But the policies of Labour in the 2019 election are very different from what they were in 2005 when Tony Blair and the so-called “modernisers” held sway. Labour last Thursday went into the election with an unashamedly socialist set of policies, promising a massive increase in government spending, and big tax increases for the well-off. Nationalisation of some industries was back on the agenda. There would be massive increase in spending for the National Health Service – and an offer of free broadband for everyone. Why no offer of free puppies for all, one wag asked derisively.
The problem is that the pragmatic, working-class people of Sedgefield – and any number of other constituencies across the industrial towns and cities of the UK – held their collective noses and said you must be joking. These are smart, savvy people. They know that you don’t get something for nothing.
Electoral districts that all my life have been Labour – Blyth Valley, Bolsover, Rother Valley, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Dudley, Grimsby – are now held by the Conservatives. It is hard to overstate just how seismic this is. And remember social class in the UK has always been a bigger determinant of how people vote than it has been in the US. Just like the whole class system, frankly. Some of these constituencies have never, ever flirted with the right.
Of course, there is a massive caveat that makes reading across from what happened in the UK to what might happen in the US precarious. Brexit, no deal, the European Union Withdrawal Agreement will not be on the ballot in the 2020 US presidential election. Brexit did play a big part in this general election – how could it not given the turmoil in Britain of these past three-and-a-half years?
But as Phil Wilson, the man who succeeded Tony Blair as the Labour MP in Sedgefield – and who lost his seat on Thursday night, pointed out, Brexit was nothing like as big an issue on the doorstep as Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s socialist policies.