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Just Not Getting It

MILIBAND_3035677cAfter every defeat, political parties forget the public for a while and retreat into themselves.

It is part and parcel of the process, and one of the inevitable consequences of a bad result.

We’ve come to expect it from them.

In a way, it’s comforting.

Or it is, at least, when there’s some prospect of them getting it right, of realising what has gone wrong.

Looking at The Labour Party tonight, there is no sign at all that they understand this.

Only a few, a very few, members appear to get what this verdict means. Only a handful of its MP’s understand where they will have to go in order to be credible again.

Political parties have a bad reputation in the Western world. A lot of people – a lot of potential voters – think they routinely lie.

They do, but the worst lies are not the little white ones they occasionally tell the electorate.

The worst lies are those the parties tell themselves.

Amongst the ranks of Labour one of the most egregious falsehoods I have heard in recent years has actually taken on the solid form of Truth although it bears no resemblance to and has no relationship with that word.

It is this; that Labour’s manifesto in the election was “too left wing.”

Labour’s “grandees” have all weighed in to tell us that was the problem. Ed Miliband’s resignation has opened up the leadership campaign which, in some ways, was inevitable from the day he took over the party and I am not surprised to see a troupe of familiar names throwing their hats into the ring.

They all have one thing in common; they are “modernisers.”

Not a one of them will lead the party in the right direction.

The malaise in Labour is now permanent and that is a tragedy for those who believed, for years, that it could be won back to social democracy.

I was dissuaded of that belief a while ago, and I know how hard it is to have the rug pulled from under your feet like that.

Today, in a shameful but revealing moment of blind lashing out, Harriet Harmann, currently standing in as leader of the party, appeared to blame the trade unions for the defeat when she said they would play no role in the election of the new leader.

Mandelson then crawled out of whatever cesspit he’s been hiding in lately to say the party’s reliance on union funding would have to end.

No shit it has to end.

I daresay the contempt the leadership has displayed today for unions and their members will speed up the movement towards that.

I have been arguing for years (nearly 20 of them now) that the unions’ unquestioning adherence to the Labour leadership, and their writing of cheques to fund a party that plainly despises them, was for mugs.

Back then I wanted them to support only candidates who echoed trade union politics.

I wanted them to push for party reforms that would open up selection meetings to something approaching local primaries and aggressively oppose candidates who weren’t up to snuff.

There was a lot of talk … but nothing has happened, much as these same unions talked all the way through the Cameron years about mobilising for a General Strike if the behaviour of the Tory government became too much to bear.

Again, nothing and I am not daft enough to think this was because they lacked the will.

What they lacked was political support.

It would be hard enough fighting an all-out war against the government … but how the Hell are you supposed to do it with the opposition sneering from the sidelines too?

On top of that, they were hampered with trade unions bosses who wanted to be MP’s. This myth about Labour being the creature of the unions is a nonsense. Anyone who’s been in the game long enough knows the opposite is even truer.

If politics really is, as the Blairites believe, about “what have you done for me lately?” then it has been the better part of my life since the unions got an answer from Labour that was anything less than the old one finger salute.

Those on the right of Labour have hammered away at Miliband for pursuing a “35% strategy.”

If only they had, David Cameron would have been packing his pencils on Friday morning instead of dancing on the tables in the Downing Street dining room singing “Hail to the Chief.”

Labour secured just over 30% of the vote.

Cameron was elected on 36%. UKIP polled 13%, and much of those votes came from white, working class voters who would have given Labour their support had there been anything on offer for them.

On the other hand, all those disillusioned Lib Dems who voted Tory were there to be won over.

Does anyone really believe they obliterated their own party because it tempered the Tory lurch to the right?

They were there for the taking. Labour offered them nothing to gravitate to..

Listen, I said in a previous piece that there were no serious issues being debated during the race. But in many ways that doesn’t matter.

Those things are always at the back of the public consciousness, and are the starting point for all those “strong leader” polls.

A party that doesn’t know what it is for, far less without a clear idea of what it wants to do, will never gain the confidence of the public.

The right wins consistently not because their policies are better but because they are much better at dictating the terms of the debate and they are much better at selling themselves. They do it in two ways;

First, they believe. The real zealots in politics on this island have always been found on the right. They pursue politics with vigour and determination and they never waver from core principles.

If they concede ground at all it is a matter of tactics, something to be rolled back in time.

On the strategic level they never lose sight of the bigger picture.

Secondly, they are confident. They believe in themselves and their message in a way the Labour left simply doesn’t and hasn’t been able to for decades.

This is why the success of the SNP has me so satisfied at the moment. Their socially conscientious vision was sold with real passion and verve, and with not a little swagger.

Nicola talks like someone who not only believes in what she is saying, but someone who cares about the things she talks about, and she understands that people want that in their politicians because the average person really doesn’t know that much about the issues and wants to be sure that whoever they vote for actually does.

Today’s newspapers were full of editorials from Labour wannabes, all talking in the same vague concepts and with the same empty slogans.

And the media loved it because this is how these people talk and this is the world they inhabit.

Contrast any of it with the passionate, angry interview Mhairi Black did with Libby Brooks earlier today. That interview was laced with conviction and certitude, and it vibrated with quiet fury and determination.

She’s not even taken her seat yet but that young woman, only 20 years old, could dance rings around the New Labour frauds lining up for a shot at being their next leader.

When Miliband resigned the other day what struck me most about his speech was the complete, and sickening, absence of any thought at all, any mention whatsoever, for the millions of people he and his party had comprehensively failed.

It was a call over their heads, as if they weren’t even there, to his own foot-soldiers.

I thought it was loathsome.

Yet the press lapped it up.

I read praise from everyone from Polly Toynbee to Dan Hodges, and I realised that these people don’t get it either.

They have no idea why Labour lost this election, and they are retreating into their own comfort zone and playing the “back to the 80’s” card.

But Labour’s manifesto was not left wing in the slightest and it was not particularly ambitious either.

Where it was not stuck in the mud and the safe ground – a limited price freeze on energy prices and a minimum wage rise below the rate of inflation, by Christ – it was veering wildly right, and with the infamous, notorious, “immigrant’s mug” actually plumbed the gutter.

All of the prospective leaders in today’s papers spoke in the same bloodless language of the focus group head.

All talked about re-embracing the politics of Blair, without realising that it was the Tories image as weak and exhausted as much as anything else which helped secure the two landslides.

In contrast, Labour was a united party getting behind a driven leader. These people don’t even want a real debate, so the notion of a united party is a fantasy right away.

I would argue that the Labour manifesto in 1997 wasn’t nearly as rooted in the right as Miliband’s critics would believe.

Labour’s 1997 manifesto, whatever else it might have been, was committed to investment, support for the public services, a national minimum wage and devolution for Scotland; in other words, part of what drove public support for them were precisely those parts of the manifesto that were left wing.

Miliband was offering nothing near their scope and fearlessness.

The core vote strategy did not work because there was no point during the election where they were focussed on appealing to the core vote.

They offered the heartlands nothing but Tory Lite and when you’re in an election and you ask people to choose between a pale imitation and the real thing they will choose the real thing, each and every time.

Labour is pinning its hopes on the likes of Chuka Umunna. That means it’s pinning its hopes on simply existing. Their ambition has gone, except for an ambition to power.

Its members and MPs are about to conduct another internal inquest into what went wrong. They may lean on the focus groups, but that reflects only the narrowest strand of public opinion anyway. To the rest of us, they are offering the cold back and the deaf ear.

Ironically, many of them talk about “building the movement” again.

But from what?

They are preparing to decisively sever the union link and they are veering rightward, which says something considering where they are now.

They look north, with envious eyes, at the SNP surge. They don’t seek to – or want to – understand how the SNP accomplished the seemingly impossible. How it won over their supporters.

It is the ultimate manifestation of arrogance.

They see how the party’s membership has soared and the way in which their message has caught the public imagination and they think they can replicate this with a photogenic candidate and an appeal to “aspirational voters.”

But even those voters feel afraid in a world that is increasingly uncertain. What’s the point in aspiring to achievement if the state does not provide a safety net in case things go wrong? At its best aspiration means risking everything, and who wants to risk anything in the current climate?

Besides, the idea behind aspiration has never been up to much in a closed society like Britain where it still matters what school you went to, who you know, what wealth your parents had and all the other manifestations of class we see around us.

It’s all very well being “aspirational” but the sad truth is the vast majority of people do not live on the “average” salary far less above it … and the vast majority of us never actually will.

You don’t change that by chasing the votes of those who’ve already made it.

You find a way to help those who haven’t and you provide some security for those who can’t.

In Scotland, the party elected a Blairite and have paid a colossal price for that idiocy and hubris and mistaken belief that the people who live here are stupid.

In England the heartlands which have spent the last five years under the hammer, and who face five more, badly need a party that understands them and cares about their plight.

More and more it becomes obvious; that party is not Labour.

They just don’t get it. They really don’t.

Another defeat in 2020 is now as near as certain.

For its own sake, Scotland had better be well on its way to independence before then.

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6 comments to “Just Not Getting It”
  1. Excellent analysis, thanks. People in England need to get together and set up a new left wing party, and soon. Many feel powerless though, it’s what tories want, a compliant powerless electorate, fighting for the crumbs, labour helped them all too easily. I reckon the tories have some strategists who can bend with the political unheaval they now face, but it is a game of wits, and the Scottish are extremely good at that, for sure. It’s like a game, but people’s lives are at stake, so no one in the SNP, will be taking anything for granted I expect.

  2. James Forrest claims that “parties retreat into themselves” as an “inevitable consequence” of defeat. This is not as much of a truism as he supposes. Did the SNP behave like this after the referendum? Of course it didn’t! And that is one of the reasons for its success in the recent UK election.

    The SNP didn’t “forget the public”. It couldn’t. The party is too intimately connected with the people of Scotland for that to be possible. Which is not to say that there is no internal questioning of of policy and strategy. It’s just that the the imperative which informs these discussions is the interests of the people of Scotland. That is the guiding principle at all times.

    One need only contrast this with the attitude of British Labour in Scotland to see why so many people rejected them in favour of the SNP. The constant refrain from Murphy an Curran and the rest was that they had to win. It was always and entirely about restoring Labour to the dominant position in Scotland’s politics that they passionately believe is theirs by right.

    The matter of what they would do with that power was always an afterthought. A string of vacuous promises and incoherent policy initiatives that had more to do with providing Murphy another photo-op than with addressing the needs and priorities of Scotland’s people.

    The difference between the SNP and British Labour is plain to see and easy to understand. The former recognises that it exists to serve the people and a set of core principles formulated around the concepts of democracy and social justice.

    The latter exists only to serve its own partisan interests and the personal careers of the likes of Jim Murphy.

    • I’d agree with every single word of that, except for the top bit Peter.

      The referendum was not the same as a repudiation of the party at the ballot box. The referendum was bigger than the SNP and they were never likely to suffer directly as a result of that defeat, although it was what the unionist parties certainly expected to happen.

      When they do suffer a major reversal, we’ll see how it is handled. Fortunately I don’t see it being for many, many years.

      But as to the rest of your point, I agree wholeheartedly. Part of Labour’s problem – and you summed it up nicely – is this belief they have in the “divine right.”

      Nothing encapsulates their arrogance better. I heard one former MP say the other day that the SNP “stole our votes.”

      They just don’t get that those votes belong to us, not to them.

  3. As an aside, I tend to avoid posting to this site and sharing articles because of the settings which prevent me copying text for drop quotes or even my own comments. It’s like you don’t want participation.

  4. Enjoyed this article very much as it was along the lines I was thinking as I listened to Mandelson et al at the weekend. Although you’ve expressed it more articulately than I could. Labours’ solution seems to be let’s find out what we have to say that will get people to vote for us. This betrays a total lack of confidence and conviction about what they are for. A confident political party knows why it exists and campaigns for it. Rather than just striving for power for its own sake. Let’s give the Tories the credit they deserve for that if nothing else; they have a will to power and they know who they want to benefit and why. And it’s not working people or anyone North of Watford.

  5. Where is Ed’s big stone is what I want to know? And, who paid for it?
    Was there no one with enough Balls(pun intended) to say NO to him, no,no,not ever?
    Still gives me a chuckle, God Bless Eddie!!!

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