On Beckett there would appear to be general agreement that the failure to even attempt to dispel the myth that Labour was responsible for the 2008 crash because of over expenditure rather than bank ‘sub prime’ lending was a key factor. It should have been the key issue, as Michael Meacher consistently and rightly argued in Left Futures and elsewhere, and without substantial acceptance that Labour was not to blame it is doubtful whether the election could have been won, irrespective of more favourable approaches in other areas.
Beckett makes many other valid points, and dismisses the simple ‘too left’ or ‘too right’ arguments, so no particular policy or person (except poor old Ed) is singled out for criticism, which was partly the object of the exercise, but in seeking to avoid criticism the report is lacking in fundamental respects, simply because a number of what the left should surely regard as basic mistakes are not addressed.
There are three such areas.
The first is the effective capitulation to Tory cuts policy over the 2013 Spending Review. This meant that Labour now had a far more draconian policy than under Darling, and was locked into supporting continuous widespread cuts with no substantial addition to capital investment. Policies therefore to stimulate the economy through major housebuilding and green technology could not be advanced, so that in this crucial respect Labour was indistinguishable from the Tories. Much was made of the fall in living standards, (the squeezed middle) but as Michael Burke points out in one of the few decent critiques of Beckett, (After Beckett Report, Socialist Action 20 Jan) Labour did not, because its surrender to Tory cuts policy means it could not, put forward any meaningful or credible way in which this could be changed.
The second is the electoral strategy, in that it remained fixated on the centre ground. Under first –past-the-post the centre is of course more important than under proportional systems, but Labour laid too great a stress on the centre at the expense of its traditional supporters in the C2, D and E social groups, and the previous left part of the Lib –dem vote, where support from both groups could have been much greater with more left wing policies, probably without particularly affecting the Labour A/B vote which remained strong. The result was that a sizeable chunk of Labour’s traditional vote went to UKIP while much of it failed to vote, and many of the left ex Lib-Dems voted Green, probably costing Labour the five seats lost where the Green vote was greater than the margin of loss. The tragedy is that the same thing happened in 2010, at least as far as the traditional working class vote was concerned, but no lessons were learnt from this.
The third is Scotland, where it is clear that participation alongside the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ campaign prior to the referendum was a huge error, compounded by allowing the SNP to maintain a somewhat dishonest anti austerity policy, thus positioning itself to Labour’s left in Scotland and successfully attracting much of its vote. A separate Labour ‘Better Together’ campaign and a Labour anti austerity programme could have prevented the collapse that occurred and retained a sizeable number of Labour seats in Scotland.
It is frankly just not acceptable for any assessment of the election to ignore these areas, and perhaps others, and further work is needed to rectify this.
And so to the elections to come. In three months time there will be six sets of elections in mainland UK (Local government, mainly urban, London and three other Mayors, Greater London Authority, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Police and Crime Commissioners) that will be more comprehensive than any other elections in the years leading up to 2020, and these should now become the priority for the left, on the fairly obvious grounds that the results will be seen by many members and supporters as a test of the Corbyn leadership, with good results strengthening it and vice versa. A minority on the left do not see this as an issue, thinking it more important to deselect Trident loving Labour MPs. The sensible majority know that it’s important, but many seem to have taken the predictions of many commentators of wipeout on 5 May too literally. What is the position?
According to current polls Labour is about six points behind the Tories, a position that has not altered much since the election and has not changed, for better or worse, since Corbyn’s advent as leader. (I am assuming here that pollsters have made adjustments to their sampling methods and that their figures are more accurate than those preceding the election which overstated the Labour vote.)
At this point in the last parliament Labour had begun to draw ahead of the Tories, so that for the Scottish and Welsh elections in 2011 it was about four points ahead, and for the London and local government elections in 2012 about eight points ahead. This means that it is now a total of about 10 and 14 points respectively (-6 to +4, -6 to +8) behind, which seems a huge amount and is the basis of the gloomier predictions. However, there are a number of countervailing factors.
There is the Oldham West by-election, the enormous success of which for Labour no-one has satisfactorily explained, but which is likely to reflect three things, namely the increase in and strength of the Labour vote in last year’s election in predominantly Labour areas where a much higher proportion of the voting will take place for the local government and London contests than if this voting covered the whole country, the return to Labour of many who had switched to UKIP last year, and Labour’s ability, unlike other parties, to put large numbers of canvassers onto the streets.
The polls for London are much more favourable than for the country as a whole and it is where Labour has its highest membership density. It is also where the most high profile contest of all the elections will be fought, that for London Mayor.
Things do not look good in Scotland, but a poor result here cannot in the main be blamed on Corbyn. In Wales it is likely that Labour will retain its leading position in government, either through a coalition with Plaid or the Lib-Dems (if there are any left), or as a minority government, as the only alternative is likely to be a coalition including UKIP which would be unacceptable to Plaid.
So there is everything to fight for, and a reasonable expectation that Labour can achieve a credible result, but campaigning for it must be the priority for the next three months.