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Debate: Is Labour Unelectable?

Is Labour for the scrap heap or can it surge again?

‘We’ve lost the trust of working people.’ Those were the words of Labour leader Keir Starmer in early May, neatly summing up the reason his party lost the Hartlepool by-election as well as many of the local elections across the country. Labour MP Khalid Mahmood promptly quit the front bench, complaining that the party has been captured by ’a London-based bourgeoisie’. Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair joined in the chorus of despair, saying that the party is being ‘defined by the ”woke” Left’. Labour, it is clear, is now completely out of touch with its traditional voters – older, working-class people without degrees, who live in small towns and industrial heartlands and want to see a more robust defence of their country, its history and culture. They feel Boris Johnson and the Tories better understand their values and concerns. Without the support of these voters Labour can never win power again. 

That’s the argument of the Labour bashers but are they speaking too soon? The Conservative Party may be ahead in the polls, but they are still benefiting from the Brexit bounce and vaccination exhilaration, which will inevitably wane as the pandemic passes and economic realities start to bite. And let’s not forget that demographics are in Labour’s favour. Most 18 to 24-year-olds supported Labour in the last general election. Over time, this cohort of university-educated, progressively minded urban renters will expand. The Tories, whose main appeal is to property-owning, older voters have little to offer them. The task may not be easy, but if Labour can articulate a new ethical socialism that unites the traditional working-classes with the more idealistic young, it can surely win again. 

Is Labour for the scrap heap or can it surge again?


For the motion

Matthew Goodwin

Professor of Politics at the University of Kent and author of Values, Voice and Virtue: The New British Politics

Professor of Politics at the University of Kent and author of four books, including the Sunday Times bestseller National Populism. He appears regularly in print and broadcast media including The Sunday Times and the BBC. Goodwin has advised more than 200 organisations on political issues. His new book is Values, Voice and Virtue: The New British Politics.  

Ella Whelan

 Journalist, commentator and author

Journalist and author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism. Ella is the co-convenor of the Battle of Ideas festival and commissioning editor of Letters on Liberty, a radical pamphleteering campaign published by the Academy of Ideas to promote freedom and liberty in the 21st century.
Against the motion

Jess Phillips

Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley. She has been hailed by JK Rowling as ‘a heroine’, for her pronouncements in the House of Commons. She is the author of the books Everywoman: One Woman’s Truth About Speaking the Truth and Truth to Power: 7 Ways to Call Time on B.S.

Anand Menon

Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs, Director of the think tank 'The U.K. in a Changing Europe'

Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King's College London and director of The UK in a Changing Europe initiative. He was a special adviser to the House of Lords EU committee.

Lewis Goodall

Policy Editor at BBC Newsnight

Policy Editor at BBC Newsnight. He was previously political correspondent on Sky News and reported for Radio 4 and BBC World. He is the author of Left For Dead? The Strange Death and Rebirth of the Labour Party. 

Speakers subject to change.