Yes, Eastleigh was bad for Cameron but it wasn’t much better for Ed

by Atul Hatwal

There’s spin, and then there’s self-delusion. This morning, Labour needs to remember the difference.

Publicly the party will be busy deflecting blame and attention from its result throughout the day. The spin cycle was already in overdrive last night: “Eastleigh wasn’t even close to being on our key seat list”, “constituency boundary changes moved Labour wards out of Eastleigh,” and “the real losers are the Tories.”

Presenting a positive front is a necessary part of the political process. Fair enough.

But, away from the cameras and microphones, Labour needs to reflect on reality. Forget the lines to take and just think for a moment: fourth. Over half-way through this parliament, we finished fourth.

A win would have been unbelievable. Literally. So this was never an expectation.

Second would have been the actual win. It would have shown that the one nation narrative had resonance with voters and Labour could compete anywhere in the country.

A close third would still have been a good performance and, given Labour’s lack of historical presence in the seat, provided a strong indication that Labour will be competitive in its 30 southern target seats in 2015.

A distant third would have been poor, but just about could have been explained away on the basis of past performance.

But fourth?

Two immediate lessons emerge from this result.

First, Labour fought the wrong campaign. Last week John O’Farrell said, “I’m surprised how much of the literature from the Conservatives and Liberals has been about local authority issues…I’m not standing for the council. I’m standing for Westminster.”

Unfortunately, the voter is never wrong, and it was obvious from the first week of the campaign that Eastleigh’s electors were focused on local issues.  Nothing Labour did could shift this.

That the Labour party campaign did not pick this up and pivot to fighting on issues that matter to voters echoes the disaster of Bradford West: a pre-packed campaign, running on auto-pilot, oblivious to voters’ views on the ground.

Doing this once could be excused as an exception. Twice suggests a systematic problem within a party campaign machine that struggles to adapt to changing circumstances.

Second, the UKIP surge shows that for so many voters angry with both Lib Dems and Tories, Labour was not a viable alternative.

Once again, there are worrying reminders of Bradford West when Respect tapped into this reservoir of anger to the exclusion of Labour.

The party’s inability to harness this discontent and offer hope to thousands of disillusioned voters highlights the narrowness of Labour’s current voter coalition: core Labour voters from 2010 plus the old left-wing of the Lib Dems. Unless the party can broaden its support, the prospects for a working majority for Labour seem parlous.

Underpinning both of these lessons is a deeper truth about the party’s current political position: weakness on the economy.

In the past week, in the parliamentary debate on the downgrade and the last PMQs, the absence of a Labour alternative was glaringly obvious.

Following the George Osborne’s humiliating downgrade, these should have been open goals. But, as bad as the economic news is for the Tories, Labour had no response to their charge that we would just borrow more. Privately many Labour MPs are just as clear about the problem as those generally supportive journalists who have now started publically writing about it.

Until the party has an answer, the experiences of Eastleigh, and indeed Bradford West, are likely to be repeated.

Labour attempts to cast by-elections as a national choice on the economy will suffer as voters do not believe the party has a credible offer, and local issues rise to the fore.

Protest votes will continue to flow to populist outsiders like Respect and UKIP with Labour seen as a party lacking answers to the big economic questions.

The need to develop a credible answer on the economy is the issue that should concern every party member this weekend. Yes, the Tories had an absolute stinker last night, but it wasn’t much better for Labour.

Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut


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29 Responses to “Yes, Eastleigh was bad for Cameron but it wasn’t much better for Ed”

  1. Nick says:

    Congratulations on beating Others, whoever he is.

  2. Ex-Labour says:

    Atul

    Excellent summary. But you ask questions but maybe not answer them. Why did voters move to UKIP as opposed to Labour. Its because the public are exasperated with Europe and their constant interference in our laws, rights, customs and politics. This is another issue where the public remember that Labour handed over powers to the EU without thought or hesitation and again they have no response to current public opinion.

    You refer back to economic policies or rather lack of them. Another issue, perhaps the elephant in the room, is of course Ed Balls who is still associated with the Brown legacy of deficit and debt. He is a drag on the Labour ticket and Milliband should address this.

    The Tories new they faced a UKIP backlash, but really Labours showing is dismal. They have to make significant progress in seats such as this to have any hope. But the policy of having no policies is not working.

  3. Kulgan of Crydee says:

    The One Nation narrative has no resonance with the voters as it is seen as just another sound bite (one of many). As a non-Labour supporter this article is spot on. If Labour really want my vote, they have to give me a viable alternative. So far Labour does not have any policies other than borrow more. When you are condemning the Coalition for borrowing more then admit you would borrow even more, surely anyone can see the problem?

  4. LesAbbey says:

    Atul gets it so right when he says “The party’s inability to harness this discontent and offer hope to thousands of disillusioned voters highlights the narrowness of Labour’s current voter coalition”, but then get’s so wrong with everything else. “The need to develop a credible answer on the economy is the issue that should concern every party member this weekend.” is of course ‘newspeak’ for I’ll show you my cuts if you show me yours’.

    What we saw was UKIP taking away about equal proportions of votes from the main three parties. (OK you have look at the 2005 voting to get an idea of the Labour support.) Now it would be a bit hard to blame it on UKIP being a single issue party on EU membership after Cameron has made so many moves in that direction and offered a candidate even further to the right than UKIP. So the spin doctors will try to make it a single issue party on immigration, but Atul is right as I said, it is a protest vote against our political class. Of course we will say that UKIP is part of that same political class, but it doesn’t look that way to large number of the public.

    Getting closer to the Tories and the Liberals isn’t the answer. Surely this sort of move by a social democratic party has been shown up in both Greece and Italy. Why does Labour not get this protest vote against the coalition? To me it looks like we are not sufficiently seen as being different from those parties and the voters look for someone else.

  5. John the Disillusioned says:

    The problem for me is that there’s no longer anyone I can vote for. I voted Labour and belonged to the Party until the full horror of Blair emerged. No more. The current “Labour Party” is an imposter, a cuckoo that has kicked the real Labour Party out of the nest and taken over its identity. I can’t vote for another bunch of Tories with different colour ties, and the Limp Dems have proved themselves unworthy of anyone’s vote.

    I would hazard a guess that close to zero people in Eastleigh voted Labour for positive reasons.

    I shall still go to the polling station on election days, it’s your duty as a citizen, but for the first time in over 40 years of voting I will probably spoil my ballot paper at the next election.

  6. Elliot Kane says:

    An excellent analysis, Atul. Hopefully you will be listened to.

  7. keith says:

    Labour did not pick up on local issues, as Atul said, because during the New Labour years they became a centralised top-down party ruled by spin doctors and SPADS in the Westminster bubble who and with a total emphasis on presentation over substance. So much so that very few people know what Labour stand for any more.

    The New Labour years of power are responsible for the complete disoonnect with the three main parties that we saw in Eastleigh last night. No wonder the main parties share of the vote is collapsing – but Labour still does not care because they think that they can still squeak home in the next election because the electoral seat boundaries work in their favour. This was evident when John Denham turned out on TV and spun the message that Labour had done quite well in Eastleigh. It is a cop out to avoid confronting the issues in an honest way. So they paper over the cracks and keep their heads down until the next election. They have learned very little after the disastrous Blair Brown years and in the longer term will probably pay for their cowardice.

  8. I just cannot fathom why any ordinary working person could possibly consider voting UKIP, the Tories and, since 2010, the Lib Dems. The objective of these political parties is the continuation of a power system that perpetuates the dominance of a powerful minority over the vast majority of people in the name of economic progress. I know some people think that the Parliamentary Labour Party are too similar to the Tories on welfare and and that therefore they are “just like the other parties”. But the PLP are hamstrung by an electorate that is continuously bought off by tax bribes and vague patriotism. The Labour Party is committed to reforming the political landscape of the UK:
    “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”
    The adopted method of parliamentary reform is slow, as reforms are achieved in small steps not great revolutionary bounds. But this does not mean that the lives of the many will be improved by furthering the prospects of the few. Neither the Tories or UKIP can deliver on a promise of lower taxes, deregulation and increased personal prosperity whilst also promising “better” schools, more police and bigger prisons (to hold the criminals that should serve longer sentences). The NHS will not be preserved by siphoning off simpler treatments to private providers. I just don’t understand why people vote against their own interests.

  9. I should apologise for my rant; my previous post didn’t really follow on from the points made by Atul in his post. He is right in that seemingly Labour failed here because they didn’t get the message across at a local level. Perhaps the people in the central office just can’t believe that the electorate can be taken in by UKIP. Perhaps, like John O’Farrell, they believe that the election was for Westminster and not the council. But should a MP campaign on local issues that aren’t within the power of that candidate to deliver? I could stand as an independant saying I wanted to give free cream cakes to everyone on the third Tuesday of every month, but I wouldn’t be able to deliver on it. Similarly the local LibDem candidate will not be able to deliver on any of his campaign material. I don’t have any experience of winning by-elections; but it seems the voter is wrong. The MP is a representative in the national government and cannot deliver on local policies.

  10. Michael Taylor says:

    You might also consider the impact of having John O’Farrell as candidate. This is a man who went into print wishing the IRA had managed to murder Thatcher. This may be considered a mere pleasantry by some in the Labour Party, but for most people it is extremely nasty behaviour. Just because you can’t see it like that doesn’t mean a lot of people do.

  11. Terry Casey says:

    I was dismissed on here when I said Labour will win nothing until they fight the consistent “It is all your fault” mantra uttered in every political interview made by the coalition, time after time Labour politicians sit on their hands with no response giving the impression they had in fact caused the banking crisis, it is now ingrained in the consciousness of the country.
    The Labour party has become scared of what they are (or were) they have become a nothing party, they stand for nothing, they don’t care people are starving in this country, their core voters are being lowered into poverty whether working or not, the NHS is being ripped apart and being replaced by privatisation and the government say rightly “But Labour did the same”. We have lost the NHS and no one in my party seems to care.
    We had 13 years of my “Socialist” party in office where the wealth gap widened more than any other time in history, where the banks seemed to be the only thing worth bothering about, where socialism took a back seat and they wonder why people don’t vote for them anymore.
    Regarding the Eastliegh bye election, I would like to know who did the background check on our candidate, I hated thatcher myself but putting a man with that statement in his locker in a area who would have thought she was great is in my view ridiculous.
    The electorate know what the Tory party stand for, even I who have been a socialist all my life cannot work out what Labour stands for anymore, it isn’t for building social housing, it isn’t for the NHS, it isn’t to build an industrial base, it isn’t for lifting people out of poverty, as I said before it doesn’t stand for anything anymore.

  12. Laughing Gravy says:

    I first voted in the 1955 election, the Labour candidate lost! But, in those days MPs were rarely seen in their constituencies, most did not live in their constituencies, and took little interest in local matters. My father, a local TGWU official, had occasion to write to our MP over a local matter that concerned him. He received a short but courteous (my father was addressed by his surname alone) reply saying the matter had nothing to do with the MP and that my father should contct his local councillor. All this has now changed. All politics is local. MPs are expected to live in their constituency, take an interest in local affairs, have roots in the general area, be at the beck and call of their constituents, as well as being expert in national affairs. Mr O’Farrell would have been OK in 1955!!

  13. swatantra says:

    It was worse than bad it was awful. If Labour are way ahead in the opinionpolls then at least there should have been some swing tous; instead our vote stayed static. UKIP picked up the protest vote from Lib Dems and Tories,but they didn’t come to us. So, One Nation appears to be a damp squib. Why anyone in their right state of mind would vote UKIP is a mystery, but they did have a reasonable candidate and if Nigel hadn’t chickened out from standing he would have taken the seat easily.
    But in the end you have to acknowledge that despite all their woes, from disgraced Huhne and dodgy Rennard and dithering Clegg, their candidate was the most credible candidate, and the Lib Dems had a brilliant organisation and have sewn up Eastleigh and turned it into their own little enclave or safe haven, having secured most of the council seats; they’ve got Eastleigh and seats like it pretty well in their iron grip, and it’ll take a big effort to dislodge them. They had the postal votes pretty well tied up so Rennard didn’t have that much effect, and their aggressive style of street politics seems to have worked.
    I hate to say it but Labour didn’t take the by election all that seriously thats why they put up a joker as a candidate. We should have gone for a local with some previous experience of fighting elections.

  14. swatantra says:

    John O’Farrell is perfectly right when he says it was a Westminster election and the voters should be voting on national issues and not local issues.
    But no amount of education or persuasion will convince voters to differeniate between local or national or european elections or even referenda. When you’ve upset them they become pretty bloody minded and will take out their rage and revenge on whoever upset them; I know its not logica, but thats the way most voters think and vote. They rarely vote on policy.

  15. John the Disillusioned says:

    Robin

    “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party.”

    It was once, maybe. But not for the last 2 decades or longer.

  16. Terry Casey says:

    Swatantra, I agree with you about it not supposed to be on local issues but it was and nobody had the wit to change course, that is an indictment of the party, we are truly let down time and time again.
    I don’t think many will vote Labour now, we have become the Tory Party in disguise. I was made up Ed was voted leader and thought at last a left wing progressive leader but he has come across as a rabbit in the headlights, terrified to move either way, we need a decisive direction not the mealy mouthed lets wait for two years before saying what we will do, if I feel like this how will those with no affiliation feel, it is really worrying.

  17. Kevin Barry says:

    In Atul’s piece I read the words ‘self-delusion’ and the ‘economy’. However, no where in his piece did I spot the words ‘Bulgarians’, ‘Romanians’ and ‘immigrants’. Yes, I agree that Labour requires a credible economic alternative to the coalition. However distasteful it must appear to us, the Labour party has to come to terms with the electorate’s perception of immigration to the UK that occurred under Mr Blair’s and Mr Brown’s watch. Some candour on this, and what a future Labour government proposes to do will be a start. We need to grasp this nettle.

  18. Henrik says:

    Quite right, comrades, the bleeding electorate gets it wrong again. Voters? Pah, what do they know?

  19. Paul J says:

    This result doesn’t mean anything for Labour. We always get squeezed where we start third in by-elections, and Eastleigh is a classic case in point. In the 93 by-election in Newbury we lost our deposit.

    It’s genuinelly fairly grim for Cameron, not because it indicates anything about the next election (it doesn’t), but because it’ll make it harder to keep his troops in line, and the papers on-side.

  20. Steven says:

    Atul: “develop a credible answer on the economy is the issue”

    A good starting point would be if Labour held their hands up and apologised for the disastrous PFI intiatives. Nothing destroyed Labour’s reputation more than Tony Blair’s ideologically driven anti-pragmatism.

  21. BROKEN BRITAIN UNDER TORIES – CAMERON TO REBRAND

    Cameron at last is getting the message that Eastleigh was
    not a Midterm blip nor a tactical vote but a very weary Public telling the
    Tories it’s time to go .His reassurance that he will not vere to the Right has
    fallen on deaf ears ,it’s almost like saying Hitler was a Moderate Left
    .Welfare Reform ,Unemployment ,Secret Courts ,Privatisation through the back
    door ,how Right can you get .He says the Tories need Rebranding does that mean
    more smiles and bigger lies .The Whole Parliamentary System does not need Rebranding
    or an Overall but Scrapping and a New Democracy Born .EU and American influences
    have decimated all social cohesion within Britain and the Politicians answer ‘look
    after number one’.www.brokenbritainundertories

  22. Henrik says:

    Quite seriously, comrades, it’s going to take more than a massive failure by the Coalition to clean up your spilled trash to convince the great British public that you have something worth its vote. “We’re not the Tories or the other lot” and “We made the mess, we might be better at cleaning it up” aren’t particularly attractive straplines.

    A good start might be to start being, you know, a bit constructive – putting together some sort of narrative which might actively convince folk to vote for you.

    I’d get a great deal of personal pleasure if you dumped Ed Balls as well, but, given what an enormous drag he is on the ticket, as a non-Labour voter, I’d encourage you to keep him as Shadow Chancellor. He’s particularly attractive when he seems delighted at news of job losses or economic woes.

  23. Ex-Labour says:

    @ Nigel Simmons

    Looks like a bit of bad cutting and pasting here. Got no thoughts of your own ?

    “EU and American influences have decimated all social cohesion”

    Is Labour not the party of the EU ? Labour has consistently handed over political powers to the EU so perhaps Labour should be looking again at their stance on Europe, which is what I said in my original reply.

    @Henrik

    I’m with you on this. I will never vote Labour again whilst Balls is there. Milliband, E is bad enough but with Balls as a double act……oh dear.

  24. Terry Casey says:

    Henrik, the amount of times he has been seen to be delighted must surely tell even you something, Coalition policy isn’t working, hasn’t worked and never will work, it is wrong headed, taking money from the working class will never stimulate growth and the the more they take the more the Economy suffers.

  25. John P Reid says:

    John the disilusioned -The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party.”
    It was once, maybe. But not for the last 2 decades or longer.

    Yes longer than 2 deades as A party it didn’t exist between 1980 and 1988 ,It was just a protest group that squabbled with it’s remaining memebers over nothing,

  26. The Eastleigh by-Election in brief –

    The Lib Dems reatined a seat they already held despite being mired in scandal such as Huhne lying to Police and a developing sexual harrassment scandal, and despite being coalition partners in a deeply unpopular government. No change there.

    The tories failed to win a by-Election. The last time the tories won a by-Election was over 3 decades ago. No change there.

    Labour’s vote – despite increasing slightly percentage wise, was squeezed – something that always happens to one of the ‘big three’ in every by-Election. No change there.

    A minority party (and UKIP is a minority party – it has less members than Plaid Cymru) took votes off the three main parties. No change there.

  27. Henrik says:

    @Terry Casey: Yeah, it gives me a really warm feeling when the Shadow Chancellor takes delight in folk losing their jobs. Remind me again why we’re in this mess, ideally without all the flim flam about American bankers but perhaps concentrating on, oooh, I don’t know, building a massive deficit between tax receipts and wholly irresponsible public spending, which was mainly unregulated and unchecked and hence wasted.

  28. Terry Casey says:

    Henrik have a look at the deficit over the years because I know you haven’t, when the banking crisis emerged the deficit was less than that of many years under the previous Tory government, 2008 and beyond it spiraled as the labour Government set about saving the banks, your pensions, savings and possibly millions of jobs, it wasn’t wasted money it was for the good of the country.

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