We lost, they won. Both of these facts are tragic.
We lost: we pandered to the right wing press and lost our true voice in the process. We apologised when we should have energetically proclaimed our record. We had 15 years in government and during that time, the UK was a good place to live: it was prosperous, our services were well looked after, less people were living in poverty and the economy was ticking over like a well tuned machine.
It’s true that there were things that we should have done but didn’t: we should have more carefully considered banking oversight and regulation. In retrospect the Big Bang de-regulation was a disaster (a Tory disaster) and we should have corrected it. We probably should have looked at pensions and social care and made (probably unpalatable) changes while we still has a massive majority. We probably could have looked at bringing transport and some utilities back into public control. We didn’t do these things and we sinned by omission.
Having said that, the deficit we left was a consequence of saving the financial sector: with London heavily reliant on the banking and finance industries, and with peoples wages, savings and mortgages dependant on the well-being of the too-big-to-fail banks, the Labour leadership opted to save them – at great expense. Would the Tories have done any differently? I wouldn’t have thought so.
But the British public inevitably felt the need for a change in narrative after 15 years of government: they did the same to the Tories. But when we gave the keys to number 10 over to David Cameron the economy was back on track: there were positive signs of growth and the deficit was not increasing. The recession had more or less come to an end.
We should have said all of this and we didn’t. We gave the Tories months without an opposition and during that time they sold the banking crisis as Labour’s recession, and the deficit as a disaster. With that backstory they could then start doing what the Tories always do in power: dismantling the public sector, making the market king and impoverishing the majority of British citizens. They had Austerity as their excuse and it was king.
The Tories won: in 2010 they had the aid of a group of Orange Book Liberals to thank for power. I’ve always disliked the LibDems and the Liberals before them. They invariably seemed to have a manifesto stuffed full of sweeties and I knew a lot of people who wished that the Labour party could make some of the same promises. But if you have a 50/50 chance of power, you can’t, you have to promise things that are deliverable to a strict budget. An election isn’t a beauty contest where you vote for the party with the nicest manifesto (…perhaps it should be..), it’s about a realistic chance of taking power and putting sensible policies into place. The Greens have a similar problem in my view. They could promise the Earth, free unicorns and ice-cream every Monday in the full knowledge that they would never have to find the public funds to put their plans into action.
In 2015 the Tories won again: this time outright, much to more or less everyone’s surprise and to the dismay of the majority. They won 37% of the vote (a slight improvement on 2010) and 24% of those who could vote (the turnout was just over 66% – interestingly enough turnout is going up from a low in 2001, which isn’t the narrative you’ll see in the press, which is all about disengagement). This seems to have been a consequence of LIbDem voters ditching their party and going to the Conservatives, as well as the UKIP vote eating into Labour heartland. Of course the overwhelming victory of the SNP in Scotland was a factor in Labour’s defeat. Not a surprise though: up to 10 pm on May 7th, more or less everyone assumed that Labour and the SNP would rule the UK together.
Why did Labour lose? Was it because Ed was too Red, or too Austerity-lite, was it because the press (largely right wing) were out to get him, or was it because he couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich neatly. I don’t think it was any of these things: the Labour leadership couldn’t really be described as arch socialists, but on the other hand the Labour party was not going to cut as hard or as deeply as any of the alternatives (see the IFS report on the manifestos), the press are always out to get Labour and though Ed was viciously attacked, he came out fairly well. Bacon-sandwich-gate made the Sun look ridiculous, nobody takes it seriously anyway.
My feeling is that Labour are still distrusted on the economy and didn’t batter away hard enough or passionately enough about their record. They went to Scotland in September, and told the Scots that voting yes was silly and not very sensible, they sided with the Tories scare stories and gave the SNP the 2015 election on a plate.
Which might not have mattered if they could have persuaded anyone who was minded to vote that Labour cared about them – not just as a vote, but as a person with a viewpoint and a set of beliefs that needed to be engaged. There was calculation but not much passion.
The Tories are all about cold blooded, unemotional, market driven and hard-hearted expressions of self interest. They can say the platitudes about divided societies and poverty, but they don’t feel it. What they do feel is an unquestionable sense of ‘what’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is my own”and devil take the hindmost.
Labour values are about community, fairness, commonality and just rewards for hard work, protection and security when it all goes wrong. These are things that you want to shout from the roofs, call out in the streets, get a bit teary about. Labour acted as if Austerity was just another tool to be used in government: they didn’t appear to get angry about the lies and demonisation that the Tories used to under-write their hellish vision of the UK. The NHS is a treasure but where were Ed’s thanks for his wife’s safety during childbirth and the health of hid kids: if it isn’t personal, why are you bothering?
I don’t want to support a slightly more left-wing version of the slick political machine that the Tories offer: I want real people, getting angry about real issues, offering policy that makes you feel better about the future and your children’s future.
What we need is to abandon the focus-group led, managerial, Westminster-blinkered and press-ganged version of Labour that lost this election. We should opt instead for a street level, passionate engagement with real people. Not pandering to prejudice and saying ‘yes’ to bigots when we mean ‘no way’, but a conversation or even an argument. If we don’t think we can persuade people on the streets of the UK to agree with out policies and plans, why on earth do we think that they might vote for us in the next election?