Labour does have a problem with reaching people.
The party made a decision under Kinnock, Blair, Brown and even Miliband to move away from being the party of organised labour. A change that also contributed to the decline of organised labour itself. That has left the party at the mercy of the media to reach the working class voters it depends on.
The ‘dispossessed’ that voted Leave aren’t likely to be union members: there are just over seven million now, dropping from 13 million in the late ’70s. The rise of insecure work and the restrictions on union bargaining power have made it more crucial — but paradoxically less attractive — to working class people to join and organise in the workplace.
I have suspicions that the numbers of union members is propped up by — and skewed towards — the middle class. We have only lost a million members since Tony Blair became leader of Labour, but the composition of that number is likely to be more professional and public-service based than it was before.
Under the current leadership there have been moves to reconnect some of the unions with the party, but that’s going to take time.
From the best data we have 63% of Labour voters voted to Remain, only 1% more than voters for the SNP, and way more than the Tories. The number of Labour voters has been falling since 1997 — and it has become much more difficult to reach those drifting outside that base.
They they’re less likely that most to be heavy consumers or users of the sort of media that will offer a clear debate, less likely in fact to see the position of the Labour party on any question. We know that TV is the main medium through which poorer people get their news: and that offered precious little time for Labour to make the case for the right kind of EU.
That message had to compete in a post-truth environment, one with Farage giving plausible deniability to the official Tory campaign about the way it stoked fears about immigration. It may have been right, but it wasn’t heard widely — and it didn’t reach the people that it needed to. Labour can take some share of the blame, but no more than the SNP and certainly no more than the Tories.
It’s difficult to see how sharing a platform with the Remain Tories — who were pushing a free-market, market-based agenda that didn’t cut through to enough voters — would have done anything but destroy the credibility of the Labour opposition much as it did in Scotland. Labour, and particularly Jeremy Corbyn tried to have a reasoned debate on the merits of the EU: almost every other campaigner had their fingers in their ears while they ran around shouting.
Labour do have to reach people that stopped voting for the party over the last nearly twenty years — but why did they stop?
I don’t think the evidence of any subsequent election — and certainly not the EU referendum — is that they lost those by being not strong enough in their defence of the establishment status quo.