Latest post on Left Futures

Why Labour lost – the disturbing perspective of Annette from Scotland

2dhwi9eI certainly don’t agree with all of what is said here. For instance, it assumes much of the English and Welsh political landscape is similar to Scotland. The piece below, however, contains some very uncomfortable truths for all Labour people. It behoves us all to pause and reflect on some of the disastrous decisions made over the last five years. This originally appeared on Labour Hame as a comment by someone who signs herself as “Annette“, and came to me by way of the excellent Mutterings from the Leftblog.

I am so tired of the word “nationalism” being branded about by Labour. And, ooh, they inserted the word “patriotic” in their constitution, how quaint. Personally, I don’t give a toss about patriotism and nationalism. I am an EU citizen living in Scotland and I voted YES because it is my firm belief that every country has a right to political self-determination and should not be ruled by another country.

This is something that I suspect most Labourites would in theory agree to, because it makes them sound noble, but when applied to Scotland, they suddenly get a hissy fit at the notion of someone “wanting to break up our country.” The only explanation I can find for this behaviour is that they believe Scotland is not a country.

I’m going to help you out here, Labour, because I have watched your decline for a long time and it seems clear that you have not the foggiest idea where you have gone wrong. That is why almost everything you did to improve your prospects has only made things worse. So let me try to explain, and let me tell you in advance that everyone I have spoken to over the last few days agrees with me. Not because I am so super-clever, but because it is blatantly obvious. Only Labour seem to be unable to see it.

Forget Blairism. The con Blair pulled off worked once, but it will not work again in our lifetime, because there are things people don’t forget. Blairism gained Labour the support of a certain number of swing voters and that helped you as long as your core supporters loyally stood by you. Whatever made you think, though — that you could give up the goals and values of your real clientele and that nevertheless they would keep voting for you indefinitely?

Sure, many people feel loyal to a party and are patient with it, and there is a certain inertia that needs to be overcome before some voters desert their traditional party. But if that party continually fails to represent their supporter’s interests, these supporters will eventually walk away. The sentence I heard again and again and again these last few months was this: “I have not left Labour, Labour have left me.” That is the core of the problem.

So listen to me well, Labour Party, because if you get this wrong again you will be done for, once and for all:

Don’t try to appeal to Tory voters. Tory-leaning voters might vote Labour as a one-off protest vote, but by pandering to them you alienate the people who are your natural clientele. For a few years that might work out, but eventually the Tory-leaning voters will return to the Tory fold and your own supporters will decide you’re just not worth it anymore. If they have any sense, they’ll move on to the Greens, and if not, there’s always UKIP. If they feel seriously conflicted, they might just stay at home and not vote at all.

In Scotland, they have a serious alternative now. In any case, you’re unlikely to gain back their trust as long as you present yourself as a paler copy of the Tories. Nicola Sturgeon did give you the heads-up in the leadership debate. She said that of course there is a difference between Tories and Labour, but the problem is that the difference is not big enough. It is nowhere near big enough.

There are several ways in which this failure to be properly Labour instead of Tory-lite has played out.

One

You have failed to be an effective opposition. Instead of challenging the Tories’ brutal austerity policies, their hair-raising incompetence with the economy, their blatant favouring of the rich elites, you have done little else than bicker about details. You have allowed the electorate in England and Wales to believe against all evidence to the contrary that (what) the Tories have (done) is basically right. You voted with them for more austerity cuts. You voted with them for Trident renewal. You voted with them for more foolish military interventions in the Middle East, even though you must know by now how the Iraq War has damaged you. You abstained from the vote on the fracking moratorium which would have succeeded had you not been so cowardly. You have not been a counterweight to the nasty coalition, you have enabled them.

Two

You have allowed the Tories to determine the political narrative. Instead of countering their agenda with your own agenda, you kept telling us you would do much the same as the Tories, only in a nicer way, and you deluded yourself that this would keep everyone happy. All this nonsense about cutting the deficit by slashing public services and restricting government spending, when it is standard textbook economics that in times of recession the government must increase spending to help the economy recover – you could have called the Tories out on this, you could have presented the figures of how the Tory approach had made the economy much, much worse.

Why did it have to be Nigel Farage of all people who pointed out in the leaders’ debate that the Tories had doubled the national debt? That would have been your role, you should have hammered this message home relentlessly instead of letting them get away with their ludicrous claim that they had fixed the economy. You even allowed UKIP to set your agenda: Instead of making it clear, like Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon did, that immigration really, really isn’t a relevant problem, you went about printing “Controls on immigration” on mugs and even inscribing it on your ridiculous monolith.

Three

Instead of fighting the Tories, you fought your potential allies. This wasn’t so disastrous in the case of the Greens and Plaid Cymru, given their small numbers, but I will say that having a big campaign to unseat Caroline was not only mean-spirited but stupid; those resources should have gone into targeting a Tory seat. However, it was your treatment of the SNP that might well have cost you the election.

Again, you let the Tories determine the narrative. They crowed about a constitutional crisis, about a second referendum which neither the SNP nor the wider YES movement are seeking within the next few years anyway, about “breaking up our (sic!) country,” about chaos and nationalism and England being held to ransom. They and their compliant media outlets abused the SNP and the people of Scotland on a daily basis in the most despicable terms. And all you did was parrot them. Nicola Sturgeon could not have held out her hand any more sincerely, and yet you sneered at it.

What you could have done, should have done, was to challenge the Tory narrative. The SNP have been riding sky-high in the polls since September; and you had known for months that you could only form a government with their help. Plenty time to come up with a constructive strategy.

You could have pointed out that the SNP are a moderate party of the centre left. You could have pointed out that they have a track record of eight years of competent and sensible and not-at-all-outrageous government in Holyrood. You could have pointed out that they stood for the kind of temperate progressive policies that many, many people in England would have been delighted to see.

You could have pointed out that in no imaginable universe would even 59 SNP MPs be able to call the shots in a 650-strong parliament; that you would always be the boss in any kind of arrangement. You could have thrown all your might into convincing the English electorate that a Labour/SNP team effort would be good for the whole of the UK, as it undoubtedly would have been.

Instead you declared a week before the election on national television that you would rather see the Tories return to power than work with the SNP. The stupidity of this is mind-blowing. And all under the banner of “not working with a party that seeks to break up the UK.” Tell me, what is your deal again with the SDLP, a party that seeks to unite Northern Ireland with the republic?

You don’t even field candidates against them to give them a better chance? If you can work with them, why not with the SNP? But even today you still harp on about “nationalism” when in fact what the people of Scotland have opted for is the moderate social democratic policies which you should have offered but didn’t.

Four

Having alienated your core supporters and turned your back on your potential allies, and with no progressive track record as an effective opposition to show to the electorate, you have based your election campaign on sound bites, PR stunts and silly gimmicks.

Just after Nicola Sturgeon presented her gender-balanced cabinet and promised to work tirelessly on shattering the glass ceiling, you insulted the women of the UK by inviting them to talk “around the kitchen table” about “women’s issues,” proudly brought to us by a pink van. And you didn’t see it coming that people would call it the Barbie Bus and laugh it out-of-town?

You allowed Jim Murphy to run amok in Scotland with one insane “policy announcement” after another – remember the “1000 more nurses than anything the SNP promises?” Why not promise weekend breaks on Jupiter for the over 65s?

You wheeled out Gordon Brown at random intervals to make meaningless promises and you expected people to be swayed by the pledges of a retiring back bencher?

You had some wishy-washy election promises carved in a massive gravestone and you thought that was a good idea?

Yours was a hopeless, hopeless campaign from beginning to end, without vision, without structure, without conviction. And yet I, like so many, clung to the hope that surely people in England must be so fed up with the Tories by now that they’d vote for you anyway and that surely once the election day dust had settled you’d see sense and head a progressive alliance with the SNP, SDLP, Plaid Cymru and the lovely Caroline Lucas who is worth her weight in diamonds.

We could have turned things around for the good of the many rather than the few. Instead the Tories now have carte blanche to suck dry the people of the UK and grin smugly while they feast on our bones.

All thanks to you, Labour Party.

Now get your act together and make sure this will never happen again. I cannot spell it out any clearer.

This blog previously appeared in this form at All that is Solid. All but the introductory paragraph first appeared as a comment by Annette at Labour Hame. Thank you Annette

 

18 Comments

  1. John says:

    A number of factual inaccuracies in this piece by Annette make it difficult to accept her analysis.

    One.
    We did not vote with them for £30billion of austerity cuts – that figure was in the Charter for Budget responsibility. The IFS showed our plans were compatible with making no more cuts after the first year.
    We did not vote with them for Trident renewal. There was not such a vote on it in the last parliament.
    We didnt vote with them for more foolish interventions in the Middle East. Ed Miliband took a principled stand AGAINST action in Syria partly for the reasons you outline. Thanks to Labour, this action did not take place.
    We abstained from the fracking moratorium, because we had a better plan than a temporary halt with no further test. Under the “moratorium” fracking can start in 18 months time, with no new proof of its safety, and without the acceptance of the local population – both things Labour thinks are vital before it goes ahead.

    Two.
    Every country needs to have controls on immigration. Nicola Sturgeon even said the SNP would have stronger controls in one of the leadership debates. You dont deal with people’s concerns by pandering to them, or ignoring them.

    Three
    The deal with the SDLP does not involve any policy concessions to them. It is not Labour policy, for instance to have a united Ireland. They choose to accept our whip in the commons
    because they agree with us on social issues – but they are not forced to follow our instructions. The SNP would not have acted in such a similar
    way.

    Four
    It is probably impossible to have such a deal with a party who has two aims, the break up of the UK and the destruction of the Labour party in Scotland. Admittedly, they dont seem to need much help in the latter, but any deal with them by the UK Labour party would result it the complete destruction of the party north of the border.

    But let us remind ourselves of the SNP Manifesto, that you presume people liked and voted for as a “progressive” voice. The SNP took half of our manifesto and copied it word for word. They watered down some of the rest (eg, consulting with business on what to do about Zero Hours contracts, rather than banning them) and ignored the rest (eg abolishing employment tribunal fees, regulating the Buses). There was virtually nothing in their manifesto that was more radical or more left wing than in ours. Claiming they outflanked us from the left, when the evidence points to the opposite does nothing to change our chances of success. Because it is obvious that no matter how far left we go, the SNP can SAY they are further to the left, they can then ACT right-wing (as they do at Holyrood) and win elections.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      I think you are technically correct in you points on ‘One’ though certainly Labour did vote in ways which implied acceptance of some level of austerity, we unfortunately have supported Trident renewal, and there have been some pretty murky relationships between some Labour MPs/staff with the Frackers including staff moving between the party and them. On the SDLP, the fact is we have a very cordial relationship with the SDLP (who are a sister party in fact) whereas we show little but tribal hatred for the SNP. That tribal hatred is in spite of the fact that the political spectrum covered by the SNP largely overlaps that covered by Labour. They may have a right-wing that is a bit mory Tory than our uber-Blairites and we may have more of a far left but, under Ed Miliband at least, we were both essentially social democratic in character. I’m not a nationalist and I don’t want to diminish the importance of class versus nation as an issue, but we have [plenty of British nationalists (aka unionists) and an increasing number of English nationalists – a bunch I regard as much more barmy than the Scottish variety.

  2. an important contribution. However if the pro nats are thinking Scotland is ruled by England, we have a reality problem.

    This is a union, and the smaller countries have provided Prime Ministers notably Lloyd George from Wales and a host of Tories, notably Balfour and MacMillan both of whom were Scots based. Labour may not wish to own their first prime minister, but Ramsay MacDonald was Scottish.

    The other points are largely well founded, but if the Scots believe they are controlled by England, ie they are a colony, no indian friend of mine would do anything but fall over laughing. Where do they get this from? No one from the colonies ever got to be Prime Minister. The UK is A union. One partner is bigger than the others, but still a union,

    trevor fisher

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Many voters on the doorstep certainly see Scotland ruled from Westminster/Whitehall by a metropolitan elite – they have that in common with an awful lot of voters in England and Wales, don’t they?

  3. Mukkinese says:

    Some very good points, which should hit home and smart with Labour.

    I never understood the party’s strategy. Like so many, I kept waiting and waiting for them to start fighting back, but it never came. It seems the strategy was keep quiet and hope the Tories will hang themselves.

    Labour had better start acting as though they are in a fight right now or they will lose control again. No excuses and no need to wait for a new leader, get off your backsides and keep the Tories on the backfoot, while you figure out where to go next…

  4. Verity says:

    What an important insight from north of the border. Any amendments I would make look rather banal set against the general thrust of the message. I would however prefer to link this with John McDonnell’s succinct but insightful first thoughts on the general election on the LRC Website, in which he emphased the importance of building a (mass) democratic response rather than (undue) preoccupation on the (lack) of strengths of individual leaders – all of whom are capable of letting us down in the absence of mass democratic challenge.

    Also useful is John Denham’s contribution on the need for the English to build a Left movement rather than (passively) relying on diminishing support elsewhere. In a Cameron mission of English votes for the English (by 2020?) who will defend the English NHS then? In this respect the obsessive ‘anti-nationalist’ at all costs sentiment that permeates Labourism looks either like a comfort blanket or justification to stay where I am and oppose anything which is not Labour – even presumably, Annette who is a Green.

  5. James Martin says:

    ‘a disturbing insight’? No, the only disturbing thing is that someone thought it was worth printing this nationalist SNP drivel on a Labour/socialist site.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      James:
      Couldn’t disagree more. This woman is, it seems to me, neither nationalist nor tribally SNP. That’s true of most voters I encountered on the doorstep in Scotland and I suspect quite a few of the new members who have recently joined the SNP.

      1. James Martin says:

        So what Jon. What we have here is no different to publishing an article from some working class eejit in England who voted UKIP or has been to an EDL rally because they feel they Labour Party has betrayed them. It gives no insight other than the bleedin’ obvious – the Labour Party is too right-wing. Well, you don’t say, however would I have noticed without this nationalist EU supporter with nothing to say about working class unity to tell me…

  6. gerry says:

    James – agreed! This is pure drivel – of course the triumph of the SNP on 7 May is the direct result of the 45% vote they got in the independence referendum.

    In a first past the post election, 45% gets them virtually every seat. The SNP pitch is nationalism pure and simple, and that is why other parties could not really compete with them this time – it is as much emotional and cultural as it is anti-austerity.

    And finally, don’t buy the lie that Tony Blair is to blame for all this. In 2010 Gordon Brown’s Labour won half the vote in Scotland, and he was every bit as New Labour as Blair – but he also blunted the nationalist appeal because he was Scottish and the PM, and Alistair Darling was Scottish and the Chancellor!

    So Annette, don’t rewrite history – it is the SNP who are riding the all-things-to-everyone plus nationalism wave…and one final point: the SNP says it is anti austerity yet it openly backs the EU with its embedded neo liberalism, deregulation and austerity core! They are fakes, Annette, and if the SNP did achieve their goal of independence AND membership of the EU, everyone would quickly see exactly how much of a fake they are.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Gerry: The SNP actually got over 50% of the vote – something Labour (unlike the Tories) never did. That included plenty of people who’s voted Yes in the referendum whilst the SNP got plenty of people who voted No. The pitch by the SNP leadership may possibly have been primarily nationalist but not, I think, “pure & simple”. And most of their new voters and members didn’t seem to me to be tribally SNP (though sadly many seem now tribally anti-Labour). Prejudice, wishful thinking and inaccurate analysis isn’t going to help Labour recover. I published it because I think you need to read what people think in Scotland and this was, in my view, an extremely articulate version of much that I heard on the doorstep.

      1. gerry says:

        Jon – i have close family who live in Scotland: but it is Annette’s arguments which are “prejudiced, and inaccurate”… I repeat: look at the 2010 general election result in Scotland whilst Brown was PM and Darling Chancellor: their ” Scottishness” negated the SNP anti-English message, pure and simple.

        Once Brown and Darling were out of office, it was easy for them to peddle their nationalist lies and half-truths, to get 45% in the referendum (on an 80% turnout) and then motivate most of those yes voters to get 56 of 59 seats (on a smaller general election turnout)

        There are lessons to be learned from the SNP triumph but as other commenters have said – their goals are to destroy the UK, destroy the Labour Party, and serve their country up to the EU: as socialists, we should not be helping them achieve these aims.

        1. Dave Walsh says:

          3 ‘No’ voters in my old office voted for the SNP in the GE in Edinburgh. Their intention was to punish a Labour party that has seriously lost the plot. A lot is being read into the 56 seats, a better view will appear at next year’s Scottish Government elections when the SNP really ought to be taken to task on their record rather than their flag waving anti-Westminster mantra. Problem is – unless Scottish Labour gets its act together in the next twelve months, the 51% SNP vote will be repeated in 2016

  7. John P Reid says:

    1994? Thought Scotland had a Labour Party in 1984

  8. Yes jon you are right. The Westminster elite or bubble is a major problem, but the scots are developing their own out of touch elite. This is something a real response to the situation would pick up on.

    The idea that the Labour Party is the People’s Party which would unite us across the borders and link with colleagues in Europe is vanishing. However we do need to go even wider. Any chance of following up the piece by Bryan Gould which is key? An electronic discussion group involving him would be first rate. The issues are not about Westminster or Holyrood.

    Trevor Fisher

  9. John P Reid says:

    Labour doesn’t put candidates up against the SDLP and they use to be the alternative to the UUP who took the Tory whip, it’s divided by religious grounds, which I don’t think people would want in Scotland,not all SDLP want to leave the UK

  10. Barry Ewart says:

    Yes New Labour neglected working class communities and just talking to a friend (a councillor for a poor community) he told me he knew of a few decent working class people who had left Labour because they are on low incomes and can’t afford £45 (are we an exclusive club?) We should be a membership fee of £5 and if you are better off you can always pay more.
    I want a mass party but perhaps some at the top want a smaller party to keep control for themselves?
    We should be a democratic socialist party first and not politicians – we should also be honest and speak from the heart in support of our vision for the UK and the World.
    We should eliminate the debt at a stroke, make big business and the rich pay (windfall tax, tax rich & land & financial transaction tax 1%).
    Should also stand shoulder to shoulder with trade unions.
    I like the idea of a more Federal Britain with powers for Scotland, N Ireland , Wales, the North, the South, the East and the West of England decided by a Constitutional Convention which could also decide what powers should be national.
    Take corporation tax for example if it was different in the different countries of the UK big business would set the countries against each other; a different minimum wage in the different countries would also set workers against workers.
    The SNP want a social democratic (and probably independent) Scotland whilst some of us want a democratic socialist Britain (and World).
    Perhaps the left needs to move an inch back to its roots and the SNP an inch to federalism.

    1. Robert says:

      I had to register now to vote on the leadership of the labour party, you can do this on the labour party site , I was told I had to pay a fee of £3, then I said I paid my levy to labour as an associate member, I’m with the GMB so now they will get back to me.

      So you can vote on anything I think anyway for a year and if you pay it every year, your a friend or an affiliate, so that is I suspect a cheaper method of paying .

© 2017 Left Futures | Powered by WordPress | theme originated from PrimePress by Ravi Varma