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How the election was won – smears, bogus ‘successes’ & the Left’s failure at rebuttal

lynton-crosbyDemocracy is a messy and unpredictable business. The response to the British general election may well be to shrug one’s shoulders – and perhaps to enjoy the discomfort of all those pollsters and pundits who got it wrong. Perhaps the popular will is harder to read than we thought.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps what we have seen is a demonstration that the popular sentiment on political issues can be manipulated; after all, we have now seen a series of election results around the globe – in Australia, New Zealand and the UK – which have produced similar results following the use of similar techniques.

Those results have meant the election – and in some cases re-election – of right-wing governments which have used remarkably similar strategies. The pattern is now well established.

The first technique is a relentlessly sustained assault on left-of-centre rivals, focusing not just on their supposed disunity and incompetence, but even more specifically on the ground that they are extremist, left-wing (now used exclusively as a term of abuse) and financially irresponsible.

So, in New Zealand, a Labour party that in government produced eight successive surpluses is compared unfavourably in terms of economic competence to right-wing successors who have presided over six successive deficits.

In the UK, a Labour government that had to pick up the pieces following a global financial crisis created by “free market” excesses and irresponsible banks is blamed for the unemployment, falling living standards and increasing poverty brought about by the austerity policies pursued by their Tory successors.

The second technique is to talk up, with equal relentlessness and disregard for the facts, the supposed successes of incumbent right-wing governments. So, a New Zealand economy that suffers a sustained trade deficit, a dangerous dependence on a single commodity price, an unsustainable bubble in its most important housing market and an overvalued dollar that destroys jobs, profits and investment in the productive sector is regularly described as a “rockstar”.

Similarly, a UK economy whose supposed recovery is based shakily on asset inflation and an unsustainable consumer boom that has still not ended the longest and deepest fall in living standards in modern times is celebrated as a triumph for the policies of a Tory government that remains intent on piling more misery on the most vulnerable.

These techniques, depending as they do on the simple and repeated assertion that black is white, cannot succeed of course without the willing connivance of large parts of the media and the business community. That connivance is regularly forthcoming and allows right-wing parties to avoid what would normally be expected in a properly functioning democracy to be a proper level of scrutiny.

So far, so expected. But there is another aspect of the ease with which the right wing establishes its version of events in the public mind that may be less expected and that certainly attracts little attention. That aspect is the supine attitude of left-of-centre parties in responding to the assaults made on them by their rivals.

So, in both the UK and New Zealand, Labour parties have made little effort to defend the economic record of Labour governments. They have on the whole preferred to remain silent on such issues, as if doubting their own ability to mount the obvious counter-arguments and as if resigned to an inability to win an economic argument.

Indeed, they have gone further in allowing their opponents to set the economic agenda. So cowed have they been by the attacks on their economic competence that they have hastened to assure the voters that they will be just as tough as the Tories in cutting public spending and deficits and just as heartless in sheeting home to the beneficiaries and the unemployed the responsibility for restoring balance in the public finances.

These attitudes have been made quite specific. In both the UK and New Zealand, Labour parties have gone out of their way to proclaim their over-riding commitment to cutting the deficit, thereby validating in the eyes of the public the improbable Tory proposition that this must be the prime goal of policy. It was at that point that the election was lost.

It was this eagerness to embrace Tory doctrine that made it impossible for Labour oppositions in either country to argue convincingly that, accepting as they did the same policy framework, they could be expected to produce different and better outcomes. Little wonder that the voters opted for the devil they knew.

The siren voices are at it again. Instead of learning the obvious lesson – that Labour wins only when it is seen to offer what the British people most crave, something fresh and full of hope and ambition – the Blairs and Mandelsons urge that Labour should become even more like the Tories. At a time when even the central banks and the IMF have abandoned their support for retrenchment and austerity, and neo-liberal orthodoxy is seen as a busted flush, Labour is advised to show no interest in a brave new world but to cower in a craven old one.

Lynton Crosby may have a lot to answer for. But at least he knew what he was doing and achieved what he wanted. Even so, he may not have succeeded if Labour had not been running scared.

30 Comments

  1. Mukkinese says:

    Well said.

    For years many of us were asking in frustration “where the hell are Labour?” “Why aren’t defending themselves and attacking the Tories?”.

    Now the right are ignoring the facts again that it was not leftwing policies that lost this, but timidity, and are pushing for a return to Tory-lite politics…

  2. Neil Stretton says:

    The best analysis of that disastrous campaign yet. Bryan, once again, points his finger at the mistakes of the last few years – and completely summarises what Labour should have done / have to do, to get rid of this market-fixated Government.

    We don’t want a return to Blairism – despite all the running now being made by his ‘Presidential Guard’ (Mandelson, Reid, Milburn), or the new ‘Progress Shock Troops’ (Kendall, Umumna, Creasey, Hunt, Reeves). We want true Democratic Socialism, of the sort championed by the most effective UK Socialist politician – Nicola Sturgeon ! I know that won’t happen, but there must be SOMEONE in the Labour Party who can get near to her vision. It might be one of the old guard – Burnham stands out – or a new face; but at least try and find someone who has a clue about what Socialism is – and not the hybrid espoused by the many currently vying for the Leadership – who either only want to go back to the ‘good old days of Tony’, or come up with some new version of the ‘Austerity-lite’ programme that failed Labour this time around.

    1. Rob Kail-Dyke says:

      I totally agree. None of these people sound as if they actually believe in anything at all, let alone anything that resembles true democratic socialism. They seem to be far too busy reacting to the dismal, punitive agendas set by the Tories & UKIP to think about anything fresh and radical that might make the people of Britain (& not just the “hardworking” ones!) start to sit up and listen – and, heaven forbid, start feeling excited, motivated and energised rather than bludgeoned, downtrodden and totally indifferent. Every public utterance by the big names in the Labour Party whether it comes from the “Presidential Guard” or from the new “Progress Shock Troops” sounds as if it’s been thoroughly filtered to ensure that no trace of passion or vision ever comes through. The last thing we need now is tired, recycled ideas from the past. Labour has to stop being frightened witless of its own shadow and start shouting from the rooftops about what it truly believes in – that’s assuming it has a clue what that is anymore. Sadly, on the current evidence, none of the emerging leadership contenders seems capable of rising to this momentous challenge. Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon really is our only hope!

    2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Burnham ?

      Wasn’t he the chap in charge of the NHS, (or one of them anyway,) and therefore responsible for, according to the Francis report; “the story it tells is first and foremost of appalling suffering of many patients.”

      You begin to see my problem.

      1. Matty says:

        Yes, your problem is that you are buying into the smears of the right.

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          That same tired and lame old cliché; of not for Right Wing media everyone would love us ?

          The real, “problem,” is that I’ve read much of the utterly damning Francis report.

  3. this is a vital article. It is essential that there is an opposition to austerity and the right that understands that the manipulation of truth is now the staple of right wing politics

    trevor fisher

  4. Barry Ewart says:

    Yes excellent piece.
    As a democratic socialist I would argue Labour needs a visionary; and visionary policies for a beautiful, dynamic, progressive society and World.
    I was regularly slaughtering the Tories during the election on social media on some of the points mentioned and I wondered why suddenly hundreds of counter arguments would appear; it turns out the Tories had a US Democrat social media guru with plenty of resources pulling the strings!
    But we may have the last laugh as some have been calling for a US Labor!
    With vision, passion, honesty (we don’t know everything but can read up on issues and seek advice), and speaking from the heart, drawing on evidence, critical thinking, plus also with humour and art/music we can win working class people, the progressive middle class, some of the 35% of non-voters, and also take the Tories on in their heartlands and try to win the general middle class (generally socialised to vote Tory) to the progresive middle class.
    But we need people who are democratic socialists first and not politicians first.
    And just why should MPs only choose the candidates for Leader?
    I attended a lecture a few years ago by the wonderful Cambridge Lecturer, Dr Ha Joon Chang, who argued we should all read the financial pages of the newspapers to be economically aware citizens and I have done so ever since.
    If you don’t do this already, do it from now on – knowledge is power and dynamic enterprise in the broadest sense should be part of such a vision.
    I also think the ‘Blair factor’ is a New Labour/SDP
    myth and Labour’s Neo-Liberals always seem to forget John Smith.
    The public then were sick of the Tory nasty party and Labour offered an alternative and the public wanted a change, who knows what may have happened if there hadn’t been such a tragedy?
    But to cheer you up just remember the Tories were only supported by about 24% of the electorate and their fig leaf of the Lib Dems has gone and the cruelty they are about to unleash is all in their name.
    We now have a clear view; time to lacerate them.
    But re the leadership I repeat: Who will speak for our dreams?
    Three main things have helped my thinking in life – Paul Frolich’s biography of Rosa Luxemburg (critical thinking is the best thing we can all bring to the table), the books of Paulo Freire (radical empowering adult education drawing from peoples’ reality) and the music of John Lennon (peace, love, power, and humanity) and I recommend these; others will have their own recommendations to share.
    Read, read, read!
    Yours in solidarity!

    1. John says:

      “… we can win working class people, the progressive middle class, some of the 35% of non-voters, and also take the Tories on in their heartlands and try to win the general middle class (generally socialised to vote Tory) to the progresive middle class.”

      We did win most of those. Any analysis of the votes will show that Labour gained most of the votes that the LibDems lost (some went to the Greens, a small percentage to the Tories, but most came to us – is there anyone who thinks they switched to UKIP?). The votes that Labour lost, and what cost us the election (in England & Wales) was people who voted Labour in 2010 switching to UKIP.

      The Blairites who are claiming that we didn’t appeal to the asperational middle & working class are wrong – they [the voters] switched to the LibDems in 2010 and largely came back to us this time.

      Where we failed was by not the convincing enough of the poorest in our society that we could improve their lives. The message from UKIP, supported by the Toriess and the media, was that their problems are caused by the EU & immigrants and getting rid of both of them will solve their problems. Anyone who doubts this only has to look at an analysis of voting boxes (at the verification stage) in most constituencies the vote for UKIP will have been highest in the most deprived areas.

  5. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

    I am convinced that the type of knowledge that people need in order to vote in their own interests has changed.
    Forty years ago, people voted Labour because it supported their trades unions, thereby keeping wages up. People who voted conservative would be businessmen or rentiers wishing to keep wages doen and profits up.
    Life has become more subtle. People think that rising house prices make them rich, they do not understand that to own overvalued properties gives them massive paycuts via debt deflation.
    Most people are unaware that household and business debt is around 2 trillion. We have got so used to debt, that levels that would have scared our grandparents seem normal, but it is draining our incomes.
    People are not aware that in real terms, wages and benefits have not increased for decades, but house prices have grown so that they are now 7-10 times income when they used to be 2-3 times income.
    But more subtly than that, people need to understand money. In the above article, Bryan talks about Labour Parties having surpluses, and Conservative ones having deficits. Would most people realise that this means that Labour were being more neoliberal than the Conservatives?
    I talk to Labour members and politicians, and I have not met one yet that grasps this, and yet it is essential.
    When Jamie Galbraith was asked to comment on Clintons surpluses at the Whitehouse a few years ago, he told Clinton that these had caused the recession. Even other economists giggled at him, but the data proved him right. Surpluses always cause recessions unless a country has a massive trade surplus as well.
    So when we vote for parties who promise to cut the deficit, Conservative or Labour, do we know what we are doing? We are voting for cuts and recession, because the deficit is injections of high powered spending that makes us all richer, and makes our need for bank loans less.
    When we borrow to much from banks we end up with recessions and crises.
    This I think is what politicians keep talking about, and we need to understand what is really meant, without that we cannot make an informed choice.

    BTW Bill Mitchell – also from down under! Has a brilliant take on Labour Party dilemmas and their followers.
    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=30896

    1. David Pavett says:

      You say surpluses always cause recession unluss there is a massive trade surplus. Labour ran a surplus for four years from 1998 to 2001. At the same time it had a trade deficit. Did this cause a recession?

      1. Robert says:

        They also had the lowest pension rises the lowest benefits rises, and the lowest Min wage rises, so yes running a surplus that way is pretty easy.

        Now like it or not unemployment is going down slow yes but it is going down, the welfare bill is going up why well ask those getting the benefits. and of course people in jobs like council hope and pray the Tories will again demand bigger rises for them, while labour would of course demand a 1% pay cap but would give people £8 in five years time, god help I think labour did have the biggest suicide note.

      2. Sandra Crawford says:

        I was ignoring certain exceptional circumstances. Please let me explain.

        I was speaking of sectorial Balances. Take a look at this chart here from the OBR. Read the comments by Francis Coppola – an ex banking economist.

        http://coppolacomment.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/repeat-after-me-sectoral-balances-must.html

        If you look at the chart, you can see that a country’s sectorial balances sum to zero.

        You can see Gordon Browns public surplus at the left end of the chart in red. As you said, there is a trade deficit as well. House holds have a surplus too. It was an exceptional phase when corporate debt went into an extreme deficit, which shows that businesses were borrowing heavily, and employment rates were high. This coincided with the dot com boom.
        When that crashed, if Gordon Brown had not sensibly run a deficit, recession would have occurred as sure as eggs are eggs.
        You can see the enormous public deficit that occurred when bailing out the banks 2008 -9.
        If Gordon Brown had not done this, people would have lost their savings, and a depression would have occurred.
        Look at the forecast showing government going into surplus and households and corporates going into deficit. A slump beckons.
        My point is – we need to be aware of what is promised in the policies of both Conservative and Labour camps if we are to construct a policy of the left.

        1. Robert says:

          The accounts could have been made secure, but bailing out banks so they could just carry on with all the scandals which seems to have been perfected under labour’s Libor PPI .

          The issue not to long ago was a bank being fined for knowingly having drug accounts and cleaning the money up, $800 million fine and not a sodding soul in court.

          We gave the banks billions and allowed most bankers to go free because they would more then likely have pointed fingers at politicians.

          But in the future I’m sure the facts will come out that are banks were better at fiddling then the Mafia ever was.

          1. Sandra Crawford says:

            Yes the bailout was an emergency. It should have been followed by profound reforms.
            Strict regulation, and the permanent nationalisation of Lloyds and RSB if the national interest was Key….
            But the oligarch paid government we have had since 2010 would never do that.

        2. Sandra Crawford says:

          Also a simpler chart showing the Clinton surpluses.
          http://pavlina-tcherneva.net/2-key-charts.pdf

        3. David Pavett says:

          Sandra, I thought you would reply along those lines. What this means is that the original claim that “Surpluses always cause recessions unless a country has a massive trade surplus as well” you now wish to add “except in exceptional circumstances”. Do you know how many such circumstances there are?

          Was there not another period of budget surplus and trade deficit without recession just after WWII?

          Also India has had quite long periods of budget surplus with trade deficit and no recession since 1998 (I haven’t checked earlier figures).

          So just what are the qualifications needed to hedge the general relationship you claimed?

          1. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

            As I said, look carefully at Francis Capollas sectorial Balances chart.

            They always add to zero. So if one sector is in deficit, another must be in surplus to balance.
            It is very obvious that if households are in surplus, then they got the money from somewhere. That means that one of the following happened- 1)the country is making a lot of goods for export and gaining money from other countries. 2)corporations have borrowed a lot of money from banks to invest in production to pay their workers. 3)Government has created a deficit (created asset money),to make up shortfalls, provide services and public sector employment, tax credits etc.
            Recessions can occur with sustained surpluses, but they can be delayed until personal and private debt becomes unsustainable as shown by the financial crisis.
            If you looked into to the sectorial balances of the examples you give, you must find a reason for it, because you cannot mathematically change the fact the the sectorial balances must equal zero.
            A sustained surplus with a trade deficit will end with a recession, because the only other source of money is bank debt, and that alone when it grows and grows becomes unsustainable. The bank debt will grow during a sustained surplus because the government is extracting more money (taxes) than it is putting in, so people are forced to borrow.
            The exceptions are the heavy borrowing, but they cannot be sustained – yo end with a bust or a crisis.

        1. David Pavett says:

          The upshot of your answers above finally comes down to saying that you don’t need to look at the facts because the theory (which Steven Hail, one of its advocates, says is not a theory) is correct and tells us what must happen. This reminds me of the great physicist Paul Dirac who, when asked what if the facts did not agree with the theory of relativity, said “So much the worse for the facts”. You original claim is gradually being hedged in with qualified exceptions and now you are adding words like “sustained” without qualification. So-called modern monetary theory no doubt has some useful things to say but before we embrace it entirely we need to seriously consider the alternatives and also the criticisms directed at it. In the things I have looked at so far, Starting with Steven Hail, there is a complete failure to do that. For me this gives it the aura of a cult. Which is not to say that I will not look into it further and I will, according t the time available, look at all the references you have given.

          1. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

            http://www.adelaide.edu.au/directory/steven.hail#Biography/ Background

            Steven Hail is a University Lecturer with 25 years of training bankers.
            http://www.adelaide.edu.au/directory/steven.hail#Biography/ Background
            He is not a snake oil salesman.

            Francis Coppola is an ex banking economist who does not promote MMT. Look at the link I gave – she says that politicians do not consider sectorial balance identities when they promise to cut the deficit. Without any agenda, she knows that cutting the deficit will cause household debt to rise, and the economy to flounder with a parallel trade deficit. It is just fact.
            Having said that, Steve Keen has said that economics is not a science, and although it does have mathematical constraints, like the sectorial balances, there is no one way of running things. It is not like a Physics experiment – and that is why the neoliberals are crazy in insisting on deficit cuts – unless they have an agenda to serve the rich, which of course they do.
            There lies the rub. Economics has an agenda, and follows the agenda that suits those using it.
            I am afraid that it is not good enough to pontificate snidely about Paul Dirac’s ignoring of facts, unless you are sure whether you are dealing with facts yourself, and you have not provided a solid refutation.

            The MMT promoters do not promote deficits, they just say that they should settle at the level rqured by the countries secotorial balance, to promote well being and prevent a recession.
            What they really are saying is, as Bill Mitchell has stated in his brilliant billyblog, that it is not whether we have a deficit or not that is important. What is important is whether we have well being, full employment and services. He says “the economy is us,” and if that means running a deficit, then so be it. It is a fact that running a deficit will increase household and business wealth because government money is an asset to the private sector (us). He of course has an agenda, he is a socialist.

            Economics has facts and ideology.

          2. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

            It also helps enormously to be aware that banks create the loans they make – and destroy them when they are repaid. So banks only allow the aquisition of (say) a house, if the individual can pay the debt back from earnings. On a macro economic scale, those earnings can come from the countries exports, the governments deficit, or the debt of some one else (employer).

  6. John P Reid says:

    We were running scared, the 35% strategy,deciding we only just wanted to win, but we made some daft mistakes, second decent labourlist article of the day

    http://labourlist.org/2015/05/seven-strange-decisions-that-labour-got-badly-wrong/

    This ones also what’s needed, electoral reform and blue labour being two other things to get Back labour up North,

    http://labourlist.org/2015/05/neil-findlay-says-scottish-labour-could-become-independent-of-uk-party/

  7. Barry Ewart says:

    So glad I read the excellent New Left Review.
    Streeck argues the rich and powerful haven’t a clue what to do about the global financial crisis and the £1.5tr plus of quantitative easing has only bought off the financial crisis for a few years.
    Again the £1.5tr levels of personal debt in the UK are unsustainable.
    A right wing journalist in the Times was gloating on Saturday that there was no place for the left and with his magic pen eliminated the need of billions to sell their labour to live at a stroke.
    Perhaps we need to eliminate austerity at a stroke.
    They have the wealth, power and media etc. and all we have is our hands, heads and hearts; perhaps the real human power.
    Yours in peace, love, & international solidarity!

  8. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Really ?

    Non of that actually matters.

    Not one bit.

    I’m afraid that for me it was Ed, (either one,) who lost Labor the election , (and all his thieving lying well heeled mates, the toxic Blair legacy and labor’s failures in Rochdale, Rotherham, Sheffield, in Birmingham and at Mid Staffs etc,) that made me for the very first time in my life, vote for UKIP in preference to simply not voting at all.

    I can’t really believe that Miliband’s personal and his political party’s, annihilation at the election, (by a very lackluster Conservative campaign,) will have discombobulated Miliband in the least; he’s still a massively wealthy multi millionaire property speculator; living in £2.6 million North London Mansion; married to a lass on £200K pa, so I doubt he’s really that bothered about losing and that’s probably one reason why (among other reasons,) Labor lost,

    Whats’ still missing; as it was after the horrifying, (to most people though not apparently to our political low life,) revelations about the, “appalling abuse,” (and how could such, “appalling abuse,” not have contributed to the premature and needless deaths of many patients there,) that happened at Mid Staffs; is any sense of the sheer magnitude or the full extent of well heeled Labor’s failure or any guilt, regret or sense of remorse or responsibility about the suffering and brutality that will now be inflicted on the UK’s most vulnerable as a consequence of that failure.

    These vile people Blair, Umma, Balls, Reeves, Burnham, Cooper et al are vermin, pure and simple, but listening to Umma yesterday you’d almost think that he believed he’d somehow won the election.

    Out touch with us, the voters doesn’t even come close to describing the current wretched state of the British Labor party; completely divorced from all sense of reality and consequence and don’t even care probably now sums them up best.

    Yet another respect in which they have become completely indistinguishable from the Tories in fact.

    1. Gerald Allen says:

      In noting your concern for the victims of these appalling abuses and the wealth of members of Ed Milibands front bench you then go and vote for a party that has the financial backing of some of the most reactionary, right wing millionaires in the country, fronted by a demagogue whose policies are get out of Europe and send all the immigrants back and privatise the NHS(and who tears his m
      anifesto’s to shreds five minutes after the polling booths close)and whose membership is certainly riddled with racists and Tories who find Chicken Cameron too left wing.
      For all the faults of Labours front bench they are the only ones who could have provided the only alternative to this most reactionary coalition and as wishy/washy as we might think Milibands policies are, methinks Cameron might make them look like the Communist Manifesto by the time 2020 comes round But you just carry on voting for UKIP.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah………………….

        And you wonder why no voted for you ?

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          Also, ” as wishy/washy as we might think Milibands policies are,” (were,) actually I couldn’t see a fag paper’s difference between him and Cameron particularly regarding those of us who are the most vulnerable so II said it was UKIP or not even bothering to vote at all and a hell of lot of other people felt exactly the same way.

          1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            But to sum up as it where; and this was typical of labor’s entire non campaign, few people much enjoy being lectured and patronized as labor will alway tend to do; to the effect that, if it wasn’t for the stupidity and gullibility of people such as myself they’d have undoubtedly won.

            If only we were all as clever as you obviously believe yourself to be.

          2. Matty says:

            UKIP had an official policy on welfare that described benefit claimants as “a parasitic underclass of scroungers”.

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