Sunday 8 May 2016

Political Realities and the Election Results

The election results are exasperating. Not because of percentages or seats won or lost, but because of the reactions. "These elections were awful", opines Andrew Rawnsley. New MPs Jo Cox and Neil Coyle said "these elections were a terrible missed opportunity". Meanwhile, someone conjured up this idiot infographic, followed by another that were duly, earnestly circulated on social media by Jeremy supporters. So in the core plus ultra corner, or whatever ludicrous badge they have wittily appropriated for themselves, we have a one-dimensional analysis of the election(s) that pays no mind to how much British politics has changed since 2012. And opposing them are folks who'd prefer to believe outright bullshit than try and get to grips with the situation. Is thinking really so unfashionable?

Politics is about power and interests so it's usually a good idea to look at how the land really lies, and that applies whether you're defending a position or mounting an insurgency. That means starting an analysis from what could as opposed to what should have happened. And here, Jeremy's critics are found wanting. Suggesting Labour needed to win over 400 seats was a ludicrously high bar based on electoral precedents that no longer apply. Not that Labour under Jeremy is sure to bulldoze all-comers, but because the party system now is much more fragmented: four party politics in England, five in Wales, six in Scotland. Under these circumstances, what went before might not happen again. Which leads to my second point. Breaking out the equipment for a thought experiment, on what grounds could Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, or Yvette Cooper have secured a better result on Thursday?

Any of these would have faced the same issues in Scotland. Perhaps Scottish Labour wouldn't have championed a penny on income tax and scrapping Trident. Maybe they wouldn't have let the Tories get away with their Resolute Defenders of the Union nonsense, but there is nothing, nothing that could have avoided the cataclysm that visited Labour, again. How about Wales? Labour here have, electorally speaking, all the disadvantages of an incumbent government because of, um, incumbency. Fought on its record, which is what it was always going to do, a hit was likely regardless. Nevertheless, as Wales adjusted to the post-2012 political realities of England and returned seven UKIP AMs, that didn't unduly damage Labour. The same point can be made about the English elections. Defending incumbency, this high point of Labour under the ancien regime was initially achieved without electoral competition from UKIP. It was to be expected this set of contests would adjust to UKIP's presence, giving them 25 more councillors and, you would think considering how much the purples hurt Labour last year, that lumps would be taken out of us. And yet, a net gain/loss of zero councils and a net drop of 18 councillors. No steps forward, but no stagger back either. This means the soft polarisation noted at the general election, where the two main parties started piling up votes in their "core areas", has carried on. Plenty of people have bemoaned the fetishisation of protest and opposition by overenthusiastic Jeremy supporters on Twitter, but one of the results of this perception - which has been transmitted far and wide - is that a thin layer of anti-politics voters may have switched from the kippers. This is an inference, but how to explain what was quite a poor showing for UKIP in areas, we're told, that are supposedly fertile for them. True, going by their by-election performances this last year there is some evidence of post-general election decline, but would they have done just as badly up against a Labour Party led by one of the others?

In sum, I don't believe an alternative leadership would have done any better assuming the political realities facing Labour now would have largely been the same - and there's no reason to think otherwise. That said, comrades believing Thursday's results mean all is hunky dory need to spend less time with dodgy social media memes and engage with the serious and pertinent questions the so-called Red Tories are raising. How can Labour be built into a vote-winning machine? How can it persuade non-Labour/Tory voters to give our party a punt? It appears some Jeremy supporters are coming round to the view that a core vote plus non-voters formula is a non-starter, and that this must be combined with building a coalition of voters, but without the principles-dumping triangulation of the past. I hope so, because that's the only conceivable route Labour can take to stand a chance in 2020. And if they're serious, it's time to start thinking about how this can be done because the inane rubbish doing the rounds is neither use nor ornament.


Metatone said...

I don't discount the need for broadening the appeal - though I do think it's a longer term project and thus maybe not likely to cheer anyone up soon.

However, I have been disappointed in the lack of work/success in activating "non-voters" - especially young ones. The EU referendum was a huge opportunity for Labour to engage younger voters - after all, they have a lot more long-term interest in the referendum - and the Tory strategy has been to disenfranchise them. This would have laid a more solid base for 2020. But it appears the opportunity was lost.

Boffy said...

Its obvious that the spin that would be put on the election results by the Blair-rights, the Tories and Tory media had been formulated long before election day, let alone the announcement of the results. They were probably formulated in the same cloistered chambers where the strategy of attacking Corbyn via the confected anti-Semitism panic was formulated.

The Blair-rights/Tories cannot conceive of a world that does not conform with their idea of how it should be, and in which no right thinking person could support Corbyn or the kind of policies he represents. That is why there is such a cognitive dissonance between what those people have to say, what the results show, and what ordinary people see around them. Its why the continued repetition of the same old formulas that the Blair-rights have pumped out for the last 20-30 years, now grate so much, and appear so out of date.

I'm just in the process of writing a blog post indicating why in fact, for Labour, these results were not just good but great!

Steven said...

Amazing to finally see some sense on these elections, I'm not going to lie.

Big take aways for me from this has been that the Labour Right are continuing to needlessly discredit themselves in a big way. Interested in why a select few, including ones who should seem to know better, seem intent on butting heads with the wider membership for the sake of it.

As someone in Scotland seeing Labour figures circulating McTeran's facile analysis is a slap in the face to the membership and the work they put in, this year and the last. His name gets booed at my CLP, which was Harris' constituency so hardly a group of people unable to deal with a right-winger. He's a by-word for everything we shouldn't be doing.

The other big take away, for the left, is that the digital strategy needs a total overhaul. My only hope in this area is that McDonnell will take action. The leadership should reach out to the Novara Media team, given that they're bold, smart, represent genuinely new thinking aligned with the policy direction McDonnell seems to be leaning towards, and would represent a break with the cranks that Jeremy brought on. I think Labour HQ are hopelessly unqualified here and it's going to make the difference between the next election being winnable or not.

Sabcat said...

I think that's a pretty decent analysis of the situation but I'd also add that Labour hasn't yet got a coherent set of policies in place and so isn't able to craft a narrative to sell those policies the result was surprisingly good. Hopefully and I say this as a none Labour supporter, this will give Corbyn space to solidify his leadership and create a genuine offering to the electorate. Who knows, that offering might even make a Labour supporter of me.

Igor Belanov said...

Given the utter division within the party and the frontstabbing of Corbyn by many MPs and the media, plus the changed political context post-2010, Labour's results were surprisingly stable and show a refreshing dismissal by many of the constant anti-Corbyn media narrative.

The bad news, however, is that Labour will not make a decisive jump in popularity unless it has a clear strategy and some unity of purpose. This, I'm afraid, is never going to happen given that the positions within the party are utterly irreconciliable, despite Corbyn's best efforts to compromise.

The problem is the Blairites' complete unwillingness to analyse their political trajectory. Their unique selling points in terms of the Labour Party were their connections and PR 'skills' that would appease a hostile media, while in the country at large it was the claim that they would be able to manage the economy in the interests of all. Both these claims have been wrecked. The manipulation of opinion inside and outside the party alienated both members and voters, an attitude worsened by the lies that led to the Iraq War. The second claim was destroyed by the economic crash, which ruined Brown's assertion to have eliminated 'boom and bust'.

You would think that Corbyn's resounding victory would have caused his opponents to contemplate their own positions, but instead they seem even more entrenched.

Dave K said...

Good article. As socialists do need to think of a radical popular left wing programme to win the majority to the left and at the same time build and equip the powerful, social and cultural forces needed to actually implement such radical policies.

Labour and the left has always been terrible on this. The labour right first borrowed from the liberals later from the tories and the democrats in America. For all their glittering rhetoric the New Times people offered little more then constitutional reform plus consumer rights. The left of labour and beyond has a pretty terrible record too. Look at the ted grant tradition of just doing more nationalisation then Bevan or Benn would. The other influence is the protectionist 'alternative economic plan'that the Communist Party pushed.

Just one area were you think the left could make serious advances is in rural areas if they actually offered a radical coherent and popular programme.
For instance:
Free public transport and WiFi for rural areas.
A state backed co'operative for tenant diary and hill farmers.
Rent controls / build for social need for homes not second housing.
A national labour scheme for agricultural workers.
Creation of modern commons for entire communities.
WPA style Husbandary and environmental schemes to improve the environment and pay decent wages.

Just one area we could look at.

BCFG said...

This brave new labour party, fighting on social democratic principles and not the tory lite, Thatcherite in essence policies promoted by the Blairites, including the Yvette Cooper loving centre left, has 3 major problems:

1) Front-stabbing (love that) MP's who are basically Tory spies in the Labour camp, they may as well be, hell bent on defeating Corbyn's social democracy and undermining every and any initiative.

2) Hostile media owned lock stock and barrel by the shadier sections of the ruling class, who will drown out any coherent policy initiatives with stupidity, ignorance, hysteria and infantilism. It is actually wrong to say that Corbyn does not have a coherent vision, it is just that this vision, this clear path he is setting out is drowned in the sea of bile created by the unfree media. Unless a party gives meaningless soundbites it is assumed that the party has no coherence!

3) A nation with deeply embedded chauvinistic and racist values, which are the direct product of imperialism and colonial history. No serious leftist can countenance a party that panders to imperialism. This is why Corbyn's anti Trident stance is so crucial.

None of the above 3 things mean that Labour cannot win under a social democratic banner. But we need to purge the party of the tory lite MP's, take on the unfree media with more gusto and patiently build a social democratic programme fit for purpose, which is why Corbyn and Mcdonnell have initiated a series of serious discussions about future economic policy. Not that you would read any of that or watch any of it via our pathetic excuse for journalist outlets. Newspapers, more like comics!

Given all the above the election results were slightly better than I was expecting. But even so we should not fall for the Blairite idea that winning is more important and ditching your principles is the price worth paying to achieve it!

Igor Belanov said...

Dave K gets a house point I think! A bit of imaginative thinking from the radical Left is unfortunately rare.

BCFG said...

Why should I, living in urban South Yorkshire, pay for Wi-fi, while those in the leafy districts, whose house prices are way beyond my reach, get it for free!!!!! Same with public transport to be honest, though I would be open to subsidising fares for longer travel.

The second housing issue is worth pursuing, though looking at St Ives a number of folks are taking matters into their own hands!

Metatone said...

To echo Igor, kudos to Dave K.
More thinking about policies that can be distinctive and appeal beyond the core is definitely in order.