conservatives in the campaign; the connection between Jeremy Corbyn and the IRA. This was so successful that many voters who don’t agree with the Conservatives policies at all have reported switching sides purely based on this, while the truth of the matter seems to be that he met them to discuss routes for peace; something which has received little to no publicity on the social media channels many depend on for their news. (Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Neil “I never met the IRA. I obviously did meet people from Sinn Fein… and I always made the point that there had to be a dialogue and a peace process.”)
Unfortunately, these days we’re not able to trust news channels to portray the truth, which opens up avenues for anyone to create a fake account and post incorrect or discrediting information.
Without a clear and unbiased source of information, fake news or misrepresentations of the truth are allowed to grow and influence the voting public’s opinions on politics, people, and so much more.
This came to an astonishing outcome in the recent general election, with the Conservatives creating a fake fact-checking account on Twitter a short while ago, and the Conservatives’ false Labour manifesto taking a higher paid position in Google ads than the genuine manifesto.
With these issues running riot and Labour arguably not putting up a strong enough fight to counter the inaccurate claims against them, is it any wonder some have been persuaded by the negative sides to the Labour party, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular?
It doesn’t help that Corbyn himself has generally been very diplomatic (or some may say evasive) when he’s been questioned on some of these claims – for example by not only condemning the IRA but condemning ALL guilty parties who bombed and killed – giving ammunition to those who would see him admonished.
What makes the social media problem even worse is Facebook’s recent change of their algorithms affecting who can see what content. While the Conservatives spent less on Facebook advertising overall than Labour, their consistent, short, snappy, targeted ads were well used to spread their message while Labour arguably over-spent on softer messages that simply didn’t get through to enough people.
In addition to the Conservatives adopting a much more fierce online campaign strategy, the algorithms used to get appropriate content out to users also influenced how the information and propaganda was shared, leaving Corbyn-supporters confused as they sit in their bubbles of left-wind ideologies whilst, unbeknown to them, their fact-checking and counter-arguments weren’t being shared with right-wing supporters or those who Facebook considered were leaning towards the Conservative way of thinking.
This left both sides with a skewed vision of the fight, with no one seeing the full picture. When you only receive information that suits your world opinion, or lots of information that says bad things about an individual without anything to counter it, it’s easy to see how opinions can be swayed and minds can be made up.
Looking to the Future
Looking to the future, the Labour party has a lot of questions to answer and will need to look deep within their party to find a way of reuniting themselves and to rekindle the love and passion so many voters feel they’ve lost.
With Corbyn stepping down as leader, Labour could be in for some huge changes and it will be vital for the party to nominate a replacement who can finally unite the party in a way that appeals to the masses for them to have any hope in a future general election.
In the meantime, for better or for worse, Boris Johnson and the rest of the newly elected MPs have now been sworn into parliament, with Johnson’s promise to “Get Brexit Done” likely to be under intense scrutiny as we come closer to the 31st January 2020 deadline.