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EVERYONE SHUDDUP! IT’S MY TURN TO TELL YOU WHAT LABOUR NEEDS TO DO

May 11, 2015

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.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Fred Wyropiquet permalink
    May 11, 2015 10:13 pm

    Hell Yes!

  2. May 12, 2015 5:14 am

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  3. John Connor permalink
    May 12, 2015 5:51 am

    You too!!! I read the same article last night and felt exactly the same. A smart-arse riposte heavy on failed witticisms and pretentious ‘insight’. Why are the New Statesman and the Guardian printing crap like this? I wonder is there any sympathetic organ I can still read!

  4. Enfrance permalink
    May 12, 2015 6:24 am

    “who looks good on camera and is an effective speaker”

    That has always been the case but today is even more vital. You could argue that an ability to ‘use’ the media to your own advantage which Blair could also do well, is top of the list of attributes for a new leader. Trouble is no one springs to mind to do that except Alan Johnson and he is out of the running, sadly.

    • May 12, 2015 9:41 am

      I’ve never seen her speak publicly, but with that caveat I think Stella Creasy fits the bill.

  5. Fiona Ambrose permalink
    May 12, 2015 6:53 am

    Well said Alex.

  6. May 12, 2015 7:07 am

    All words of wisdom and fire, to be sure.
    But will a fractured left listen when it wouldn’t before the election? It strikes me that they need to re learn the meaning of solidarity first.

    • May 12, 2015 7:09 am

      One possible answer is that an inspired left would be a less fractured left.

      • May 13, 2015 5:51 am

        The point is simply allowing ones beliefs to inspire sincere speech which convinces jaded voters- not an abstract tombstoning “message”. Ed seemed to believe in taking on NI and made himself into a serious target. Then that passion dissipated. Think MLK not Blair. Who’s STILL more powerful today?

      • May 18, 2015 11:04 am

        Indeed. But punishing someone (and ultimately everyone) because they refuse to pretend anything’s going to be anything other than hard is asinine.
        This is what always happens after egregious Tory governments, Labour admits it’s going to be hard to fix, and not quick, so the left fractures to parties (last time it was what we now call the LibDems) “offering” “hope” (ie candy) and bingo! – we return a Tory govt because Tories will always vote Tory.
        I’ve friend, who did a last minute bolt to the Greens (calls himself a feminist too, despite the green stance on sex work) , who’s now wailing in distress at the repealing of the fox hunting ban.
        All the time going “what just happened” and “Miliband not charismatic blah leadership blah”
        Good job such personalty and candy driven politics weren’t prevalent in the forties, or we’d not have elected Atlee and would never have an NHS to mourn.
        We of the left need to grow up sometimes, and leave the safety of the university debating society, we really do.

  7. Clootie permalink
    May 12, 2015 7:21 am

    …if you live in Scotland vote SNP instead of navel gazing. Vote for principles you believe in instead of soundbites that will help get you elected.
    Moving to the right (or further right) only means moving further from the founding values of the party.

    The easy solution is to simply change the name to “Red Tories” or “Tory Light” because the party bears no resemblance to the original Labour values.

    Please spare me the anti-SNP rants in reply and instead look hard at the facts evident in the Scottish vote. Stop reading the Daily Mail or listening to the BBC state propaganda – start to THINK.

    The Labour politicians ejected from their seats in Scotland would rather work with the Tories than a progressive left of centre party. They managed to convince Miliband and Balls to follow the same line.

    Socialist values are now found only in the SNP, SSP, Greens and PC. It is your party and a move to the right is your choice but do us all a favour and remove the fake label of Labour.

    The Party is as close to Labour as “Trigger’s Brush” in fools and horses is to being original – he has only changed the head 3 times and the shaft five.

    • May 12, 2015 7:37 am

      I like the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon and she has certainly positioned herself to the left of Labour. However, the “hard fact” I’m afraid is that this is a very recent development. As someone who is in favour of progressive politics, I would be delighted to see it take root, but I think it may take more than clever positioning for a couple of years to claim the mantle of “socialist values”.

      • Jim Morris permalink
        May 12, 2015 9:38 am

        Praise of Thatcher and Blair only highlight “The most dangerous people on earth” – those who are sincerely wrong! Their capacity to cause mayhem and damage to individuals and whole sections of society is unlimited and unchecked.

      • May 12, 2015 10:07 am

        It isn’t praise of Thatcher or Blair to say they won several elections and convincingly. It is historical fact.

      • Brighid permalink
        May 12, 2015 5:45 pm

        Very much agree with what you say about the SNP’s ‘left-right’ positioning (as an SNP voter this time) Many of my similarly lefty SNP voting friends are watching the party carefully to see where they go in future. But right now they are offering the only credible progressive message. On Labour, my biggest problems with them are: they seem to prioritise the fortunes of the Labour party over the fortunes of the country; their messiah complex, believing they’re the only credible left wing party in the UK; & their refusal to even countenance working together with other left wing/progressive parties – even now, & even Ian Murray, the last Scottish Labout MP standing. I considered voting for my Labour candidate (Alastair Darling’s replacement) this time, because he seems a really good guy, but couldn’t bring myself to because of the failings of the party.

      • May 12, 2015 6:35 pm

        I hear ya.

  8. May 12, 2015 8:21 am

    Reblogged this on iGlinavos and commented:
    I agree with you, running on a platform that says: we are nicer than the other guys, but we still agree with most of what they did is pointless.

  9. May 12, 2015 9:55 am

    “Passion, authenticity and dynamism” that is what was wrong but weirdly it was missing from the Conservatives campaign too. So we can only conclude the media, the money and powerful backers must have had an impact. We wouldn’t have got “I’m pumped up” if all had be going swimmingly for the incombents. Incidentally I’m still having problems removing that graphic image from me eyeballs.

    • May 12, 2015 10:04 am

      People need a reason to change government. They need less reason to stick with what they have, however awful. Turnout was disappointing, especially in the context of five years of austerity.

  10. ben richards permalink
    May 12, 2015 10:15 am

    Ian Leslie always does this thing about no election victory since 1974 (or his other option of 40 years) without Blair. It ignores the fact that you cannot really start counting until 1979. You have to also stop counting between 1992 and 2010 because obviously nobody else could win for Labour then! Sadly, he has this unbearably snooty “I should really be a smart intern in the West Wing” admiration for his own self-regarding ‘centrism’ and likes nothing more than dealing to straw-man “leftists”. Bankers, Iraq, the media – these are all just the silly witterings of people who aren’t as clever as him.

  11. metalgameshorror permalink
    May 12, 2015 11:04 am

    Pick a leader who is an orator. Some one who loves to debate and win. Do not pick a brain dead like Jim Murphy. “it is so easy to run rings round the SNP” then not stand down when his part of the party get eviscerated. So they were easy and they still gave you a beating. Get a man/woman of principles who is willing to stand up for them and defeat all nay sayers. Then we might get somewhere.

  12. May 12, 2015 7:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating and commented:
    Excellent thoughts.
    I agree with your analysis of what the Labour party should look out for in its new leader,and on choosing one, should inform him/her to speak more in the language you used to write this post lol.
    Succinctly clear and straight to the point, no misunderstandings, no spin, no shit!

  13. May 14, 2015 11:21 am

    I worked for the Labour Party before the 1997 election and, in line with your excellent piece, there are a number of things that I think were fundamental to that victory:

    1 Having a charismatic leader who operated and spoke with conviction

    2 Offering a clear alternative – however intangible ‘the third way’ might have been, and crazy as it might seem now, Blair offered something that was neither left or right wing. It was not ‘Tory-light’, for example there were new union rights for workers at GCHQ, a talisman of the left. But equally it was not traditionally socialist – there was no renationalisation of the railways.

    3 The Labour Party between 1994 and 1997 was really a government in waiting. There were policies on just about everything you could think of, from VAT on incontinence products to rights of way. This meant there was clarity, coherence, detail AND vision in the message being given to the electorate.

    4 Labour offered a constructive, not a destructive message and created a strong narrative (things can only get better!). The failure to respond to the Tory ‘it’s all Labour’s fault’ without anything even resembling an answer (whilst recognising the need to admit some things could have been done differently) is what really did for Labour this time around…It is now accepted as fact that it was just Labour policy that created the economic crisis, which clearly isn’t true.

    On a more positive note, I have just read through a list of some of the things done by the first Blair government. It is awesome and I for one am very proud of it. A bit more of that wouldn’t go amiss.

    • Fred Wyropiquet permalink
      May 14, 2015 1:29 pm

      You are correct – but that’s not the same as saying we need to move to the right. We need all the good that you outline holding policies that are proper and fair for everyone whilst ensuring that the ‘traditional left’ aren’t sidelined. It wouldn’t be possible (costs and contracts alone) to nationalise all that some of the traditional left might want nationalising but it would be right to ‘take back’ or finely regulate companies that fail in the privatised sector. The East Coast Main Line without the disgusting final sell out would be a good example.

      A Labour Party that promotes small and local businesses against those masquerading as businesses but intent only on scam and discard is the right balance. Promoting Trades Unions to be the support of good businesses and good business practice – those getting a good workforce by properly valuing them – is the right way to go. Ensuring that the majority realise that putting money in the pockets of poorer and middle earners enables that money to quickly move on to be the income of local businesses or into local banks for loans is quite different from funneling money to the very rich that is quickly hidden abroad.

      Pushing the Tories into their natural habitat of serving the ultra rich and financial predators and letting Labour serve workers, small businesses, decent employers, and the whole of the rest of the community is what will be good for the whole of our society.

      So where are the policies that would provide for this?

  14. May 18, 2015 9:07 am

    I’ve had my rant too – and as much as it felt cathartic to write it, I might just as well have posted yours.I think you have what the Labour Party needs – wit and passion.

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