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A disaster and a game changer

red-flag1On the face of things, the election defeat is both a disaster and a game changer. After 5 years in which living standards have fallen by 20%, the Tories have still won a majority. Labour’s wipe out in Scotland means we may well see Scottish independence within 5 years, and there’s a serious question mark over whether Scottish Labour will exist by then. This in turn has implications for British affiliated trade unions.

The days of uniform national swings are dead and buried. The only uniform thing across Britain was the collapse of the Lib Dems. We now have a mosaic of national and sub-national areas that seem to act autonomously – Scotland, Wales, the North, London and the rest of the South.

We could comfort ourselves with the fact that Labour polled well across London, with sitting MPs piling up big majorities and winning seats from the Lib Dems. But this is only the flipside of hardly winning a seat across southern England. Labour now depends significantly on BAME voters who don’t exist in the same numbers in any other southern English cities or counties.

Labour tried to develop policies in relation to the exploitation of migrant workers, but by and large this failed to do enough to dent UKIP’s main message on immigration. It’s clear that UKIP’s vote was based more on hostility to immigration than to the EU.

Lazy minds on the left will no doubt argue that if only we’d proposed the nationalisation of the top 100 companies and doubling public spending we’d have won easily. Generally they tend to be people who haven’t spent much time in the home counties, the West Midlands or South Thanet.

Actually, both the Labour campaign and Ed Miliband were a bit better than expected, though feeble on rebuttals. The Tories (and the Lib Dems) banged on endlessly about the economic miracle they had performed and were allowed to get away with it. Miliband couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to defend any of Labour’s previous record so the nonsense about high public spending causing the crash of 2008 went largely unanswered. He may not have been Continuity Ed, but he wasn’t – and couldn’t be – New Broom Ed either.

Almost all the insurgency of recent years – SNP, Green, Plaid and even UKIP – has thrived on the basis of opposition to one or other aspect of neo-liberalism, globalisation and austerity. And yet the right wing component of the most neo-liberal government we’ve ever had has been re-elected on an increased mandate, at least as far as England goes. Leanne Wood saying he doesn’t have a mandate in Wales when Plaid only won 3 seats doesn’t have anything like the resonance of the SNP. There clearly is a massive crisis of legitimacy in Scotland.

The central problem for Labour was that it didn’t have any clear narrative on the economy – how we got to where we are and how to get out of it. On cuts, I never heard a clear explanation from the Labour  leadership of what £12bn of Tory cuts will look like. Having not opposed in any meaningful form things like the benefit cap when it was introduced – for fear of looking like the party of people on benefits – they couldn’t say anything at all about the plan to reduce the cap even lower.

Too many times in the past few years, front benchers have performed somersaults – think Ed Balls on cuts or Tristram Hunt on free schools – as if people wouldn’t notice. No wonder that so many people blocked their ears to the more positive messages that Ed put out on housing, the NHS etc and kept saying they didn’t know what Labour stood for.

Then there was the effect of the Tory onslaught on a possible Labour-SNP coalition. This seems to have played particularly well for them in England (apart from London) and surely was one of the key factors in the late and unforeseen Tory surge.

What Miliband should have said when this became a key Tory theme was that Cameron, by denying legitimacy to the democratic voice of Scottish voters, was the main danger to the Union. No, he wouldn’t be proposing a coalition to the SNP, but in the event of a hung parliament it would be irresponsible and arrogant to dismiss the aspirations of Scottish voters.

It seems incredible that Cameron came away Scot free (so to speak) and instead Ed allowed himself to be manouevred into ever-more desperate denials that Labour would ever pass the time of day with the SNP, which would clearly have been nonsense.

Will the Tories destroy themselves over Europe? With a small majority, lots of backbench Euro-sceptics and a negotiation/referendum to come, it’s possible, but it hardly amounts to a strategy for Labour to sit back for several years and wait for it to happen.

Although the doorstep response round my way (in north east London) was generally good, due in large part to the collapse of the Lib Dem vote, I was struck by the very low level of debate among swathes of people:

  • young abstainers who wouldn’t get off their Playstations and come downstairs from their bedrooms;
  • people who said all MPs are corrupt or that there was no difference between any of ’em, despite there being more choice than ever before, and more space between Labour and the Tories than any election since 1992
  • a guy in his 40s serving at the petrol station, almost certainly on the minimum wage, shook his head at my copy of the Guardian reporting some good polls for Labour. “We can’t afford any debt” he said, unaware that we’ve been running a national debt since the 1790s.

I think a lot of people bought into this vague idea, in which debt and deficit are treated interchangeably. And how odd, that in an economy where personal debt hit a new record six months ago that so many poorer people think that any borrowing on the part of the state is inherently wrong, while maxing out on credit cards they can’t afford.

26 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    The issue is dead now labour lost and more then likely will now have to wait until the Tories mess up big time. Things will improve now not because of the Tories but in spite of them , with Cameron going and maybe Boris coming in it maybe a long long time before the labour party or the Progress party takes power again.

    But it does not matter what I think about labour going into debt because they stated we will not borrow , we will not tax.

    In the end the middle class swing voters decided that they would go home Vote Tory because simple they trusted Cameron more then Miliband now lets see which Progress drone takes the hot seat…

  2. Jeffery Davies says:

    Untill that day labour return to its roots not the far right jeff3

  3. David Ellis says:

    It is time for the English Labour Party that stands for a Federation of Sovereign Nations to replace the Union within an EU re-founded on socialist principles instead of the neo-liberal ones that are tearing the current formation apart. In twenty short years New Labour have reduced the Labour Party to rubble through a contradictory combination of cynical realism (there is no alternative to neo-liberal economics) and an opportunist attempt at gaming the capitalist system (get rich and pay your taxes) that relied on the tax take from the bankers’ 30 year credit bubble let rip and for which the working class is now paying dearly. An English Labour Party must adopt an explicitly socialist manifesto to include the end of the bank bailout; a People’s Bank with a monopoly of credit lending at base rate to small business and facilitating a democratic plan; full-employment by sharing the available productive work; a living wage; workers’ democracy to replace the fat cats; socialisation of the means of production and exchange; defence of all necessary and desirable public services and a fair system of taxation to pay for them; reversal of all anti-trade union laws.

    1. James Martin says:

      Well why don’t you set one up for us David, after all, what’s stopping you – according to what passes for your analysis we’re like PASOK so there wouldn’t seem anything to stand in your way, so go on, the floor is all yours.

  4. David Ellis says:

    Even the guy at the petrol station knows that when the debts are called in it gets very unpleasant. When capitalism was growing it could afford to run a deficit. Now in its dotage, in fact it is already functionally dead, the lack of growth and the permanent removal of the possibility of any means the debts suddenly become very significant indeed. A bit like our petrol station guy suddenly losing his job whilst mortgaged up to the eye balls.

  5. Chris says:

    Scotland won’t be independent – they had a referendum and they voted no. If the SNP tried to hold another they’d be showing contempt for the voters.

    1. David Ellis says:

      Bull shit. In fact they should say screw a referendum and simply declare independence when they win the 2016 Parliamentary Election because Westminster will impose austerity and Trident renewal on the Scottish people come what may. That is contempt for the voters.

      1. Robert says:

        Mandy blamed Miliband after praising him, he then blamed him for dumping New labour. Then he stated the Unions have to go kicked out, we do not need Union money.

        Then Chuka came on and did his Progress new labour act, the power struggle for labour now starts , it was very interesting that the only people that came on to the Andrew Marr show were P`rogress drones moaning about the poor old death of Blair.

        They really believe they took power in 1997 because they were a great power, and not that the Tories were a busted flush.

        I expect to see Blair next telling us he is annoyed they have not made him a lord, and no statues have been put up of him.

        .

      2. Chris says:

        Yeah, disregard the will of the voters, right? Right on!

        1. Robert says:

          Parties stand on political lines labour stated the old labour party was, dead new labour are dead, so OK fine no issues so what is your ideology what are you standing on.

          Labour came back we are One nation, we are Blue labour, look at one nation and you will see what we stand for, Disraeli compassionate politics , yet labour under Miliband could not find that compassionate politics on the left leaning labour party which was interesting.

          We had Blue labour, we had Purple labour we even had pink labour, but we did not have Red labour.

          In the end the people though why bother with the copy we can have the real thing.

          1. David Pavett says:

            Here’s a very different view on Scottish independence and one which, even though it comes from someone not keen on the so-called ‘modern monetary theory’ that Sandra favours, is consistent with their general position (which I don’t think that Sandra’s view are).

      3. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

        I would declare independence if I were Scottish.
        But certain conditions have to be right.
        Independence could be a poisoned chalice if you do not have your own currency, and central bank.
        You end up borrowing all your money from a foreign bank like the eurozone countries do.
        That is why they cannot spend as they wish to stimulate their economies.
        Scotland could be forced into austerity by westminster by restricting money supplies, and independent taxing powers would not help as the central bank sovereign money is the real supply. The only other source of money is bank loans which rack up debt.
        This could be a disaster for Scotland and destroy their NHS and other benefits that they have kept.

        1. Robert says:

          Or of course it could turn the country on it’s head by dumping labour and the Tories and succeeding. The Vote of the Eu will be interesting if Scotland stay in and England vote out, because Wales have stated they will stay in, the total break up of the UK

        2. James Martin says:

          Sandra, can my northern English city that saw increased Labour majorities at councillor and MP level also declare independence then? Or what about my street? And while I’m at it, can we set up border controls between Lancashire and Yorkshire (no, I’m actually serious about that one)?

          1. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

            Basically, without control of the money supply, a state or country becomes impotent. Just look at the eurozone.
            Watch this, an economist who trains bankers from the university of Adelaide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBpm5sVmGYc

          2. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

            You could ask to join Scotland and insist that they set up their own currency and central bank. You would have to insist that if you stay in the EU that you oppose TTIP and the euro currency. Then you would have democracy.

  6. David Ellis says:

    This piece by Richard Price is pure New Labour.

  7. Mukkinese says:

    I largely agree with the article and I am disappointed by the knee-jerk response of those who think that it was just because Labour were not “left enough”.

    Perhaps in some ways, but not in others. Things are not that simple.

    We need to broaden our appeal, both to the left roots of the party and, like it or not, to centrist voters too.

    Perception is all in politics and we need to listen to the whole range of the voters we need to support us AND understand what they are saying.

    First we have to tackle economic competence, this has been the biggest drag on the trust of Labour.

    Either we accept the argument is lost on Brown’s government or we come out fighting hard and repeat the best line yet; “it was the crash that caused the deficit, not the deficit that caused the crash” and along with that remind people that it was the banking and financial markets that caused the crash.

    No other defence is necessary or wanted. Keep banging these two simple messages home again and again relentlessly, or give up on that argument.

    Then we listen to what voters want, take the best of our policies, many of them quite popular, and clarify them. Fairness and the NHS are the obvious leads we have and this must be capitalised on.

    We must relentlessly paint the Tories as the nasty party, this is again something where we have a lead. Bang on and and on about unfairness and injustice and offer the hope of more fairness and justice.

    We need to appeal to all those including the poor, not seeming to abandon them with statements like “we are not the party of those on benefits”. This is a massive block of voters and they will suffer under the Tories, they should be natural Labour voters, but we drove them away or did not appeal to them enough.

    Why were there not activists outside every benefits office and Jobcentre handing out leaflets and telling people what the Tories had planned for them?

    Working people from the low paid, the aspirational and middle classes need to be addressed with the message of competence and fairness…

  8. Matty says:

    Well said Mukkinese. Turnout was just 65%, millions of people have just given up on politics. Loads of working class have turned to UKIP.

    Paul Krugman wrote the other day “It has been astonishing, from a US perspective, to witness the limpness of Labour’s response to the austerity push. ”
    http://www.theguardian.com/business/ng-interactive/2015/apr/29/the-austerity-delusion

  9. Barry Ewart says:

    First of all I have to declare that I have got my hands dirty for Labour – leafleting, canvassing (at one stage on Election Day I was knocking on doors on my estate by myself for 2 hours) but I think that Labour seems to have forgotten it is a political party.
    Publicity materials are on purely voting for them but we should as democratic socialists also be politicising people and EMPOWERING THEM.
    We should be about political education.
    I have always argued we need to win working class people and progressive middle class people to our ideas and take on the general middle class (who are socialised to vote Tory) to win them to the progressive middle class.
    But the problem is Labour is run by politicians and our leaders should be democratic socialists first.
    As well as reading the financial pages of papers (we should all do) I read a free copy of the Times in a pub and a Right wing journalist was gloating on Saturday that the Left could never win – in his piece with his magic pen he had made wage slavery evaporate and billions of people at a stroke no longer needed to sell their labour to live – it’s a miracle I tell you!
    As Streeck argues in the excellent New Left Review, the rich and powerful haven’t a clue what to do about the global financial crisis and in the UK quantitative easing has only bought off the crisis for a few years but I know what to do.
    Have a windfall tax on big business, tax land and the rich, a 1% EC Financial Transaction tax then clear debt at a stroke and have state- led public investment (the private sector would pour in behind) and address global human need to generate a global feel good factor plus fund solar panel farms in the World’s deserts to harness the free energy of the sun (you couldn’t have designed a better planet) and address climate change.
    We should also have free public transport and the democratic public ownership of mail, rail, utilities, pharmaceuticals, some banks, airlines – all with staff electing quailed boards and with communities having a say – with utilities could pay a community dividend like the old Coop Divi.
    I have been taking on the Tories for years on social media on the economy, housing, austerity, their building of a Neo-Libral cheap labour paradise and on business (we need dynamic enterprise which treats staff well, rewards staff, involves staff, and that reflects, thinks critically and draws on evidence and feedback, as opposed to their narrow view of enterprise) but we all need to doing it.
    I will see if Labour gets a decent new (pro-trade union) leader but let’s return to our roots of political education.
    I am not going to transform the planet for the benefit of humanity – we ALL globally are.
    Ken Livingstone put it perfectly – we face 5 years of “pure evil” to which I would add and cruelty from and on behalf of the true little people of the planet.
    Yours in love and solidarity!

    1. Robert says:

      Maybe those five years of pure evil will wake up the peoples I doubt it.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        How evil do you have to be; Blair took us into 2 completely illegal wars that have killed and are still killing thousands of innocent people and the silence from Labor about, “the appalling abuse,” that occurred under them at Mid Staffs is equaled only by their appalling track record in Rotherham, Rochdale and Sheffield etc ?

        More than anything else Blair and co reminded me of that comment about; the sheer banality of real evil.

        1. Robert says:

          no argument from me on wars, but I went through labour welfare reforms , the issue is today is can the left make a come back and the fact is I doubt it.

  10. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

    I went to the Eastern Labour Conference in November 2012. Ed Balls gave a speech – making a few jokes and talking about football. I felt bored but then he said something coded (or so I feel). He mentioned the time that Cameron called him the most annoying man in politics, and then intimated this this was really Mandelson.
    Well, Manelson and Blair were constantly sniping at the two Eds. This I believe is why they stopped taliking about bankers bonus taxes and jobs for the young and moved back to the deeply flawed neoliberal deficit cuts.
    ED Balls knows that this would be wrong and cause a recession. He said so in his Bloomberg speech in 2010. So who leaned on him? I will leave the answer to you.
    But – think.
    When Balls was promising to tax the banks and create jobs the polls for Labour were very strong.
    As soon as they started the neoliberal deficit spending cuts, the polling for Labour just fell and fell and fell. Giving people no hope or so it appeared was noticed more than saving the NHS, which is not so obvious to people in general as the full force of that has not yet hit them ie (charging and rationing).
    It was the move t the right that killed us off, not the move to the left. I also think Ed should have squared with UKIP and offered a referendum on the EU, and opposed TTIP.
    But the Blairites again, would not have allowed this.
    Beware tha right wing coup again, the syrens are blowing hot in the papers today – misleading claims by Mandelson that Labour lost because of Eds move to the left. UTTER NONSENSE.
    If the Labour Party moves to the right even further, then god help the poor, the needy, the sick, and even the middle classes.
    We must vote for a SOCIAL DEMOCRAT LEADER.

    1. Robert says:

      Who will stand against Progress, not to many me thinks Chuka Reeves I cannot think of anyone who is to the left at this time who may become leader.

  11. Barry Ewart says:

    Just thought I would share the lyrics of a song I’ve written which I may record in the Summer. It was originally called ‘Only the Working Class Know” but “Working People” I think fits better lyrically:
    ONLY WORKING PEOPLE KNOW.
    1. Sold my soul to the zero hour.
    But I could not make it pay.
    I was hounded by the Benefits.
    ‘Cos I was ill one day.
    2. So I contemplated suicide.
    Yes I nearly did give in.
    Then I read about revolution.
    And I knew that we could win.
    CHORUS. Oh hey ho, oh hey ho.
    Oh hey ho, only working people know.
    3. And I live in a slum tenement.
    Private landlord he was lax.
    I was kicked out of my social home.
    By the vile bedroom tax.
    4. But I got to university.
    Where my mind it was set free.
    And I read about who had the power.
    And how to change society.
    CHORUS
    BREAK
    CHORUS (Twice).
    Music, art and poetry may sustain us.
    Yours in solidarity!

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