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Labour lost because it failed to challenge the Tory economic narrative

Balls and OsborneHow does on explain that not one of the 50 or so polls over the last 6 weeks has put either Labour or the Tories outside the range of 260-285 seats, yet at 10pm on election night the BBC issues a shock exit poll which puts the Tories at 316 and Labour at 260?

One reason might be that the Tories late in the campaign successfully ignited English nationalism against the Scots having any sway over government at Westminster, another that the much larger number of undecideds at this election chose at the last moment in their perplexity to play safe and give their vote to maintain the status quo, another is that there is generally a return to the incumbency factor which favours the government at the end of the campaign. But whilst such considerations may have had some influence, they don’t explain the deeper factors which lie at the heart of this shocking turnaround of all the punters’ predictions.

The persistent Tory barrage of invective against Ed Miliband, faithfully reproduced and magnified by their Tory tabloid allies, undoubtedly undermined the perception of the Labour leader. He largely neutralised this by his TV appearances during the campaign, but the vitriol of the Sun and the Mail were so relentless and extreme that some of the vilification stuck – a derangement of rational debate so grotesque that it demands reform in the name of proportionality and balance.

But the heart of the matter lies in the way the Tories managed to frame the election in terms that suited their own narrative, namely that Labour left a dreadful economic mess, the Tories had succeeded in repairing it, and do you want to give the keys back to the people who were responsible for the reckless over-spending in the first place?

It is unconscionable that Labour never at any stage in the last 5 years effectively challenged these lies. Because this Tory line was endlessly repeated, along with the farce of the Tories’ long-term economic plan, the uninitiated in economics (which represents the great majority) came to believe it when Labour never refuted it or killed it stone dead with the facts. Labour never insisted that there were two ways to reduce the deficit – by Osborne’s endlessly cutting expenditure which ground the economy to a halt or by using public investment to expand the economy as the Attlee government did after the war when the deficit was far larger which brought down the deficit far quicker.

In the absence of making this crucial lesson clear, Labour instead played copy-cat with the Tories’ false and ideologically driven deficit-cutting. We said we too would reduce the deficit by further extensive spending cuts, but take a bit longer about it to be a bit more gentle. That implies Labour accepts hook, line and sinker the Tories’ central economic policy, even though any further austerity is hated by the public. Can there be any greater turn-off against voting Labour?


  1. Barry Ewart says:

    Good points Michael.
    Is a good piece by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman on-line.
    As Laurie says we shouldn’t be depressed, depressed people are easier to control unlike angry people and we should be about action.
    With £30b of cuts I would hate to be poor, unwaged, desperate for social housing or in need of the NHS but we who are doing ok need to be strong too otherwise they win.
    Our working class team after attending a local count (and winning well for Labour) went to the pub in the city centre for a meal and drink afterwards (all of us sporting red rosettes) and we had a laugh talking about our experiences working in he election – they may win a battle but they can’t crush our spirit!
    I then watched a wonderful young singer in a pub and she was singing Tamla songs and 60’s music and I thought how most Tamla artists and The Beatles came from council estates – we have the best tunes!
    The Tories no longer have the Fig Leaf of the Lib Dems and with their majority of only 12 we will probably see their unrestrained cruelty, so we need to fight back!
    “Rise up with me against the organisation of misery” – Pablo Neruda.
    Yours in solidarity!

    1. Matty says:

      Yep, Motown and The Beatles – still the best ever. As for poetry how about Shelley (via P Weller for me):
      Rise like Lions after slumber
      In unvanquishable number—
      Shake your chains to earth like dew
      Which in sleep had fallen on you—
      Ye are many—they are few.’


    I agree with all that is said here.
    I want to give Ed Balls the benefit of the doubt however because he showed in his 2010 Bloomberg speech that he understood that deficit spending is beneficial to grow the economy. His grasp is second to none.
    I think he was leaned on by Progress and Mandleson. How I cannot say, but sometime in 2013 he changed tact very dramatically and the polls dropped and dropped for Labour ever since.
    Anyone wishing to understand that deficits are a good thing, and should be used until we reach full employment, and can be abused to create unemployment should watch this.

    They should also study Bill Mitchells Billyblog.
    Excellent analysis for the left.

  3. syzygy says:

    Spot on Sandra Crawford. I completely agree. The LP needs to go back to Keynes (or preferably Kalecki) and adopt the MMT economic approach, instead of Ed Balls’/Larry Summers’ type of Neokeynesianism.

  4. Matty says:

    Yes, I agree too. I think Ed B was leaned on probably by Ed M. He makes great speech at Bloomberg on economics as part of his leadership campaign. He loses that and then he never goes near repeating what he said at Bloomberg.

  5. Bill Oldroyd says:

    Based on conversations I have had with people both before and after the election, the Tory election broadcast showing the smashed clock really connected with the way many people were thinking. I am not saying that broadcast changed peoples minds, just that it reflected their thinking.

    It is right that the true narrative about the causes and the solutions to the economic crash have never been properly presented to the electorate. Labour have had a chance over the past 5 years, but presumably for the people who could put this record straight, it was never thought to be important.

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