It’s 3 years since Uncut started so, in a series of pieces, we’re taking stock of what has changed for Labour since 2010. Mark Stockwell gives the other side’s view of Labour’s progress
You could see it on Ed Miliband’s face, that far-off day in September 2010 when he snatched the party leadership from under his big brother’s nose. David had led him in every round of the ballot, eclipsed him over every fence, but at the end, somehow, Ed had snuck through on the rails and won by a short head. And the new leader of the opposition was as surprised as anyone. In truth, he wasn’t ready for the responsibility that had been thrust upon him. Over the last three years, it’s shown.
Granted, he didn’t start from the most auspicious position. For all that the Conservatives had failed to win a majority, this only served to disguise the scale of the defeat Labour had suffered at the hands of the British electorate. When what Labour needed was to face up to the manifold reasons for that defeat, too many have sought comfort in the travails of the coalition and revelled in the difficulties of the despised Liberal Democrats.
It fell to Miliband to drag his party away from this comfort zone. He has failed. In truth, he hasn’t even tried. Yes, senior Labour figures have queued up to utter insincere pieties about how the leadership had been wrong in the past to dismiss the concerns of the party’s supporters about immigration. But the party as a whole continues to give the impression it doesn’t think it got much wrong in office – on the domestic front, at least.
It is no use Labour going into the 2015 election telling voters it was a mistake to kick them out last time. Asked to review their verdict (and you may be sure Conservative strategists will happily play along with such an approach), the good people of Britain will apply a swift coat of polish to their boots and find their own way to make sure Labour “reconnects with the voters.”
Miliband’s lack of preparedness has manifested itself in his desperate casting around for a distinctive, coherent agenda. It is rather as if, like the second year politics undergraduate he so closely resembles, finding himself unexpectedly home alone one evening, he has set himself the task of coming up with a tasty supper using only the ingredients he can find already in the kitchen.
Blue Labour? Hmmm, yes I remember picking that up on the way home after the leadership election. Maybe I’d had one or two glasses of wine. Anyway, it sounds interesting, in it goes.
But hang on, it’s missing something. I know, there’s that half-empty packet of incomes policy that’s been hanging around at the back of the cupboard since, ooh, about 1979. If I stick a big label on it saying “predistribution”, maybe I can kid myself it’s not past its sell-by date.
And then what? How about some of that “Keynesian demand management” Ed Balls made me load up on? Sure, it’s a bit stale, but it will be fine if it’s warmed through with a dash of soft-left agit-prop, and just enough class envy to leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
The best that can be said about this concoction is that it has a certain retro chic. Miliband has turned Labour into – or rather, allowed it to become – the political equivalent of Black Forest gateau and a bottle of Blue Nun.
This at least appeals to much of the Labour party itself, gripped as it appears to be by activists who desire nothing more earnestly than to rerun the battles of the 1980s.
One might have expected the death of Margaret Thatcher to remind them of the outcome of those battles, and to signal that they are over and done. Nothing of the sort.
Rather it has rekindled a deep nostalgia for lost youth in those old enough to know better. And for those too young to remember how dark those days were for Labour, it has given them a chance, largely denied them by 13 years of Labour government, to be part of “the struggle”: to go on marches; to spit the word “Tory” as if it were the worst insult anyone could imagine; to pat themselves on the back for being so earnestly ‘progressive’; hell, to oppose.
Under Miliband’s leadership, that is what the Labour party is for.
Mark Stockwell is a former adviser to the Conservative party. He now works in public affairs