Sunday 17 May 2015

Why Labour Lost: A Scottish Perspective

I certainly don't agree with all of what is said here. For instance, it assumes much of the English and Welsh political landscape is similar to Scotland. The piece below, however, contains some very uncomfortable truths for all Labour people. I'll be writing about the Labour leadership later on, but it behoves us all to pause and reflect on some of the disastrous decisions made over the last five years. This originally appeared on Labour Hame as a comment, and came to me by way of the excellent Mutterings from the Left blog.

"I am so tired of the word “nationalism” being branded about by Labour. And, ooh, they inserted the word “patriotic” in their constitution, how quaint. Personally, I don’t give a toss about patriotism and nationalism. I am an EU citizen living in Scotland and I voted YES because it is my firm belief that every country has a right to political self-determination and should not be ruled by another country. This is something that I suspect most Labourites would in theory agree to, because it makes them sound noble, but when applied to Scotland, they suddenly get a hissy fit at the notion of someone “wanting to break up our country.” The only explanation I can find for this behaviour is that they believe Scotland is not a country.

I’m going to help you out here, Labour, because I have watched your decline for a long time and it seems clear that you have not the foggiest idea where you have gone wrong. That is why almost everything you did to improve your prospects has only made things worse. So let me try to explain, and let me tell you in advance that everyone I have spoken to over the last few days agrees with me. Not because I am so super-clever, but because it is blatantly obvious. Only Labour seem to be unable to see it.

Forget Blairism. The con Blair pulled off worked once, but it will not work again in our lifetime, because there are things people don’t forget. Blairism gained Labour the support of a certain number of swing voters and that helped you as long as your core supporters loyally stood by you. Whatever made you think, though, that you could give up the goals and values of your real clientele and that nevertheless they would keep voting for you indefinitely? Sure, many people feel loyal to a party and are patient with it, and there is a certain inertia that needs to be overcome before some voters desert their traditional party. But if that party continually fails to represent their supporter’s interests, these supporters will eventually walk away. The sentence I heard again and again and again these last few months was this: “I have not left Labour, Labour have left me.” That is the core of the problem.

So listen to me well, Labour Party, because if you get this wrong again you will be done for, once and for all: Don’t try to appeal to Tory voters. Tory-leaning voters might vote Labour as a one-off protest vote, but by pandering to them you alienate the people who are your natural clientele. For a few years that might work out, but eventually the Tory-leaning voters will return to the Tory fold and your own supporters will decide you’re just not worth it anymore. If they have any sense, they’ll move on to the Greens, and if not, there’s always UKIP. If they feel seriously conflicted, they might just stay at home and not vote at all. In Scotland, they have serious alternative now. In any case, you’re unlikely to gain back their trust as long as you present yourself as a paler copy of the Tories. Nicola Sturgeon did give you the heads-up in the leadership debate. She said that of course there is a difference between Tories and Labour, but the problem is that the difference is not big enough. It is nowhere near big enough.

There are several ways in which this failure to be properly Labour instead of Tory-lite has played out.

1. You have failed to be an effective opposition. Instead of challenging the Tories’ brutal austerity policies, their hair-raising incompetence with the economy, their blatant favouring of the rich elites, you have done little else than bicker about details. You have allowed the electorate in England and Wales to believe against all evidence to the contrary that the Tories have is basically right. You voted with them for more austerity cuts. You voted with them for Trident renewal. You voted with them for more foolish military interventions in the Middle East, even though you must know by now how the Iraq War has damaged you. You abstained from the vote on the fracking moratorium which would have succeeded had you not been so cowardly. You have not been a counterweight to the nasty coalition, you have enabled them.

2. You have allowed the Tories to determine the political narrative. Instead of countering their agenda with your own agenda, you kept telling us you would do much the same as the Tories, only in a nicer way, and you deluded yourself that this would keep everyone happy. All this nonsense about cutting the deficit by slashing public services and restricting government spending, when it is standard textbook economy that in times of recession the government must increase spending to help the economy recover – you could have called the Tories out on this, you could have presented the figures of how the Tory approach had made the economy much, much worse. Why did it have to be Nigel Farage of all people who pointed out in the leaders’ debate that the Tories had doubled the national debt? That would have been your role, you should have hammered this message home relentlessly instead of letting them get away with their ludicrous claim that they had fixed the economy. You even allowed UKIP to set your agenda: Instead of making it clear, like Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon did, that immigration really, really isn’t a relevant problem, you went about printing “Controls on immigration” on mugs and even inscribing it on your ridiculous monolith.

3. Instead of fighting the Tories, you fought your potential allies. This wasn’t so disastrous in the case of the Greens and Plaid Cymru, given their small numbers, but I will say that having a big campaign to unseat Caroline was not only mean-spirited but stupid; those resources should have gone into targeting a Tory seat. However, it was your treatment of the SNP that might well have cost you the election. Again, you let the Tories determine the narrative. They crowed about a constitutional crisis, about a second referendum which neither the SNP nor the wider YES movement are seeking within the next few years anyway, about “breaking up our (sic!) country,” about chaos and nationalism and England being held to ransom. They and their compliant media outlets abused the SNP and the people of Scotland on a daily basis in the most despicable terms. And all you did was parrot them. Nicola Sturgeon could not have held out her hand any more sincerely, and yet you sneered at it.

What you could have done, should have done, was to challenge the Tory narrative. The SNP have been riding sky-high in the polls since September; and you had known for months that you could only form a government with their help. Plenty time to come up with a constructive strategy. You could have pointed out that the SNP are a moderate party of the centre left. You could have pointed out that they have a track record of eight years of competent and sensible and not-at-all-outrageous government in Holyrood. You could have pointed out that they stood for the kind of temperate progressive policies that many, many people in England would have been delighted to see. You could have pointed out that in no imaginable universe would even 59 SNP MPs be able to call the shots in a 650-strong parliament; that you would always be the boss in any kind of arrangement. You could have thrown all your might into convincing the English electorate that a Labour/SNP team effort would be good for the whole of the UK, as it undoubtedly would have been. Instead you declared a week before the election on national television that you would rather see the Tories return to power than work with the SNP. The stupidity of this is mind-blowing. And all under the banner of “not working with a party that seeks to break up the UK.” Tell me, what is your deal again with the SDLP, a party that seeks to unite Northern Ireland with the republic? You don’t even field candidates against them to give them a better chance? If you can work with them, why not with the SNP? But even today you still harp on about “nationalism” when in fact what the people of Scotland have opted for is the moderate social democratic policies which you should have offered but didn’t.

4. Having alienated your core supporters and turned your back on your potential allies, and with no progressive track record as an effective opposition to show to the electorate, you have based your election campaign on sound bites, PR stunts and silly gimmicks. Just after Nicola Sturgeon presented her gender-balanced cabinet and promised to work tirelessly on shattering the glass ceiling, you insulted the women of the UK by inviting them to talk “around the kitchen table” about “women’s issues,” proudly brought to us by a pink van. And you didn’t see it coming that people would call it the Barbie Bus and laugh it out-of-town? You allowed Jim Murphy to run amok in Scotland with one insane “policy announcement” after another – remember the “1000 more nurses than anything the SNP promises?” Why not promise weekend breaks on Jupiter for the over 65s? You wheeled out Gordon Brown at random intervals to make meaningless promises and you expected people to be swayed by the pledges of a retiring back bencher? You had some wishy-washy election promises carved in a massive gravestone and you thought that was a good idea?

Yours was a hopeless, hopeless campaign from beginning to end, without vision, without structure, without conviction. And yet I, like so many, clung to the hope that surely people in England must be so fed up with the Tories by now that they’d vote for you anyway and that surely once the election day dust had settled you’d see sense and head a progressive alliance with the SNP, SDLP, Plaid Cymru and the lovely Caroline Lucas who is worth her weight in diamonds. We could have turned things around for the good of the many rather than the few. Instead the Tories now have carte blanche to suck dry the people of the UK and grin smugly while they feast on our bones. All thanks to you, Labour Party. Now get your act together and make sure this will never happen again. I cannot spell it out any clearer."


Unknown said...

One question that the Scottish Labour Party has failed to grasp! -

Why was it abandoned by the Scottish people and it's working class bedrock?

Is it saying we were brainwashed by the SNP? Is it saying the Scots electorate were traitors for not voting Labour?
I was a member of the LP for 31 years. I would have remained there if it had ploughed it's own furrow during the Referendum debate. I left because it stood alongside the Tories, UKIP, the Orange Order, British Nationalists etc.

I was sickened by it's lack of courage. With a heavy heart I cancelled my membership! It will take a long time for me & many like me to come back to a Labour Party that has forgotten it's roots! I may go back if it rediscovers it's socialist principles. This seems unlikely at the moment -

It has a conservative streak going through it - like Blackpool Rock. It has to make up it's mind which camp it supports? The one of privilege or the one of working people & the vulnerable -

It needs to be a party that doesn't echo the Tory mantra that brands unemployed people as scroungers - a party that sees itself as fiscal managers rather than an enlightened socialist party of the people.

It can't blame the Scots for it's defeat. We were engaged - not because of it's input, It would rather we weren't so awake!

It's defeat was due to it's lack of ability to persuade those south of the border. If it doesn't recognise this - it will be a constant opposition & irrelevant...!

Vinyl Miner said...

Oh God, listening to the TV news programmes and reading the blogs and it is hard. Left and Right talk about getting back to the roots. The roots are not there any more, based on large scale industry and the housing schemes and working class villages, townships and the tenements of Clydeside associated with the pits, dockyard,docks and shipyards the roots died with the death industy. Trade Union members are in the minority and are in the main black coat workers. The SNP talk the talk but under the False Flag of Universal Benefits have directed a massive amount of funds towards the middle classes, they certainly do not walk the walk. Scotland ias about 40% middle class, 30% affluent working class and 30% and the bottom 30% have been left to sink or swim. The former mining village I live in has in the last 10 years became a dormitory for the Enburgh office workers, how can any party deal with these sudden changes. I think the actual structure of Scottish Labour should change, the whole branch structure is like a bloody anchor. Not so coherent today, to much politics but one thing, the Nationalists played a crazy and dangerous game putting their party before the electorate driving English voters from Labour giving Cameron the premiership. They are the enemy and Scottish Labour only have one task at the moment, to drive a wedge between the SNP expose them and the generation that is going to suffer the most, the 25's and under.
Think this video is 8 years old, but sinc that time they have grown

Boffy said...

The attitude taken here is essentially Blairite itself. It is a sort of consumerist attitude to politics in which "The customer/consumer is always right", and whereby politicians have to tailor their offering to what those customers/voters want rather than any notion that the job of a Party is actually to stand for a set of principles and ideas, which it fights to convince a majority of people of.

I have no trouble with saying that the voters got it wrong, rather than that the party got it wrong - though in fact I believe all the parties, and the voters got it wrong.

I have no trouble with the idea that Labour moved away from Scottish voters, and thereby lost votes to them. The question is rather in what way did Labour move away from those Scottish voters. If Labour moved to a more correct socialist position then I'm all in favour of it, whether or not it meant it moved away from Scottish voters, especially as those Scottish voters have been misled by nationalism, just as some english voters have been misled by Tory UKIP and in the past BNP nationalism.

The job of a workers party is not to tail the voters, even working class voters, but to analyse and define a socialist programme and to convince workers of its correctness, even if that means losing elections in the short term, because those workers have not yet been convinced. To simply follow the workers or remain on their existing ground is the policy of the Blairites not of socialists.

Jonathan said...

What partsd don't you agree with Phil?

Anonymous said...

Labour is going the same way as Pasok, only slower.
The Blairite and Blue Labour careerists now have such a hold ideologically that even this catastrophe won't shake them off.
The next step will be Unite ditching Labour. People arguing that Labour must concentrate its fight against the SNP are lunatics. What Labour must do is fight the Tories and austerity. Lead national demos against cuts, encourage and lead civil disobedience, remember Poplar.
But it can't and won't, so it's finished.
The only difference between Scotland and England is that there is no credible left alternative to Labour in England yet. But there will be.

Speedy said...

The Scots did not vote SNP because they are of a more generous disposition, they voted SNP because it was the party that promised them the most freebies - be it education, health etc.

This is fair enough, but it irks to have all this smug "we're more left than you" stuff going on - who wouldn't vote for a party offering this, if they felt their country could afford it?

The difference is the English don't think their country can afford it (although I believe they can) and they do have a point in so much as they are thinking of 65 million rather than 5.

The Scots have the best of both worlds - union without responsibility. You can't blame them - Labour after all handed it to them on a plate - but for every action is a reaction, and the Tories have become the de facto SNP of England.

It is difficult to grasp the enormity of this political error by Labour - bigger than Iraq - and history will certainly be its judge.

Nationalism on both sides of the border will now rule the roost.

Labour has no future in Scotland while it remains the party of union because union will always favour the English, who make up 85 per cent of the country.

Labour will have to fight in England, which means moving (or staying) to the right. The attitude of Boffy is laudable but laughable.

Labour will become (more like) the Democrats. Even if the UK stays in the EU it looks likely to fracture in the end because these tensions will pull it apart, and everyone will be worse off and unhappier.

On a deeper level this is about the death of socialism, which accompanied the fall of the wall and the slow death of industry in advanced economies. What is needed is a new analysis of power in the light of these rapid changes, and a new socialism that properly reflects that and works for the many, not the few.



Gary Elsby said...

I don't think Boffy is wrong to suggest the voters got it wrong, although you'd be laughed out of court for saying so.
The polls misled everyone.
The Tories campaigned on fear.
Labour found itself answering rather than leading.
Austerity is nothing other than bollocks put forward as the only cure to debt.

What the Tories are going to do now is raise the temperature on Europe with a few apologists being trotted out on a 'we can go it alone' agenda.
Then when the referendum question is put, the whole business class (inc the Tories) will bludgeon to death any 'wild eyed loons' who want out.
Not only that, Cameron will hatchet any prominent Tory who dares to talk 'anti' and backed up with a compulsory yes/pro EU vote.

On the stealth side, Ian Duncan Smith is pulling off a mater stroke.
The great Tory 'bail out' from SERPS into private pensions is being targeted very quietly (enough to bring down any Tory Government in my opinion).
Ask around to see if anyone bailed out in the late 1980's (as I did) and ask them why they did it?
Duncan-Smith is going for a leveller state pension removing all add-ons.
All well and good but apparently not for those that bailed out of SERPS.

Speedy said...

Truth is they can (and will) do what they want with welfare because the people who receive it do not vote for them.

Hugh H said...

For years people have complained Labour became a grotesque mirror image of the Tories to win a majority in England. For years they have ignored the complaints because their core support had nowhere else to go. This was as true with many of the core support as it was with the MP's. Labour had the power, this became the holy grail, rather than what they did with the power. Many would stay with them, just happy to keep the Tories out. Many who thought things through further than this would not.
In Scotland voters had somewhere else to go and in time the SNP demolished it's tartan Tory label and won many of them over. The usual dismissal of how this occurred is seen in comments here. "They ere misled by the SNP." "They were brainwashed by the SNP." The assumption is always that Labour support deserted for the SNP because they were stupid or gullible. It never occurs to those who bandy this insulting myth, that these people have actually thought things through in a way that they themselves have failed to do.
They have seen that what lies ahead for the UK is not "the prosperity of our children" parroted mechanically by an increasingly embittered Labour rump. What lies ahead is a future of endless debt, nationally and personally!
Between them the "Old Firm" of UK politics have embedded massive trade deficits in the UK economy by abandoning manufacturing. Encouraged calamitous risk and fraud in the financial sector to gloss it over. Refused to regulate against the risk and the fraud to keep the big numbers coming. Created a massive debt ratio of 90.60% and rising towards default because for all the cuts they still can't balance budget never mind reduce the debt. Given us the highest energy and distribution costs for business in the world by using fuel excise duty and VAT as cash cows to fund personal income tax cuts. Diverted investment into private housing bubbles. Virtually forced people into private ownership to feed the bubble by creating a massive shortage of rented council homes. Created a generation of students declared bankrupt in their twenties and thirties and patted themselves on the back for being champions of aspiration in a Britain they have bankrupted.
It never occurs to the unionist mentality that Scots have deserted Labour because they have seen the economic reality of UK PLC and it's future and decided enough is enough.
We don't need more socialism. We don't need less. We don't need a class war. We need a capitalist system that stimulates investment in manufacturing and finds a better way to cut its costs and let it be competitive, than cheap labour. The UK has none of that to offer and no political will to acknowledge its mistakes or reverse them. For many of us it's about uncertain hope against no hope at all. That is what Labour refuses to recognise and why it has nothing to offer but intelligence insulting gimmicks and slogans. Bankers bonuses did not cause the crunch. Unregulated banks caused the crunch. Did Milliband think we were all too dumb to know that? Where were the regulation plans? A tax on big houses will not cure the economic imbalance and the trade deficit, or balance the budget. We are apparently all traitors for not being economic dimwits. We plead guilty.
The Article covered the rest of it very well. I have just added a perspective from someone who used to be a Labour unionist but broke free from the indoctrination, by confronting the reality of a debt based economy. I was brainwashed once. Not any more.