The Psychology of Labour’s Decline | Benjamin Sanders
Clement Attlee, an upper-middle-class Army Officer who changed his political views once he witnessed working-class deprivation, offered a very interesting observation about his own country. ‘We are deliberately putting a World Order before our loyalty to our own country’, he chided. It’s hard to imagine a Labour Party leader saying that today, let alone a Labour Prime Minister, as this quote is in stunning contrast to that of the modern centre-left. Even a mere mention of putting Britain’s interest first, perhaps even mentioning that Britain has an interest in the first place, would see Keir Starmer attacked by the left of his own Party, and probably by some of his own Shadow Cabinet as well.
Attlee’s mentality was incredibly flexible. Yes, he was indeed left-wing from an economic perspective, but on the other hand he refused to bow to aggressive foreign competitors, even if they themselves were economically left-wing like the Soviet Union. What’s more, he had a genuine suspicion of multinational institutions, despite throwing his weight behind the United Nations. He believed international entities could and should exist, but that they must never supplant the power of national governments. This is in stark contrast to today, where the modern Labour Party fails to criticise EU wrongdoing, even during a world crisis when Britain has ended its membership and has no need to defend it.
To cut a long story short, leftists of the past were more pragmatic than their contemporaries today and embraced a much wider spectrum of political beliefs. More importantly, they were mentally at ease with themselves whilst doing this, something which is not apparent in the Left of the 21st century.
This is not surprising though if you understand the reality that the modern Labour Party is dominated by individuals who value promotion within their own ideological circles more importantly than electoral victory. A study last year by the University of British Columbia found that those who virtue signal and regularly claim victimhood – traits which are very common on the Left – are more likely to, on the flipside, display narcissistic tendencies in daily life. In other words, virtue signalling and victimhood status are a means to an end for leftists who spout such platitudes, rather an expression of genuine feeling.
The question which has often been asked over the last 12 years – ‘Why do Labour never learn from their defeats?’ – can easily be answered when you realise their personalities favour ideological conformity within their own circles over voter outreach. After all, if you’re going to call Brexit voters stupid, as many Labour activists have, even when they make up the majority of your own constituents, then winning elections clearly isn’t your first priority. Virtue signalling and other related traits are not designed simply to court minority votes; instead, they are much more readily used to seek approval, status, and promotion within the ranks of the Labour Party and its associated social circles. This is why, despite being publicly mocked for such behaviour, they continue practising it in the long term anyway.
The more that victimhood and virtue signalling become inherent features of the Labour Party ethos, the more unlikeable people are attracted to join, and the more the Party will continue its decline. It is simply an unending road of internal navel gazing and a rather extraordinary dereliction of national duty – as all democracies need a strong opposition. Social class – in the form of liberal, middle-class metropolitanism – is a major factor in the consciousness of Labour operatives. When Labour frontbencher Khalid Mahmood resigned recently after the disastrous local election results, he criticised his own party as a ‘London-based Bourgeoisie’. This reality, admitted to by one of their own, is an incredibly strong force in the motivation and aspiration of the modern left – as social standing has been in many forms throughout history.
During the 2015 general election campaign, Labour leader Ed Miliband was interviewed in a rather small, drab-looking kitchen in his home, which many people subsequently ridiculed. That wasn’t the most surprising part of that saga though. The major element was that Jenni Russell, a journalist and a friend of his, felt the need to defend him on social media. She revealed that he had another kitchen upstairs as well and that the small kitchen downstairs was merely a ’functional kitchenette’.
The fact that she felt the need to defend Miliband’s social status, by explaining he had another, much better kitchen than the one featured in the interview spoke volumes. The Labour leader had clearly made a point of being filmed in that particular room to make it seem like he was just a ‘regular guy’ with one small kitchen. Yet this attempt at duplicity had been undone by a member of his own social circle. Despite the fact that pointing out he had a second kitchen would clearly damage his electability with the working classes, she felt the need to do it anyway to defend, presumably, his upper middle-class credentials.
Throwing your friend’s chances of becoming Prime Minister under the bus over the type and number of kitchens he has may seem absurd, but to people who value status within their own circles and wider society over everything else, such short-sightedness is common. It’s ironic that those who proclaim the working class as their voter base act in this way, yet this champagne socialist phenomenon was observed by Roger Scruton in France during the late 1960s. It is nothing new.
The modern British Right, alternatively, has managed to move in the opposite direction in recent years. Throwing off the image of the landed aristocracy it once represented and embodied so well, it has combined a libertarian economic outlook with working-class interests such as infrastructure projects in northern towns. Brexit of course is the glue that holds this alliance together – while a failure to act on mass immigration may in future break it – but I would suggest this demonstrates that the Right is currently more pragmatic than the Left, even if Conservative MPs are only doing it for votes.
The Labour Party’s refusal to shift politically on issues like Brexit (their attempts to pretend they’ve accepted the outcome fool no one), have essentially left them in a quagmire of their own making. The Right’s continued success in Britain will not just be based on delivering policies, but on its ability to be pragmatic in regards to the political spectrum. Psychologically speaking, its ability to be open-minded, and embrace causes not traditionally associated with it – like Margaret Thatcher’s policy of helping working-class people buy their first house – will be a key component to its future success. With the Labour Party remaining so ideologically and socially rigid, the ball is in the Conservative Party’s court.