It is refreshing to see that against the background of our defeat, we as a Party are clearly determined only to identify what lay behind our failure to convince the British electorate. Recrimination is limited, as we seek to address the weaknesses defeat has exposed, knowing that we were, are and always will be the Party best-placed to both meet the needs and respond to the aspirations of the British people.
So, why did we lose so resoundingly – and not a little surprisingly? What does this defeat tell us about our role in the lives of the people whose votes we had sought to win? What should be our next steps?
Defeat can be blamed on many issues: political, personal, legacy: you name it, much mud was thrown by our opponents. But of value in identifying the immediate causes is assessment of where our campaign could have been more effective: did we really know what message we wanted to get across, to whom, and to what end?
In both the short and longer terms, these questions drive to the heart of what kind of Party we are, who we seek to represent, and who we should be seeking to win over in 2020.
A key weakness lay in our failure to project in reality what we claimed to be in theory – that is: the Party of ‘One Nation’ – a phrase the Conservative government has since the election sought shamelessly to make its own. For us, it must be said that too many ‘millionaires’, too many businesspeople, and too many of those vulnerable to the downsides of globalisation, rightly found themselves wondering what our ‘One Nation’ actually meant for them. Just as for those trapped by zero-hours contracts, the mid and higher-end taxpayers whose wealth must fund the public services which are our nation’s treasure, can be forgiven for thinking that our ‘One Nation’ was not the same as their ‘One Nation’. Why should such people vote for us, if what they hear from us is either insensitivity to their concerns or condemnation of their personal success?
That our message seemed confused – the selectivity of its appeal seeming to undermine the theory of ‘One Nation’ inclusiveness by which it was underpinned – played fatefully into the hands of those who sought to portray us as being as ignorant of ‘the rich’ and their role as we are of the broader economy of which those same people are a key part.
It was on this front that our opponents fully set the agenda over which the election was fought; once doubts about our capacity to manage the economy had set in, we rarely succeeded in taking back the initiative.
History will certainly be kinder to us than the rhetoric of the past few months suggests, however. It should be stated: Labour did not create the banking crisis of 2008 which led to the recession the Coalition successfully portrayed as being “Labour’s mess” which it alone was able to “clear up”.
It is bankers not governments who create banking crises. Still less, governments do not create recessions – we do not hear blame being laid at the feet of Margaret Thatcher, whose experience of recession in the 1980s was abundant. Moreover, Labour’s record on both deficit-creation and deficit-reduction has generally been no more and no less creditable than those of successive Conservative governments: in 1997 – after 18 years of Conservative administration – Labour inherited a debt from John Major’s government which was equivalent to 42% of GDP. But by the start of the global banking crisis in 2008 that debt had fallen to 35% of GDP – a 22% cut.
Labour under Blair and Brown clearly spent a lot: we had to honour our commitments to invest in schools and hospitals. But with our economy so vulnerable to the global financial system – a vulnerability which is mostly a positive, but which clearly became a negative – it is unsurprising that we were the country hardest hit by the financial crisis of 2008. And what could the Brown government have done to ‘prevent’ that ‘global’ crisis from either hitting us hard or from happening in the first place? It could have done nothing at all. Instead, with deft steps – which were followed with admiration by the United States and other countries – it saved the British banking system from collapse.
Today, the failure to defend our record of 1997-2010 must be seen to have lost us a large number of votes on 7 May 2015. The assertion that people ‘could not trust Labour on the economy’ did not stem from the truth of our record – that record being no less creditable than the records of our Conservative predecessors, when taken in the round. Instead, our defeat stemmed at least in part from our failure to vigorously and uncompromisingly defend that record.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download
Why did this defence not happen?
So keen was our leadership to distance itself from the winning combination that saw-off successive Conservative Party challengers for 13 years, that the Party which for much of that time had so successfully put an end to political ‘tribalism’ by drawing votes from right, left and centre, instead became a Party seemingly incapable of acknowledging how the United Kingdom’s ‘moving parts’ really fit together. In England this has alienated swathes of the electorate from us, has bolstered UKIP, and has allowed the Conservatives to portray themselves as the Party of ‘working people’; in Scotland it has meant that Labour is no longer remembered as the Party which oversaw the devolution of power, and has strengthened the bullies and conjurers of the SNP as they con Scots into believing that the Promised Land is simply a place which is free of English people.
Now, as our leadership campaign gets underway, the candidates must be constantly reminded that even if they would like to lead our Party as it ‘turns over a new leaf’, they are but the latest in a long line of would-be Prime Ministers. While they may seek to present a ‘new face’ they should remember that the wise British people have long memories – a new ‘gloss’ will convince nobody. When talking of ‘reconnecting with the grassroots’ they must be clear who they really mean. When talking of ‘working people’ they must make clear that they know who such people really are. The ‘grassroots’ are not the same as they were even a few years ago; ‘working people’ include those who may well have swung behind the Conservatives because they had no idea where they would find the money to fund the ‘mansion tax’, or those who voted UKIP because a Labour leadership whose only ‘work experience’ is in politics is a leadership to which they simply could not relate.
A successful leadership campaign will not be one from which a leader will emerge who primarily appeals to those of us within the Party who are and who remain committed. A successful leadership campaign will see emerge a leader whose strongest appeal is to those who can clearly see Labour’s ‘One Nation’ as their own and not just ours.
Mark Huband was Agent for Manjinder Kang, Labour candidate for The Cotswolds at the General Election 2015