Lessons for the Left from a Litany of Lost Elections

2 January 2020

5.3 MINS

First it was Brexit in 2016. A few months later it was Trump. In May this year, Australia was stunned to see Scott Morrison soar to victory.

And most recently, in a landslide result that stole the world’s attention, Boris Johnson turned Britain blue. Posting an 8% swing against rival Jeremy Corbyn, Boris handed the Tories their best victory since Margaret Thatcher, and Labour their worst hiding since 1935.

Despite every prediction to the contrary, conservative governments have been taking the world by storm for the better part of this decade. In places as diverse as Poland, India, Hungary and Brazil, centre-right parties are defying the polls and the chattering class to win one surprise election after the next.

On the other hand, centre-left parties are floundering. At the most recent ballot, those in Germany and Austria gained their lowest seat counts since World War Two. In France, Italy and the Netherlands, they won their lowest number of seats ever.

Local factors influence every election. But there is also an international pattern emerging. In western nations, parties on the left are making the same mistakes time and time again. There is a lot they can learn from this litany of lost elections—if they are willing to listen.

1. Check Your Privilege

Conservatives have been pointing out progressive media bias for decades. Of late it has grown so obvious that even progressives have by-and-large given up trying to deny it.

Progressive privilege is not just seen in the media. Academia is dominated by the left, as is Hollywood and the rest of the celebrity class. Corporations are now catching on too, in a tussle for who can be the wokest without going the brokest.

The bias against conservatives on social media platforms has grown so serious that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has had to answer for it in Congress. It’s so bad that in Twitter’s most recent terms of service, they just threw their hands up and finally admitted they shadowban views they disagree with.

In recent years, even electoral polls have earned a reputation for downplaying the conservative vote. Once-reliable tallies now get entire elections wrong as a matter of course, to the shock and consternation of left-leaning voters.

It’s one thing for progressives to check their privilege; it’s another for them to account and adjust for it in the lead-up to the next big vote.

Dominating the culture’s institutions surely feels powerful. But as the Church learned in a bygone era, managing this kind of privilege without turning the culture against you isn’t an easy task.

If this privilege is going to last for the left—and be leveraged at election time—it will require a lot more balance and humility than we’re seeing from the current crop of culture-makers.

2. Respect Your Voter Base

In western nations, centre-left parties were traditionally formed to protect workers’ rights. For the better part of a century, blue collar labourers have been the beating heart of this side of politics. And many of them are people of faith, often with strong alliances to the Catholic and Methodist traditions.

But in the latest elections in nations like Australia and the UK, it is clear that British Labour and the ALP have abandoned workers—the very people they were commissioned to represent.

This betrayal may not be deliberate, but it was inevitable. It has become increasingly impossible to marry radical inner-city views on climate and immigration, with the impulse to protect the industrial jobs of hard-working citizens.

Sadly, progressive parties have made their choice. In turn, blue collar types are jumping the aisle and voting for representatives who are more likely to care about their livelihoods, and respect their beliefs.

When left-leaning parties miss this, and instead assume motives like racism or homophobia for lost votes, they only double their betrayal against the workers who once voted for them.

3. Give Up Socialism

Socialism is ideologically seductive. Labour in the UK, and increasingly the Democrats in America, are falling under its spell.

There are many reasons for socialism’s appeal. It strokes our ego about our own inherent goodness; it seems to require little of us while promising the world; and it poses as the politics of compassion when often, it’s the politics of envy in disguise.

Everywhere that socialism has been tried, it has ultimately spiralled down into totalitarianism, corruption, and poverty. The Soviet Union is the most notorious example of this—and Venezuela the most recent.

Far-left parties like UK’s Labour ignore this. They insist that the only problem with socialism is that it hasn’t been tried properly yet. Self-righteously, they believe that of all people in history, they will finally get it right.

But everyday voters know better: socialism is on the nose. And they will keep voicing it at the ballot box until progressives give up their pipe-dream.

4. Rediscover Common Sense

For so long, centre-left parties were seen as a bastion of science and reason. But in a heartbeat, political correctness has overtaken many of these movements and trashed the common-sense wisdom of the ages.

Now, for many on the left, both men and women can get their periods, and both men and women can give birth to babies. Oh yeah, and gender is a social construct—which makes those claims about periods and babies null and void anyway.

Now everyone is only allowed to control their own body. Except of course pre-born babies, who only count as people when they pass through a birth canal, and who can therefore be killed any moment beforehand.

Now grown men can share change rooms with young girls and beat them in women’s sport if they feel like it. And you’re a bigot if you disagree.

Now the world is going to end in twelve years if we don’t join a climate cult, overthrow capitalism, sell our souls to the globalists, and set up a deindustrialised eco-utopia.

Of course not everyone on the left thinks like this. But those who do feel increasingly at home in once centre-left parties. And that’s a big problem if those same parties are serious about winning democratic elections.

5. Actually Value Democracy

Once upon a time, leaders who lost elections would concede defeat with varying levels of humility. After a time of self-reflection, they would own their mistakes and confess that they clearly weren’t selling what their electorates were shopping for.

But the pattern of left-leaning parties seems to have shifted. Now it’s common for them to point the blame elsewhere, double down on their manifestos, and carry on regardless.

When Bill Shorten lost earlier this year, he blamed “corporate leviathans… telling lies, spreading fear,” and said that “powerful vested interests campaigned against us, through sections of the media itself, and they got what they wanted.

Likewise, even after Labour’s most humiliating defeat in a lifetime, Jeremy Corbyn insisted that his Labour party won the argument even if they couldn’t convert it into an electoral victory. Read that again slowly. It’s denial of the most deluded kind. And its impulse is authoritarian.

Progressive parties need to stop repeating the same mistakes ad infinitum, and instead recapture the fundamentals of democracy. To quote America’s Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

People do not get to govern simply because they like their own views, or can inspire angry riots, or source their ideas from academia. In a democracy, government is explicitly of the people, for the people and by the people.

When centre-left parties sober up to this simple fact, and truly take the will of the people to parliaments again, we may see them in the majority once more.

It is to everyone’s benefit when centre-left parties are the best they can be. The right isn’t always right. Healthy democracies need movements that question tradition, give voice to injustice, and think outside of the box.

But when that morphs into radicalism, no one is helped.

Without doubt, there are countless people who are sensibly left-of-centre. It’s time they take back these parties. Until then, conservatives will maintain their dominance throughout the West, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.


Photo by Michael on Unsplash.


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One Comment

  1. Anna 2 January 2020 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    What a great article ! thank you for your effort in the writing

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