I’ve always had an emotional attachment to the Labour party. I suppose politically it should really be the LibDems, as I probably have more in common with their priorities than with labour, but try as I might, I always want labour to do well, even when I don’t vote for them, which is pretty often. Other than Ukip there isn’t a major party I haven’t voted for in my time, mainly because I tend to vote for people rather than parties.
I like labour because there is a core principle of taxation and spending which I think matters- which is basically, the more wealth you have, the more generous you need to be. When it is able to match that with a sense of aspiration and reward for endeavour then it works well. When it descends into a pressure group against the rich.
There has been many wise words about Labour’s defeat – often couched in the language which suggested that the writers thought that defeat was inevitable for months, which of course it untrue. Every Tory paper, just like every Labour one, thought it was too close to call. The scale of the Labour defeat has made everyone recalibrate, and all that can be shown by the writing is the strength of the writers’ desires to be wise after the event.
One thing that the political chatterati get wrong, is the nuance they are putting into the reasons for defeat. I don’t’ think the reason Labour lost was due to the quality of Ed Miliband’s inner circle (oo-er) or the direction of the party. Here are the reasons I think Labour lost.
1) Ed Miliband. He doesn’t look, sound, or act like a prime minister. I think he is a man of great personal integrity, indeed I think he is more honest and principled than almost any leader of a party for many years. He took on Rupert Murdoch, he challenged Cameron on Syria, he changed the voting system which elected him, so that the Labour party is finally democratic. He would have been a brilliant chancellor, or foreign secretary. But not a leader.
2) The mess we were left with One of the huge problems that Labour had with the 2010 election was not that they were in dire straits – it worked out a lot better than most people had imagined – it was that the Tories won the argument about Labour spending too much. After that election the Labour party did what they are doing now – wanting a root and branch review, internal naval-gazing, and standard, if polite, infighting. In order to be elected again, they need to come out of the blocks a lot quicker this time.
3) The Tabloids I know its absolutely not the done thing to criticise the press, who keep insisting that they have no power. That’s not true – they have immense power. Denying it is their way of saying what they like consequence free. That is what Leveson wanted to change, and the print press seem to regard Leveson as their own version of Kryptonite. Miliband stood up to them, and seemed to mean it. What followed in the run up to the General election was the most vicious and sustained attack on a leader that I have ever seen. The fact that the Sun announced that Miliband had “lost the election” following the Question Time debate may have been a justified opinion piece – were it not for the fact that it had gone to print before the (live) programme went out. The tabloids are so powerful that now only the blandest of the bland are able to stand for power. Anyone who ever had an infidelity, or suffered from depression, or had any complicated private life would be out – which would of course include Churchill, Asquith, Gladstone, Lloyd-George, MacDonald, and God knows how many others.
4) Arrogance Peter Mandelson suggested that the Labour tactic in part seemed to be to point out how horrid the Tories were, and expect people to come flooding back to them. I’m not sure that’s true, as they did seek to put forward policies, but they had not dealt with the argument that they lost five years ago about spending, and so the credibility was damaged. Besides, if the electorate wanted a party to vote for out of disaffection with the Tories, they had Ukip in England and SNP in Scotland, both of whom were better at opposition than Labour. Labour seemed to think that the electorate had a duty to listen to their convoluted and dull arguments about how right they were on spending, health and the economy. They were campaigning as though winning the arguments through minutiae means you ought to win an election. As Nichola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage have shown, you win by fighting with everything that you have, and you have to fight to be heard. If you don’t have a way of cutting through the dross – worse still, if you are the one creating the dross – then you lose.
So what now?
Labour badly needs a charismatic leader. I don’t see one standing yet. Chuka Ummuna has showed today that media pressure is horrendous, and it’s no surprise that folk like Dan Jarvis, who has faced bullets and bombs, isn’t prepared to subject his family to the vicious behaviour of the press. They need a leader very quick, who is prepared to talk in headlines, but has the intelligence to have something behind them. Sad but true – unless you have your ten word answer to every question, you’re not going to get listened to.
It has to stop fretting about whether they are “veering to the left” or “reclaiming the middle ground”. It should proclaim what it believes, and proclaim it with a message of hope. It cannot hold the government to account unless it has an alternative.
It has to come out hard against the conservatives. It has to win the narrative within the first two years of this government. It’s too late to wait for an election campaign to decide your strategy for government.