The Left’s Elusive Voters: The Anglo – American Case

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  • 3 September 2017

Anyone paying attention to the US Senate race in 2018 will know the Democrats have a huge problem on their hands; most seats up for reelection are not just held by Democrat incumbents, they are in states that Donald Trump carried by large margins.

Across the pond this summer, those paying attention (who are not die hard Jeremy Corbyn fans) can also point to why Labour lost; they didn’t talk to the middle classes or what I sentimentally refer to as ‘pub dads’.

In 2015, Labour suffered its worst loss since the 1980s, with one of the main reasons cited its failure to connect with working class voters. Many switched over to UKIP or the Conservatives feeling that Labour was no longer on their side.

The uncomfortable truth for Labour (and the Democrats) is at any given time, a third of working class voters are socially conservative. The kind who might put up an England flag for sports games and leave it there. They talk about values and think they are the only people who do any work. What’s more, is that that work is being exploited meanwhile those in the city are getting all the benefits. Even those who cannot afford to rent a tiny room in Hackney.

As horrible as it may seem, the so-called fly over states and postindustrial parts of Britain live lives that center around not very much at all. You will catch them in the pub or working men’s clubs of a weekend pouring their wages into a fruit machine and explaining why West Ham’s manager should be them and how they almost went professional. Labour doesn’t seem all that interested in such people. In the televised debates in Britain’s last election, two ‘pub dads’ asked Corbyn about nuclear weapons and immigration. All they needed to hear him say was yes, I feel your crazy, of course I would bomb the hell out of that country you cannot find on a map and wouldn’t let their refugees in afterwards. He couldn’t even do that.

But read Labour’s manifesto, and it offered nothing to the middle classes either. Whether Corbyn fans like it or not, Labour won’t win again without them. Seats in rural England mean more than those in Scotland and Wales. Another election may happen again soon and though Corbyn sits ahead in the polls, Labour wouldn’t win these votes back if this election were tomorrow.

The answer to getting and keeping such voters actually lies in Trump country. Red-state Democrats are all mindful of their tight Senate races, and their game plan is quite simple; this isn’t a national election, it is a local one. Joe Manchin of West Virginia (where Trump won by a 46% margin) is sticking to coal and guns. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota is a folksie prairie gal, Jon Tester of Montana has been taking steaks to DC whereas Claire McCaskill is, as a recent radio ad stated, “a daughter of rural Missourah.”

This is a different kind of identity politics that the DNC would rather not touch, yet their unenviable position in 2018 means it cannot but allow such candidates to distance themselves from the party; Obamacare and climate change won’t get them re-elected here.

The most ambitious race for the Democrats and certainly the one to watch would be Texas. The Democrats haven’t won a statewide election here since 1994. Who is the Democrat opponent to ultra conservative gun, oil and Jesus loving Ted Cruz? A three term liberal progressive congressional representative from El Paso who is presentable, charismatic and fluent in Spanish, named Beto O’Rourke.

What could a liberal running in deep red Texas possibly have to offer? In his own word, bi-partisanship. Working with Republicans across the aisle to get things done for Texas in Washington. He isn’t using a PAC, is getting no backing from the DNC and Texas Democrats are extremely unorganised. His answer is to do a Bernie Sanders; travel, listen, rally, raise money, repeat. He hasn’t specifically attacked Cruz yet either.

Cruz certainly cannot claim success in bi-partisanship and most of the GOP dislike him. His fellow Texas Senator, John Cornyn, won’t even endorse him. Cruz is also quite unpopular in Texas for a variety of reasons. While not a suicide mission, O’Rourke is certainly in an uphill battle, but one that should be taken seriously and one the left across the pond ought tolook into.

If Labour wants to get back middle class voters and pub dads, it too should localise elections more to suit the constituency. That means not being ashamed to fly the English flag occasionally or go to a farmer’s market for kale and cheese. Listening to constituents might be old fashioned, but it works better than any rhetoric could.

These constituents need to be beyond likely voters, as well. That’s why Red state Democrats aren’t pursuing a liberal message; they’ve already won those voters and that battle. As Missouri’s McCaskill told Politico, winning isn’t just travelling from St. Louis to Kansas City with stops in Columbia, nor is it solely talking to Fox News or MSNBC viewers; it means talking to Dancing with the Stars viewers.

People may not, in principle, be opposed to re-nationalisation, and raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. The problem is nobody wants to earn the minimum wage. What happens when truck drivers eventually lose their jobs to driverless vehicles? More to the point, Labour’s manifesto, however left wing it was, did not really talk about ‘kitchen table problems’.The left both sides of the Atlantic needs to be mindful of the future and those issues discussed at the kitchen table so that the majority feel included.

The message can be as ideologically pure as you like and the campaign extremely hard fought. If it fails to hit home, it makes no difference.

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