Baroness Hilary Armstrong, a stalwart of the North-East Labour Party for decades, looks at the reasons behind last week’s historic defeat.

MANY of us in the Labour Party were shocked by the loss of our seats in the North-East last Thursday.

Our traditional politics has been to place the party alongside working people to help them improve their lives. To know why this has changed, start with Jeremy Corbyn’s post-election statement that he won the argument. After losing all those seats, it takes a particularly academic view of political argument to believe that in fact you won the argument.

For real people’s politics, winning the argument generally means winning more seats than the other side. To win that argument, you need to persuade a few more million people to vote for you and not for the other side. That’s what Labour politics used to be like.

For the current leadership of the party, political argument is an abstract activity that takes part in rooms with people of like mind. We used to put ourselves alongside people who wanted a bit more help to improve their lives. They didn’t want government to do everything for them – or, even worse, to do things to them.

What they want from government is help to make their lives better, to make sure that basics such as healthcare, education and training, are there and working for them.

When I was elected as Member of Parliament for North West Durham in 1987, the party nationally lost. We had had the problems with infiltration from Militant, and Neil Kinnock, the leader, had spent much of his time sorting out the party. We had to rebuild and change so that we could make sure that in the changing world, working class people would have real opportunities.

We’d had the closure of the steel works, and the last pit in my constituency had closed at Langley Park. Unemployment was high. I knew we had a mountain to climb. Constituents said to me they were sick of voting Labour but not getting a government that worked for them.

Changing the party so that we were fit to win a majority and form a government was a central task. It meant we had to know and share the aspirations of our constituents, know what would really help them turn their lives round.

In contrast, every day through the campaign, the current leadership offered more and more free stuff. It just didn’t add up.

The fact that people didn’t vote for loads more free stuff shows that voters understand the importance of their own activity in improving their lives. Being given everything is just unreal – they knew it would have to be paid for.

One of the most telling statistics from Thursday is that across the UK, 50 per cent of the skilled manual working class voted Conservative – as against 40 per cent Labour. That’s a stunning rejection – by the people that the current Labour leadership was aiming for.

In the North-East, these were the bedrock of the Labour movement. The very fact of their skilled work demonstrated that skilled women and men knew they had to do a lot for themselves in gaining those skills and doing that work. They just wouldn’t trust a political offer that pretended that it did it all for them.

Brexit, of course, was an issue, and our position was all over the place. It ended up alienating both sides of the debate. Too many did not believe that we could fix the things that mattered to them even more than Brexit, like the NHS. They worried about our competence.

Our region is patriotic – many households have a family member in a recent generation that has served in the armed forces. Support for veterans is really important in our region! People here have been prepared to pay the price of defending their country on various battlefields. The current leadership appeared to be confused about what our country meant to them.

On too many occasions they appeared on platforms with our country’s enemies who they treated as friends and too often they treated our nation’s friends as enemies.

The current party has also become a nasty place that treats badly members whose views it doesn’t like. Anti-semitism has not been dealt with effectively, and colleagues have had unprecedented abuse for supporting Jewish people. The local party even tried – unsuccessfully – to expel me for signing an advert calling for anti-semitism to be properly eliminated!

I had dozens of local people contact me in bewilderment, wondering what on earth had happened to the party they had supported for years.

When I was Tony Blair’s Chief Whip, Jeremy Corbyn voted against our government on many occasions – in one four month period, he voted against the Labour government more often than the Tories! We had a different view of debate and discussion then, and he wasn’t expelled.

I want to apologise to the people of the North-East for putting them in the position when so many felt they could not support the Labour Party. We can’t allow this to continue and, along with others in the party, I pledge to work night and day to bring politics back to you.

That does not mean going backwards – the world has changed. We have to work with you to develop the priorities to secure opportunities for people and their families in the modern world.

  • Baroness Armstrong was MP for North West Durham from 1987 to 2010. Her father, Ernest, held the seat before her from 1964