Just over a month ago, if Labour are to be believed, an ‘austerity fatigued’ Britain not only declined the offer of a Labour government but actually reduced the number seats they had. Labour failed to take their number one target seat. The men who would have been Chancellor and Foreign Secretary didn’t even keep their jobs as MPs. Re-read those last two lines because their significance cannot be overstated. But rather than acknowledge and accept that the party was seen as a tad too Left Wing for Middle England, the Labour Party have strapped on the Rising Sun bandana, cried “BANZI” and banked their battered plane fiercely to the left.
Losing an election is never fun, and being soundly thrashed is even worse. In the 2000s the Tories reluctantly accepted that Michael Howard and William Haugue were too overtly Centre Right and opted for a centrist like David Cameron, in spite of the bitter taste it left in the mouth of purists. The Tories knew that to make a difference you need to be in power, and to be in power you need to drag yourself out form under the cosy, safe, warm comfort blanket of self indulgent ideology purity. The result was, if you count the swings in 2010, one of the most successful Tory leaders in the post War period.
Labour have taken an entirely different approach. Rather than accepting that their message was wrong, they’ve decided the voters were wrong instead, or at least didn’t hear the message loudly enough. As I’ve discussed briefly here, Labour have an awful habit of telling people what they should care about rather than listen to what they actually want. Call it ‘leadership’ all you want, but most people don’t get that worked up about the super rich, zero hour contracts, the Murdoch Press, or predistribtion.
Ah, but what about Scotland, I hear you cry. Labour was beaten by an even more Left Wing party up there. While this is technically true, it’s far from the whole reason, nor is it even the major reason. Scottish Labour suffered from being associated with the hated Tories during the independence debate. While Nicola Sturgeon was seen as approachable and ‘real’, Ed Miliband was seen (along with Cameron and Clegg) as one of the cookie cutter politicians mass produced in the cosseted upper middle class bubble in SW1. Finally, Scottish Labour suffered from some of what Labour in northern towns felt with the rise of UKIP, a backlash against a party that fell into the trap of lazily taking white working class voters for granted for last 30 years.
How well the SNP contingent of MPs do in 2020 remains to be seen, but the fact remains that Labour is facing extinction in southern England. If you exclude London which might as well be its own country, Labour don’t control a council south of Leeds. Just let that sink in. The seaside towns alone should be a gift for a left of centre opposition party with its higher than average levels of unemployment and creaking infrastructure. But no. Even here voters have looked at the Labour Party and quietly let better sense prevail once in the privacy of the booth. It’s not as if the Tory front bench is especially loathed in places like this, so the fault must lie with Labour.
So what is it about Labour that fuels the denial of crisis they face? Sure, a lot of the blame can be dumped on Ed Miliband who to his credit accepted blame for the defeat. But local Labour campaigns went out of their way not to mention Ed or have his image on their election material. But the cruel yet inescapable fact is that there are far too many influential voices in the Labour movement who don’t want to accept that the last 40 years have happened.
Labour haven’t won an election without Tony Blair for over 40 years. I had to check that because it seemed excessive but I assure you it’s true. The message for anybody outside the Labour Party is clear; Britain has changed but you keep slipping into a comfortable default that’s no longer even slightly applicable, relevant or electable. Thatcher is gone. The heavy industries have gone. Class consciousness has gone. The idea that the Almighty State is the only solution to all our real perceived ills is gone. People don’t hate the rich, they want to emulate them. And blaming the “right wing press” for “brainwashing” people is not only churlish, it’s tantamount to saying you think voters are stupid. Voters aren’t stupid, they’re keenly aware of how the real world works, more aware than middle class humanities graduates parachuted into safe seats, at any rate.
To reiterate, Jeremy Corbyn, will not be the next Labour Leader, but the fact that he’s on the ballot and Tristam Hunt isn’t should underline urgently that Labour needs to grow up.