Monday, 8 June 2015

Your Cut Out And Keep Guide To Why Labour Lost

Labour lost because they tried to ape the Tories.  Why would the voters buy into Labour wearing the Tories clothes when the Tories (are) there?” – Natalie McGarry, MP for Glasgow East

Ed Milliband at the declaration for his Doncaster North seat
at about 6am on 8th May
You know, there are times where how much you repeat something, there’s still someone out there that just doesn’t get it.  This blog has countless times detailed how right wing Labour has become compared to the social democratic sensibility of most Scots.  It is something consistently rebutted by Labour supporters, yet Ms McGarry’s quote reveals a basic truth certainly about Scottish Labour and a key issue about Labour generally.

So for you Blairites, Right wing media types and people who thought that Jim Murphy simply wasn’t given a chance to sort out Scottish Labour, this post is for you.  In bullet point and baby language just so that you understand just why your party lost.

The Economy: The big lesson from both the referendum and the Westminster Election, as if it needed to be re-learned, is that the Economy is the battle to win.  Win on the economy and the keys to whichever electoral victory you are seeking are yours.  Lose and it’s very difficult to claw back that deficit.  Labour’s big mistake was twofold, they did not hit the ground running in opposing the coalition straight after Miliband’s elevation to the leadership and they did not formulate a viable alternative to Osbornes austerity.

In not opposing very early on the Government’s policies, Labour gave the Government time and space for the Government’s own narrative on the economy – that austerity is the only way to get the country back on it’s feet and that Labour’s overspending is to blame – to become conventional wisdom among voters within this country.  You saw the effect of this on the polling figures – that in spite of missing his economic targets and the Omnishambles budget that Osborne still was more trusted with the UK economy than Balls.  You also saw the effect this had on Labour in that they was pressure put on them to sign up to aspects of Osborne’s Scorched Earth while being unable (unwilling?) sell their own vision of austerity.

That Labour couldn’t formulate their own alternative to austerity meant that voters went with full fat Tory, no doubt prompted further by Liam Byrne’s note which Cameron carried with him throughout the campaign to remind voters of Labour’s perceived profligacy.  It also alienated many voters who decided to vote for anti-austerity parties, with the SNP and the Greens being the principal beneficiaries here.

Labour's cozy relationship with the other "Better Together" parties
certainly harmed them
Scotland: I’d always thought that there would have consequences on a General Election fought only months after a bruising Independence referendum.  And so it has proven, with disastrous consequences for a party always behind the eight ball in terms of their handling of the referendum.

With the campaign itself, Labour seemed to be perfectly happy to go into bed with the Conservatives and the Lib Dems…  all for the greater good and all that.  Except that the higher profile Labour figures seemed rather too chummy with a party many in Scotland consider to be the enemy to the ordinary Scots-person.  That’s the headline reason, the straw that broke the camels back, but there are other examples of Labour’s conduct during the referendum campaign.

Milliband himself was all too unthinking in his backing of Cameron’s pro-Union position, which in itself gave fuel to the “red Tory” fire.  Had Milliband slightly differentiated his pro-Union message, he may well have saved some votes.  Indeed, Milliband seems to have had a strange opinion of Scotland and Scottish politics.  His pitch during the Holyrood election of 2011 was not to install Iain Gray (who he?) as First Minister, but to send a message to the coalition in a first step back to Downing Street – essentially Vote Labour to protest against the Tories.  Still, at least Milliband’s not one for triumphalism clap trap like Ian Davidson, who uttered the phrase “bayoneting the wounded” in relation to the aftermath of the referendum.

The tipping point for Labour though appears to be the Smith Commission and their acceptance of government veto’s – especially over devolution of benefits.  The devolution of benefits would have torpedoed Ian Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credits scheme – which is why the Tories vetoed it.  Why Labour were happy to go along with this veto is possibly the biggest political foot shooting exercise in UK politics since Thatcher decided that something must be done about local authorities and their financing.

While the referendum & it’s aftermath did for Scottish Labour, the rise of the SNP and the dubbing of the First Minister as “The Most Dangerous Woman in Britain” by the newspaper that hates Britain had an effect on English voters.  The Tories were able to turn Labour & the SNP’s similar policy positions into a major issue among centre right voters in England.  Rather than question whether the Tories had an electoral pact with the Ulster Unionists or the Democratic Unionist Party, Labour spent unnecessary energy distancing themselves from the SNP – thus alienating further Scottish voters and also making themselves look shifty to English voters in the process.

Ed Milliband: There’s a line in the second series of the West Wing where Leo McGarry is trying to convince Josh Lyman to come to work on Bartlett’s campaign team.   Josh says something about the Democrats not wanting to make the mistake of nominating for president a liberal Governor from New England again.  Leo’s retort was that this was exactly the sort of mistake that the Democrats would make again.

Labour’s equivalent is to elect as leader an intellect, a deep thinker who’s good on policy but with very little in terms of any leadership skillset.  They did it with Gordon Brown and they did it with his successor Ed Milliband.  Brown was kinda able to defelct this for so long but got found out when he badly dithered over going to the country in the autumn of 2007.  Milliband didn’t have the experience so was found out quicker than that.  His performances at PMQ’s were patchy to say the least, he showed none of the light-footedness that marked Blair as a pastmaster while there was at times a lack of flexibility with some of his speeches.  And then there was the ‘Ed-Stone’…

Milliband’s biggest issue though was that he was never secure enough in his position to take on the Blairites & to truly make the party his own.  There were always reports of a whispering campaign against Milliband, while there were reports on Election night between the exit poll and the first results being announced that people were calling for Milliband to go.  We could speculate on the culprits but one suspects that the names of Murphy and Alexander (both supporters of David Milliband) would be top of the culprits list.   Funnily enough, the only member of Milliband’s team to come out with any credit has been the former member for Morley & Outhwood – one Ed Balls – who took his share of the blame for the defeat.  Every other member of the shadow cabinet who has voiced an opinion has not done themselves any credit by blaming just the leadership, by doing this they have made themselves less worthy of my vote.  Yet Milliband’s failure to have it out with the Blairites made him look weak – even if he looked to take on the Energy companies and the Dirty Digger.

The candidates to succeed Milliband (l to r) Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper
Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt (now not standing) and Liz Kendall
Not Left Wing Enough:  One of the running themes from the Blairites is Milliband’s failure to reach out to the centre ground, to attract the saps that think those awful mewing John Lewis adverts are lovely and life affirming (you know what they say about a fool and his cash), to essentially attract aspirational voters.  Essentially Labour were not right wing enough. Weapons grade Horse-manure.

In truth Milliband’s manifesto was too much of a mish mash – not left wing enough in places and not consistent with the few left wing policies that they did propose.  They clearly should have announced the full scrapping of Non-Doms and announced it when the manifesto was launched, while I’ve said before that the 50% tax rate should be set at £100,000 to provide the tax revenues that would make it difficult to scrap in future.  I’ve also said before that they should have formulated an alternative to austerity – one not unlike Sturgeon’s proposal for spending increases of 0.5% - still a real terms cut.  Mind you, I notice there’s not an awful lot of condemnation of one of Labour’s lesser promoted policies and one that’s rather right wing – their pledge to “support the principles behind the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty” – or TTIP.  This was something that the only Labour MP in Scotland, Ian Murray, spoke up in favour of during the last parliament.

Blair’s assertion that elections are won on the centre ground, that theory seems to have been thoroughly torpedoed by Cameron’s campaign being fairly right wing and based on scaring voters rightward.  The other assertion that Labour has stopped appealing to upwardly mobile voters sort of rings true, but beyond (unaffordable) tax cuts & policies that would lead to a (unsustainable) boom in housing prices there’s not really an awful lot of policies that Labour could offer that would appeal to those voters.  In any case, Labour should have really been concentrating on those several rungs below the John Lewis set.

Where Labour go from here has been the subject of heated debates…  well somewhere.  Sadly if the list of candidates to replace Milliband are anything to go by, including the truly awful Liz Kendall (though we should be thankful that Chukka Umuna or Trisram Hunt are not running),  then Labour have not learned their lesson.  Last time around Milliband came through an uninspiring field to win, this time the candidates list is similarly uninspiring and showing no signs of understanding why things went so badly for their party or that, as Natalie McGarry rather perceptively points out, triangulation no longer works.

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