by Robert Williams
Labour’s defeat feels even more crushing a couple of weeks after the election. There have been any number of reason postulated to explain why we lost. Too new, too old Labour, too left wing, too right wing.
Certainly on the right, many believe the reason Labour lost is because its agenda was far too left wing. This argument is summed up by Tony Blair who claimed last year that when “a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, you get the traditional result”.
Before the election the consensus view was that UKIP would cost Labour votes, and the Tories seats. That was one of many predictions the political class got wrong. Labour’s vote share in seats across the Midlands, seats it should have won, and also in the ones it lost, generally went up slightly or didn’t move. Neither did the Conservative vote share. The LibDems collapsed completely and UKIP saw their vote soar. They are now second in over 100 seats. Of course, in individual seats there are different stories, but this is accurate as a trend. We are nowhere near recovering the trust of Middle England and we have lost a large segment of the White working and lower middle class vote.
Why did Labour lose? Ed Miliband was part of it, certainly. Savage attacks in the media over five long years didn’t help, but it is also true that he is part of an Oxbridge metropolitan establishment that has dominated the Labour Party for years, and is absolutely out of touch with voters. We lost because, outside London, we are seen as more out of touch than the privately educated millionaires in a Conservative cabinet. That is no mean feat.
We lost, too, because Labour is still blamed for the unprecedented increase in immigration over the last decade and a half, and for ignoring the concerns of voters. Whether mocking tweets of “white van man” and his St George flags in Rochester, comments about bigots in Rochdale (yes, memories are long when it comes to insults), all the way up from Kent and along the M1 corridor from Hendon to Leeds, Labour was perceived as elitist, obsessed with identity politics, gay rights, minority rights, rights without responsibilities.
We have a coterie surrounding the leadership, any leadership since Blair, who are almost all Oxbridge educated, and have never worked outside politics. This includes, of course, the politicians themselves. They are financially comfortable, and love the diversity of north London (although they actually live in white middle class enclaves).
They, I fear, still do not understand the notion of fairness that most British people support. Its very simple. You put something in to get something back, unless you are too old, weak or young to contribute.
The narrative of post war politics is that the Left is supposed to have won the cultural battles and the Right the economic ones. We have this, in part, the wrong way round.
Firstly, 4 million arrivals, who were unplanned for, and the electorate were not asked about, have come to Britain in not much more than a decade. This is an unprecedented number, which is completely unsustainable. Our pathetically weak employment laws, our subsidising of low paid jobs, our nasty and mean, but non-contributory, benefits system, have all been a magnet for people to come here.
Put that together, and you have far, far, too many people arriving, some of whom really do not like western secular societies, some of whom are unemployable, and many of whom are being exploited by a cheap and nasty economy.
The indigenes are, rightly, thoroughly cheesed off. Not with most immigrants, but with immigration. And with patronising and condescending mostly Labour politicians, who did not listen.
If we want a Labour government (which I do) that offers some social justice, and is credible, then we have to admit that mass immigration on recent scales is causing serious problems. There are many things a centre left progressive party can do to reduce mass immigration, none of them racist or xenophobic.
There is nothing right wing about restricting immigration, which has been at a rate of about 250,000 for more than a decade. Indeed, today, ONS figures show that net migration to Britain surged to 318,000 in 2014, just below its previous peak under the Labour government in 2005. It is a number unparalleled in our history and has caused an awful lot of damage to the social contract.
Neither is it unprogressive to recognise that our non contribution based benefits system, and “liberal” labour laws almost guarantee that people will move here from poorer parts of the EU – and will get benefits after not contributing very much – to top up wages that no-one can actually live on.
What is right wing about recognising voters’ concerns about the impact on housing, services and infrastructure of such a large number of unplanned for arrivals?
What is right wing about being concerned about arrivals who not only don’t want to intengrate, but sometimes actively hate our values?
Ed Miliband tried to address some of this, to his great credit, but there were snipers on the idiotic Left and free market right of the party who complained that he was going too far.
The economic recovery is based on little more than house price rises. Short termism, an obsession with capital over industry and increasing marketisation and casualisation in the work place don’t work, as I suspect we’ll see over the next five years.
The best line of the election was “not anti business, but anti business as usual”. The huge, gaping contradiction between fueling a house price boom and cutting housing benefit will become clear, all too soon, and very painfully. We should be brave enough to say that the economy really is in deep trouble and offer a genuine alternative. A living wage would boost the economy, as people would have more money to spend. Flat house prices, or even falling ones, would do far, far more to help homebuyers than any ill thought out Help to Buy scheme, and the proposed sell off of Housing Association homes will make matters worse.
But it is on the cultural side of the political equation where Labour must ask the most difficult questions. Mass immigration (and 250,000 per year can only be described as mass) is divisive, has damaged cohesion and must be restricted. The Guardian world fantasy of multi culturalism is becoming very toxic.
One of the most depressing moments of the campaign was seeing Tom Watson and Jack Dromey, both very decent men, addressing a sex segregated meeting with Muslim groups in Birmingham. What on earth were they thinking? However, it is symbolic of a metropolitan world view divorced from the views of British people, and from reality.
George Galloway’s defeat was the only truly bright point of election night. Block votes and communitarianism must stop. Now. Following the suspension of London Labour Assembly member Christine Shawcroft, the symbolic expulsion of the vile Ken Livingstone is long, long overdue.
But above all, we need to recognise that the people we try to persuade to vote Labour, and so dismally failed to convince on 7 May are not bigots, little Englanders, or even natural Conservative voters. They want an excellent, free, health service. Commuters want a renationalised railway (why on earth we can’t make that promise, I fail to comprehend). They want their children to be able to afford to leave home before they are 50. They want to feel valued, not ignored and ridiculed
We were blamed by many Scots for being red Tories, and that is another fight to discuss another day, but we need to demonstrate, loud and clear, that we actually like, admire and respect the English, too.
We must start to rebuild by stopping the obsession with identity politics, and with race. It alienates almost everyone outside The Guardian’s Kings Cross offices. We must recognise that almost uncontrolled immigration, and uncontrolled multiculturalism has separated us from a huge swathe of England, from people who believe we do not care about them.
That would be a start.
Robert Williams works in public affairs and as a journalist