Wednesday, 20 May 2015
So, what next? An analysis of Labour's defeat.
So, what next?
It's been nearly 2 weeks since the dream of nearly every Labour Party comrade across the country was shattered.
How do we recover from this?
First of all, we need to be honest and frank about why we lost.
On May 7th, we asked people to choose between a Tory government that has destroyed the pension system, created a massive housing crisis, privatised the royal mail, driven millions into poverty, cut welfare benefits, and attacked the vulnerable, or the most radically left-wing Labour Party in 2 decades. This was an electorate ravaged by 5 years of austerity cuts, with many people who had hitherto been better off now struggling to pay the bills.
We lost. And lost really badly.
I have been reflecting on this defeat for the last two weeks, examining arguments from right and left and seeing if they stand up to much scrutiny.
The truth is, both the claims from Labour's far-left, that Labour lost because it was too right-wing (They often point to Scotland to try to support this very dubious argument) and from Labour' far-right, who say Labour lost because it wasn't right-wing enough (Listen to Mandelson's attacks on social democratic policies such as the minimum wage as being "Anti-aspiration") are dubious. Both have elements of the truth, but the truth isn't quite as simple as that.
There are many conflicting theories for why Labour lost. Here is my take on why we lost the election.
In Scotland, the reason was obvious. Discontent with Labour has been brewing for a very long time. Labour's period in government only made the situation much worse, as well as the assumption that Scots "Had nowhere else to go", an assumption that was comprehensively destroyed by the social democratic SNP.
Many articles have been written about the hypocricy of the SNP, and how they only recently dropped policies such as cuts to corporation taxes and income taxes for the rich that Alex "Oil baron" Salmond championed for years. However, in politics, reality matters for little. The perception that the SNP were/are more labour than Labour has turned them into an unstoppable force, capable of rallying both their core voters and disenfranchised Labour voters. Labour's alliance with the Tories and big business during the Better Together campaign against Independence only reinforced and strengthened these perceptions. The way back for Scottish Labour is tough. It will require an independent Scottish Labour Party free to set its own policy.
As for Wales, the struggles of the Welsh Labour government, particularly on the state of NHS Wales, need no introduction. Perhaps what happened to Labour in Wales was the least surprising element of election night, because Labour was already suffering from its unpopularity as a party of government in Wales. It's another Scotland waiting to happen.
And, finally, we come to England. Labour's defeat in England was so poor that the Tories would still have won a majority and ended nearly 50 seats ahead of Labour if it had held all of its Scottish seats.
Labour's problem in England is that it had nothing to say to English voters. It had nothing to say to middle class voters, who were terrified of the tax and spend proposals of the party, though the policies weren't actually that left-wing (Though, as I said before, perception is everything). It had nothing to say to the working class voters who had traditionally voted for it, but have now abandoned it for UKIP. It had nothing to say to the Greens who quit the party because of its positions on immigration. And, finally, it had nothing to say on the English question, allowing the Tories to portray themselves as "The party of England", saving England from the horribly anti-English, pro-Scottish Labour and SNP parties.
The party suffered from a terrible lack of a coherent vision. Ed Miliband changed his campaign themes more times than I could count. It was led by a leader who, though he had a lot of conviction, was always disliked by the electorate, who could never, as the Mail put it, "See the millionaire, two kitchen owning, bacon sandwhich eating socialist as a prime minister". If the leader who is supposed to be the public face of your party doesn't represent the party competently, you've got a problem.
Labour's future in England is bleak. Barring a miraculous recovery, I can see no way back for the party in 2020. Labour now needs a swing larger than Tony Blair achieved in '97 to win a majority of one seat. Unless the party can respond to conflicting demands in Scotland, Wales, and across England, its days as a party of government may be numbered.