EVERYONE SHUDDUP! IT’S MY TURN TO TELL YOU WHAT LABOUR NEEDS TO DO
That headline is how the internet feels right now. Or, more specifically, the bits of it I choose to engage with. I have read column after column and tweet after tweet about why Labour lost the election or why the Conservatives won it, what happened in Scotland, what happened in London, what direction the party should take, who should be next leader, what is wrong with the left, what is wrong with this country. For a side that just lost heavily – and, importantly, had no clue such a heavy defeat was coming – we haven’t really learned an iota of humility. We’re still very much in “transmit” rather than “listen” mode.
Nobody knows what happened. Nobody expected it to be this awful. Any such claims should be treated with the scepticism usually reserved for instant weight loss remedies. Nobody can tell with any certainty “what will definitely win the next election”. If they could they would be selling their secret formula as the highest paid election consultant in the world; not giving it away on twitter. We’re all football fans whose team has just lost: full of alcohol and bitterness and spent adrenaline and advice on team selection.
The most dangerous of us are choosing this vulnerable moment to tell the rest we should lurch to the left or lurch to the right, which just happens to be what they have always believed, anyway. I view them with special spite. They support their grandiose statements with pseudo-intellectual sophistry. I choose among those this peach from the New Statesman which is a perfect sample and made me particularly angry.
It seeks to pre-empt and pre-silence any discussion which may crop up on the role of the media. The hysterical, sustained and vicious attacks on Miliband and his policies in the press, apparently, had no effect. It’s a red herring. Quick someone call all the companies who spend a combined $600b each year on advertising and give them the news. Someone at the New Statesman thinks that a particular image or narrative appearing in all media over time has no influence whatsoever. “Powerful interests” also had no influence, apparently. Those sad jerks who donate millions to the Conservative Party every year, someone tell them. The piece even concludes that the Conservatives themselves running a shrewd campaign didn’t have anything to do with the election result (no, really). The only thing the does not count as a “delusion”, the only thing that matters, is that the Labour party didn’t follow Blair’s advice and position itself more to the right.
What the fuck is more to the right than a tombstone with “we will control immigration” carved on it?
The truth is, we’re all flailing in the dark. I have no solutions to offer. I have only the following observations, which you may find helpful or not, resonant or not.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. And that came across loud and clear in conversations both among us and with the electorate. This meant that we were all a lot more comfortable saying how awful the other team were, instead of how good ours was. This made for an uninspiring campaign which failed to change anyone’s mind.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. The message when delivered was stilted, dull and senseless. “Labour will deal with the cost of living crisis” repeated embarrassed, bored people like drones for months on endless programmes. WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN to anyone other than the colourless, odourless, tasteless policy wonks who sat in a room with a whiteboard and came up with it? Nothing. It means nothing.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. The Conservatives were not plagued by any such self-doubt. Blair was not. DO YOU NOT GET IT? Blair did not win three elections by being “Blairite”. He won them by being Blair. He could deliver his message with authenticity and conviction because centrism was genuinely what he believed in and that is why he was persuasive.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. Any leader who spends four and a half years trying to convince a nail-biting party that they didn’t make a mistake and then two months trying to convince voters is doomed. Just like Major second-time around, Hague, Howard and IDS were. That was the Conservatives’ turn of looking for the “next Thatcher”. “Is he Thatcher-ite” enough is he “too Thatcher-ite” and just like that 18 years went by before they won their next majority. Let’s not do that.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. Thatcher’s greatest triumph was not convincing her party or her voters that her way was best. It was convincing the left that there was no alternative to rampant neoliberalism. Otherwise, when people occupied St Pauls, and half a million marched against the cuts and rioters burned London, Labour would not have been too scared to harness that anger. When Syriza were elected in Greece, Labour would not be so terrified to offer Tsipras their congratulations and good wishes.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. The reason people didn’t believe we could reverse austerity is because we didn’t fight it tooth and nail when it happened. We dithered we worried about getting to the “throne” in 2015. We eventually agreed to the cuts, stopped fighting the “it’s all Labour’s fault narrative”, accepted the “tough decisions” rhetoric. We turned on the unemployed and migrants. How would it be portrayed in the media? Would that make us look too left, too right, too close to the unions. And so everything became stage-managed, controlled, stilted and inauthentic.
Pick a leader quickly. FOR FUCK’S SAKE it is not rocket science. You need someone who has good ideas, whose values align with the party’s, who looks good on camera and is an effective speaker. THEN you need to leave them alone to express themselves. The public needs to get to know them. They will either take to them or not. It cannot be predicted, but you will know it pretty quickly. Stop trying to adjust them to make them more electable. Passion, authenticity and dynamism are what is electable. Every time you pull that person into a room and adjust their hair, tell them to avoid X question and make sure they mention Y soundbite, you stunt precisely those qualities.
Pull your finger out. The UK didn’t just elect a government. It also elected an official opposition. The Tories have made it very clear that they will push ahead with a very aggressive legislative programme. It is absolutely essential that Labour can reconcile a process of soul-searching with their constitutional role of legislative scrutiny.The best route to becoming government is to be the most amazing opposition. And, by coincidence, it is also what you were elected to do. Being opposition is not a slight. It is the second most important role in our democracy. So do it and do it well.