What went wrong?
To say I am disappointed is an understatement. The worst government I have ever lived under has just been replaced by one containing all its pathological elements and none of its potentially moderating influences. I supported the Green Party, not Labour, and Labour will blame people like me for their loss. There’ll be time enough for analysis, to see if the Green vote did actually decide any marginals – but I think that’s carping. I’m not going to apologise for my vote: I’m in a safe Labour seat, and I voted Green because, bankers or bedroom tax, the most critical issue facing the country and the world is climate change. I’ve got a gripe with my party that they didn’t put that issue front and centre of everything in the campaign, but this post is about Labour, not the Green Party.
The plain fact is that Labour never looked like winners, however much those of us on the anti-Tory side hoped they might be. I still think that Ed Miliband would be a better PM than Cameron – he could hardly be worse – but he has never seemed prime ministerial, whatever that means. In the media-obsessed world we live in, Miliband always seemed a little geeky – his offensive nickname “Beaker” – and decent intelligent human though he is, I don’t think he was the right person to lead Labour. He lacks the necessary charisma. I would have liked Alan Johnson or perhaps Andy Burnham. I wish this wasn’t an issue, but I’m afraid it is, because the media says it is.
Policies and politics.
I can’t fault most of Labour’s policies on their own, but the whole package was just a bit meh. I think the bigger problem is the political narrative, which affects the Left globally. “Socialism” is still a toxic word. Neo-liberalism has failed on the right, but there isn’t a coherent political narrative for the left to replace it. There’s no shortage of ideas, particularly in economics. Piketty, Stiglitz and even Krugman have been widely read and trenchantly critical of the neoliberal consensus but as yet translating their ideas into policies seems to elude the parties of the left. Labour needed to be much more critical of the banks and bankers and to propose radical banking and monetary reform. Unfortunately, the two-Eds leadership was heavily implicated in Brown mismanagement of this issue and can’t really be trusted to tackle it head on, as it needs to be.
It comes down to a key problem. Labour threw out its soul with the Clause IV bathwater; Blair replaced idealism with the hollow branding of New Labour. Now that New Labour has gone, the party needs to rebrand the ideals that most of its members hold into something of value.
Labour is still deeply divided. I don’t think this is an issue now, but it will be. Did they fail because they were too left or too right? This failure to agree on a political compass is one of the reasons the party finds it so difficult to express a coherent narrative about its purpose.
Management and activism
The PLP still consists mostly of the former spadocracy, career politicians who joined the party when its star was burning bright in the firmament. There isn’t the passion from the roots for the Labour project: compare it with the SNP, which has a vast number of passionate grass-roots members whose activism was kindled in the indyref. Unless Labour can rekindle this sort of grass-roots passion – and many in Labour have tried – I’m personally doubtful whether the party has much of a future. However, there is nothing like a Tory government on a destructive rampage to fire up youthful protest – so perhaps there is a silver lining for Labour in the present catastrophe.