What caused Labour’s election night collapse?

Labour became the first party to lose seats after nine years in opposition in over 100 years

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13: Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (L) speaks from the stage at Sobell leisure centre after retaining his parliamentary seat on December 13, 2019 in London, Engl
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn announces he will not lead the party into another general election
(Image credit: GETTY IMAGES)

A catastrophic night for Labour has seen the party record its worst election result since 1935.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced that he will not contest the next election as leader and has called for a “process of reflection” following the defeat.

What was behind the collapse?

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From the moment the unequivocal exit poll was released at 10pm, Labour supporters sought to blame Brexit for the collapse. The party’s messaging had not been clear enough when pitted against the pithy positivity of the Conservatives’ “get Brexit done.”

“This was the Brexit election,” said shadow chancellor John McDonnell in the immediate aftermath of the 10pm exit poll. “We hoped a wider range of issues would cut through and we’d have a debate, but that hasn’t happened.”

But Labour veteran Yvette Cooper said the result was about “more than the Brexit debate”.

“We’re no longer being seen as a party that stands up for towns, even though towns have been harder hit by austerity and changing economic patterns that the Conservatives haven’t dealt with,” she told the BBC.

Dozens of Labour MPs are lined up to condemn the party leadership and its failure to take a stance on Brexit, says The Telegraph.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ plan to transpose the Leave coalition from the Brexit referendum went exactly to plan.

Jeremy Corbyn

As news of heavy Labour losses emerged, the party’s MPs vented their frustrations with the leadership, directly blaming Corbyn for the poor showing.

“The Labour party cannot win if it doesn’t have a leader who commands the confidence and trust in the British public,” said Helen Goodman, ousted from her seat in traditionally-Labour Bishop Auckland. “Until we do have such a leader we’re not going to win. As long as we don’t, we’re letting down the very people we were set up to support.”

Labour MP Ruth Smeeth said Corbyn had made Labour “the racist party” because of his failure to tackle anti-Semitism, adding he “should have gone many months ago”.

Lucy Powell, the Labour MP for Manchester Central, said she wanted to see a “an objective, honest reflection” and if Corbyn “can begin that process in that way, then that’s okay with me”.

Andrew Adonis, a Labour peer and former cabinet minister under Gordon Brown, said: “We just had the second referendum - but it was a second referendum on Corbyn, not on Brexit, which is why we lost it.”

“The Labour vote fell in both leave and remain areas. In both, according to surveys, it was first because of Corbyn; second, Labour’s ludicrous everything-you-ever-wished-for manifesto; and only third Brexit, where the problem was more one of fudge than leave or remain,” he added on Twitter.

Speaking in a victory speech, Michael Gove said voters had comprehensively demonstrated their rejection of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, says The Guardian.

Tories raze the ‘Red Wall’

Bishop Auckland was one of many newly marginal seats that made up the “Red Wall” - constituencies that for decades have been comfortably Labour, but became the subject of a massive Conservative campaign push after they voted for Brexit.

Last night proved that the campaign was a resounding success. Bishop Auckland itself voted Conservative for the first time in its 134-year history, while Labour lost Tony Blair’s old constituency of Sedgefield, and the Teesside seats of Redcar, Darlington, and Stockton South, among others.

Beth Rigby, Sky News political editor, said the Red Wall had been “obliterated”.

“Tonight, what's clear is if there was any hope of turning this into a different kind of election from Labour, they have lost and they have lost definitively,” said Rigby. “That red wall is not wobbling, it's been obliterated.”

The Spectator’s Brendan O’Neill said the Red Wall results were “staggering”.

“Did the ‘red wall’ crumble because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership or because of Labour’s betrayal of Brexit? It is likely to have been a combination of both,” says O’Neill.

The Brexit Party

Bolsover’s 87-year-old Labour MP Dennis Skinner also lost his seat after holding it for 49 years.

The “Beast of Bolsover” had the ignominious honour of being the 326th seat to fall to the Conservatives - handing them their official majority.

Bolsover is one of a number of seats where the presence of the Brexit Party apparently reduced the Labour vote share, as voters who wanted Brexit but couldn’t bear to vote for the Conservatives then had somewhere to go.

The Brexit Party, which did not win any seats, chose not to stand candidates in any seats contested by Conservatives. “I killed the Liberal Democrats and I hurt the Labour Party,” boasted party leader Nigel Farage.

Shadow chancellor McDonnell said the “vote shift has been from Labour to the Brexit Party rather than the Tories” in the north.

The Remain split

In other seats, distrust between Remain parties precluded any form of “Remain alliance”, and the parties contested the same seats, splitting the vote.

The Labour party was hurt by the Lib Dems in seats such as Kensington, where Labour’s Emma Dent Coad lost narrowly to the Conservative Felicity Buchan, with the Liberal Democrat Sam Gyimah taking many of the Remain votes from his Labour rival.

All recent Labour defectors who left citing anti-Semitism or Brexit equivocation, including Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger, failed to win their seats, whether they stood for the Liberal Democrats, Change UK, or as independents.

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