A man in Croyden thought Ed Miliband was a potato but they didn’t need an internal inquiry to tell them that. It was clear from the reaction in the hall the moment he was elected and beat his brother David that this wasn’t meant to be. And that was just the Labour Party. Once the country realised Labour were serious, the Yugh factor kicked in. It isn’t always measurable because most people don’t want to be rude about someone to a stranger asking questions for a polling organisation. So they find euphemisms like ‘looks funny’, ‘unconvincing’ or ‘not strong’. What they really think is: ‘I wouldn’t vote for this twerp to run a Scout troop.’
But Labour’s leaked internal findings, strangely missing from Dame Beckett’s Pollyanna storyboard of an election report, show that Ed was the least of Labour’s problems. Or he was just the visible incarnation of a party that had lost its way and misplaced its ability to reach the voters.
The two dominant policy themes were that Labour blew the money and bust the country and wasn’t interested in ‘me’…Me being the ubiquitous hard working family person. The first is nonsense. Labour were only spending modestly above income until the Crash which blew everything off course – certainly no more than Thatcher did. The point is that, instead of ensuring the agenda stayed accurate, or at least debatable, Labour allowed the Tories and their chums in the media to write the history. Thus, Labour spent all the money. Where are you, Alistair Campbell?
Secondly, they did what the party’s Right was warning of – they tried to shore up support by focussing on those suffering the worst of Tory austerity. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, so long as it is balanced by making an appealing offer to the in-work and the better off without whose support you can’t win (to quote that nice Mr Blair). When Labour – and any politicians – talk about helping those on benefits, even if it’s for all the right reasons, to a huge section of the population devouring British media pap every day, that means scroungers. Duncan Smith’s department deliberately put out distorted information to selected right wing papers, the Mail and Telegraph, with individual cases of scroungers which sets an agenda picked up for the broadcasters and accepted as the norm. Voters think the billions the government talks about saving from the welfare budget are caused by workshy cheats. The official figures show it to be 0.7 per cent of the welfare budget.
Anybody who’s had to get out the door by 6am on a cold morning and comes home in the dark with a flimsy pay packet is going to feel resentment at dysfunctional types lounging on sofas, playing with the dog and smoking fags on Benefits Street. Labour’s concern was interpreted as over wrought concern for ‘down and outs’ instead of balancing it with a vision for the people who think of themselves – and are encouraged to do so by the government – as the Doers and Workers. Labour lent too far Left for a centrist electorate.
The other touchstone issue was immigration which, ridiculously, the Tories won. Cameron has only talked tough and consistently failed to meet any target he’s set – the same as Osborne on the economy. But because he talked about crackdowns and made some crass – and sometimes counter productive – gestures, the reporting made him look tough and Labour late and soft.
The terrifying part of this is how it is information manipulation that lies at the heart of politics. To a degree, your policies can be just about anything, but so long as you have a compelling story which appeals to the media and gives the public what they want to hear, you still win. Well done, the Tories. And, let’s be honest here, well done the SNP. They’ve also learned the trick.
there were clear signs of what Labour has misjudged in Scotland, not just in the specific Scottish chapter. People felt Labour were obsessed with the past –all that How We Built the NHS etc – when they want to hear about the future, especially when the world has gone through a major financial upset. Labour looked and sounded historic and when your main comparison is with Tories yearning for a return to the 1950’s, you’re in trouble. Haven’t the SNP consistently talked about reindustrialising Scotland with renewables, imagining a new independent Scotland, taking the country forward – and have come up with new faces to mix in with the recognised. Indeed, wasn’t the resignation of Salmond a masterstroke?
But the cruncher for Labour in Scotland was surely the blindingly obvious – they might not be the SNP but why did they have to be so close to the Tories? The answer of course is that they aren’t really so far from them at all on too many questions and are side by side on the major issue of Scotland. How utterly out of touch could you be not to see the danger of that? (It amazes me that the man who drove that campaign, McDougall is still in place. How can you begin to start afresh when the man with the dirty hands is still gripping the wheel?)
I loved the idea that Labour were seen as indistinguishable from the Tories, only ‘not as competent.’ It isn’t Alistair Campbell they need. It’s Armando Iannucci.