History, Marx remarked, often repeats itself. The first time as tragedy and the second time as farce.
If we don’t understand history we will certainly be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. And so it is that we can learn a lesson from the Conservatives.
Mrs Thatcher showed the Tories how to win elections after a period of opposition. Mr Blair did the same for us.
But the Tories made the mistake of attempting to find leaders who reproduced her politics. This was a serious blunder, and they lost three subsequent elections under the Thatcherite clones – Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard. They failed because they didn’t understand that the country had changed fundamentally and that it had moved on beyond Thatcherism. Continue reading
The polls were with Labour. The feedback on the doorstep was very encouraging. It looked like all the naysayers and the problems of the previous five years had been put to bed. Until that exit poll flashed up on the nation’s TV screens. It gave the Tories a clear lead, and one several seats away from a majority. Then the worst happened. As the night wore on it became increasingly clear Labour were not winning the seats it needed to capture to form the largest party, and by the morning the impossible had happened: David Cameron had pulled the irons of an overall majority from the election fire.
Despite the naysaying and doom laden predictions coming from the left of the labour movement, David Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party started off well. From the moment he emerged ashened face from behind the curtain at party conference, he set out a stall that confounded expectations. Labelled as the continuity Blair candidate, David’s victory speech – secured across all three sections of the electoral college, albeit very narrowly with a higher-than-expected turnout from USDAW members in the trade union component, emphasised the need to capture economic credibility. Continue reading
The general election result was not an endorsement of austerity but was a stunning Tory tactical success. The Tories adopted a policy of defending key marginal seats against Labour and UKIP and attacking in Liberal Democrat seats. The strategy worked and lead to a Tory majority government for the first time since 1992. This was done on a swing of 0.8% to the Tories, with Cameron returned as Prime Minister with 36.9% of the vote, the lowest share in history. The coalition government meanwhile suffered an overall loss of 14.4%, but remarkably the Tories ensured that all of this loss was suffered by the Liberal Democrats. This represents the biggest ever loss by a governing party. Continue reading
Tony Blair’s enduring, if banal, insight is that parties win elections from the centre ground. Labour has to be where most of the voters are in order to win seats enough to govern. While in one sense true, in another the centre ground is a many legged beast. And each body segment has its own direction of travel.
It’s not the done thing to believe the polls these days, but they have consistently shown support for nice lefty things like nationalisation of utilities and the rails, properly funding the NHS, rent controls, and a host of other causes we hold dear. And they also show the salience of some regressive views – antipathy toward immigrants, and hostility to those dependent on social security. Continue reading
It’s already being said by the Blairite rump that Labour lost because Ed Miliband took the party to the left. The fact is that the New Labour governments were well to the right of the vast majority of Labour supporters, and clearly needed correction, but let that pass. This last-ditch attempt to re-launch the manifestly failed Blairite project ignores the meaning of everything that’s happened in the last 5 years. Ed Miliband was right to see that the banks and finance sector, the corporate elite, and the media had far too much power and had abused it by inflating their own income and wealth at the expense of everyone else and by seeking to suppress all those forces, notably the trade unions, that stood up for the poor and dispossessed. Continue reading