Answers to the questions of general election week 2015

by Jonathan Todd

I asked five questions about this week at its start. Now we are at its end, we have our answers. And few of them are pretty. But amidst the rubble of Labour’s defeat, shards of opportunity protrude.

Will a “Sheffield rally moment” happen?

There was an eve of poll rally in Leeds but it generated few headlines. Rather than the Sheffield rally of 1992, we had humbling moments akin to Michael Portillo’s defeat in 1997. Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy were all symbolic and significant defeats for Labour. As were Danny Alexander, Vince Cable and Simon Hughes for the Liberal Democrats.

The churn in big names was high. The Parliamentary Labour Party has been shorn of major intellects and players. The Parliamentary Liberal Democrat Party even more so. Much changed eras dawn in both parties.

Can the Tories make it to 290 MPs?

The Tories cleared that threshold by a massive 41 seats. We erroneously thought that the Tories might fall short and that we’d be in for weeks of haggling over the government’s composition.

The 4 per cent swing to the Tories in the key seat of Nuneaton at about 2.30am brought the nightmare scenario of the BBC exit poll a decisive step closer to reality. The Tories did not just beat Labour in seats, like Nuneaton, that they were defending against us.

They prevented Labour PPCs from becoming or returning as MPs in a number of seats that had been held by Labour: Julie Hilling (Bolton West); Andy Sawford (Corby); Chris Williamson (Derby North); Martin Caton (Gower); Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood); Alison Seabeck (Plymouth Moor View); Rowenna Davis (Southampton Itchen); David Wright (Telford); and Chris Ruane (Vale of Clywd).

Conservative Amanda Solloway was so stunned to win Derby North that she hadn’t prepared a speech. “It was a bit of a surprise,” conceded Johnny Mercer, the new MP for Plymouth Moor View. Lucy Allan, who overturned David Wright’s majority, had been, “told Telford was totally unwinnable”.

“They couldn’t use NationBuilder,” Davis recently said of her Conservative opponents in Southampton Itchen. “They haven’t got the people to co-ordinate. And in an election where people don’t trust the media but do trust their neighbours, that’s a problem.” Somehow, however, the Conservatives did communicate more successfully than Labour in that seat.

Reflecting on how the Conservatives more effectively communicated in Bolton West, the winning candidate Chris Green, observed:

“When it came down to it, people made to some extent a decision on the leadership of David Cameron and Ed Miliband and what direction the two political parties will take Britain … I think the fundamental reason for this is confidence and security. The economy is going in the right direction and there are more people in work now and people can see the recovery.”

In addition to these gains from Labour, the Tories took a seat back from UKIP and 28 from the Liberal Democrats – half the number of seats that the Liberal Democrats took in to the election.

Can Labour build bridges with the Lib Dems?    

Having suffered loses to Labour, the SNP and the Tories, the Liberal Democrats have been reduced to a parliamentary rump of 9 MPs. Jo Grimond and Jeremy Thorpe, leaders of the Liberal Party in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, had considerable national impact leading parties of equivalent parliamentary size. Liberals have previously been through fallow periods of parliamentary representation and recovered.

There are varieties of liberalism practised by members of the Conservative and Labour parties but sufficiently diluted that a distinctive party committed to liberalism has seemed necessary and capable of recovering from dwindling parliamentary representation. Labour should now seriously ask ourselves whether we wish this ideological space to remain. By emphasising the liberal parts of the Labour tradition, Labour would plant itself in the political centre and close off the basis of Liberal Democrat renewal. Thus, I began the week wanting to build bridges with the Liberal Democrats and end it speculating on the extent to which Labour ought to seek to make them ideologically redundant.

Will Labour’s Godfathering of the SNP hold?

When Ed Miliband hardened Labour’s line on the SNP to the Godfather position – “My offer is this… Nothing” – it felt like it stemmed the SNP’s advance and the ground being made the Tories with their McLabour attacks. But this seems, sadly, a delusion. Now Charles Clarke speculates on Scottish Labour operating as a separate party from UK Labour. Things are moving fast.

Will Boris Johnson strike? Will Martin McGuinness? Anyone else?

These questions may resurface when the Cameron government enters choppy water. It will be worth watching whether Johnson becomes a parliamentary magnet for discontents with Cameron, allowing these Tory MPs to project on to him whatever visions for a different kind of Tory Party they envisage. Such a magnet was largely absent in Cameron’s first 5 years as prime minister and he may experience coming years differently and less comfortably in the presence of one.

The McGuinness question will only re-emerge, however, if Cameron’s position becomes so perilous that he becomes dependent on DUP votes. Not impossible, given the now slender Tory majority.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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9 Responses to “Answers to the questions of general election week 2015”

  1. Anne says:

    It is time for reflection – maybe asking members how they see the future of the party going – It is about taking the past aspects of the party and adapting them to the present day – difficult to do and you will not please everyone. Going for the centre ground is a good way – also reaching out to the democrats who moved to the liberal party may be a way forward – the are not going to get any power if they stay where they are. Maybe be changing the name to the Democratic Labour Party might reflect this new approach – a fair party in the centre position.

    Having the correct leader is important – someone with vision who can express these views. Marketing is important – so the public understand what we stand for.
    It is understandable for Scotland to have its own branch party Scotish Democratic Labour Party – they could be helped with experienced people and going for seats in the Scotish parliament – devolution is coming anyway. Hopefully Scotland will not go indendent but had its own Parliament and manages its own finances

  2. Tafia says:

    A little thing people should ponder on.

    One oof the new Tory MPs in Cornwall Scott Mann, is a postal worker – not a manager or whatever, a humble postmen emptying post boxes and delivering to your door. Not only that, he is a proud union member.

    And a whole clutch of other new Tory MPs is similar – not graduates, not lived in the political bubble since leaving education, etc etc

    Ordinary people, doing ordinary jobs.

    Have a little think about that.

  3. Henrik says:

    Those of a tolerant disposition and longish memories will recall that a few years ago, now, I was encouraging the Party to have the civil war it so badly needs, before the window closed for the 2015 General Election. It didn’t and, predictably, Labour was routed.

    The reason a civil war is necessary is the same as the regular troubles in the Mafia, as explained by Vito Corleone (lightly paraphrased): “we need these things every few years, it clears the air”.

    Labour needs to make one key strategic decision immediately: does it want to be electable, in order to gain power, or does it prefer to remain ideologically pure, but unelectable?

    If the latter, comrades, feel free to wander off to the shining uplands of the Left and await the clarion call from the oppressed masses to liberate them from their chains. I wouldn’t suggest you plan on hearing that call for a while, of course, but it would allow lots of time for intricate discussions of Marx, Gramsci, Benn and other great and successful thinkers.

    If the former, perhaps it might be sensible to work out what people want and then develop a narrative on policy, philosophy and approach, which would be compelling, attractive, optimistic and believable. Tell people why they *should* vote for you, rather than why they *shouldn’t* vote for the other guys.

    Apologise for the appalling mess you made the last time you were in office – even if you do not accept that it was wholly your fault, there was sufficient nastiness, between Iraq, the financial crisis, overspending, immigration – one could go on – that it won’t be hard to find things for which to make sincere apology.

    While in Opposition, meanwhile, be constructive, patriotic, supportive of what’s clearly sensible. Don’t characterise your opponents as evil, wicked or stupid, accept that they, too, get up in the morning hoping to do good things that day, accept that some of the ideas and initiatives they come up with are sensible, prudent and should be supported.

    Talk to the electorate, take the risk of engaging with folk from outside the political bubble. Listen, hard, to what people are saying to you. Understand that people have aspirations for a better life, understand that people are smarter than you think they are, understand that most people pay little attention to the media, understand, too, that politics are in no way as fascinating for normal folk as they are to you.

    Talk to the unions. They created the party and quite properly must remain involved with it; however, face the fact that the unions are pretty toxic in the national conversation, that any party leadership seen as being beholden to the unions for its elevation will be compromised from day one, face the fact that the unions must, now, separately, engage in some reflection on what their role, function and purpose is; they are no longer representative of anything much besides a relatively large proportion of public-sector workers and if they are to survive, they must broaden their base by offering services and advantages to working folk outside a very narrow range – and must also grasp that their voice in the national dialogue must be expressed in support of their party, not leading the debate or writing scripts for the leadership, but supporting loyally and sensibly.

    Accept that in many ways social democracy has not worked, accept that the State is not necessarily the right entity to spend public money, accept that equality does not mean equality of outcome, but, rather, equality of opportunity. Accept that individuals have some responsibility for their own lives and accept that a governing party must govern for the greatest good for the greatest number, including those who probably didn’t vote for you.

    Have the war, comrades. You’ve got five years to decide amongst yourselves in which way you’re going to travel – towards government, or away into a corner. In the mean time, do what you can to be a loyal Opposition, challenging and interrogating government, but always, always, in the interests of the nation, rather than the narrow interest of a single party.

  4. Ian says:

    Just a small factual correction – sadly the LibDems have 8 MPs, not 9.

    Yes, there will always be a space for a liberal party, so long as Labour advocates trampling over civil liberties, locks away children in detention centres and adults without trial, illegally invades foreign countries, and proposes to make illegal criticising religions…

    The LibDems are of course accountable for their own disaster, but I suggest Labour spent far too much of its political capital since 2010 attacking them – from the earliest days of the coalition right through to the numerous reports of Labour activists cheering Tory gains from LD last Thursday – when this wasn’t in your own strategic interest. The LibDems only needed to retain a small proportion of the lost tactical votes in the West Country and elsewhere last week to have denied the Tories their majority…

  5. Robert says:

    Ian, it is depressing that Labour activists cheered Tory gains from Lib Dems last Thursday and I agree about Labour’s dubious record on civil liberties. However, the Lib Dems will not have a future unless they make clear that they are a liberal-left party with a clear preference for working with the Labour Party. Would Lib Dems consider not standing in Con-Lab marginals in exchange for Labour not standing in the seats that the Lib Dems lost to the Tories?

  6. John PReid says:

    As a supporter of electoral reform,I’ll say it’s not my most important concern, but
    While the libdems, won’t be building up support from getting ex Labour or Tory votes anytime soon, and where Labour won’t win Scotland back, at the expense of losing more seats in England,by swinging too the left, Unless the SNP bankrupted Scotland,and their was a return to Scots voting for the centre left, a second referendum, defeat, resulting in SNP supporters who on.y like the SNP in the Scots parliament, rather than full independence,

    For Labour to gain support ,there maybe calls for Labour to do deals with the libdems,
    As Compass group do
    I could imagine, also, in 2020 labour not standing against Angus Carmichael,if. Say the libdems didn’t stand in Labour target seats,
    I know of certain council areas labour and Libdems target where a unofficial deal not to split the anti Tory vote

  7. Anne says:

    Tafia- Thank you for the information about Scott Mann’s past occupation. I understand that Alan Johnson was also a postal worker in past employment.

  8. Tafia says:

    Ane – you aren’t looking at it the right way (although others onhere will I’m sure) Johnson is where you would expect him to be – in the Labour Party. Whereas Mann isn’t and not only that, the latest intake of new Tory MPS copnatins a large amount of people who aren’t graduates, and/or were educated in the State sector and/or have only ever worked in normal jobs – ie they were not SPADs or any other form of party apparatchik. And that was on the express orders of Cameron to the selection committees. In short, there is a revoultion commencing in the Tory party and they are at the same time going to carry out a revoultion in constituency boundaroes, more and accelerateed devolution etc.

    So Labouyr better keep pace, buck it’s ideas up and sort itself out and sharpish – or it will just continue to decline.

  9. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Comrades YOUR party needs you!

    Do you not here the clarion call from Dave and his party of the oppressed masses?

    Comrades!, we created the Labour party. The party has become unelectable, because of the Blairite faction that is now taking hold of the Labpur party and insists the party needs to cut the deficit and eventually pay off the national debt.

    Dave is calling, come to the socialist utopian uplands ( they aren’t actually there yet, but together, we the oppressed workers of Britain can build them)

    Vote for Dave in the next election. You know it makes sense………..

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