Labour’s on its knees and the left’s interminable marches against austerity are part of the problem

by David Talbot

After a second successive heavy electoral defeat, Labour finds itself in the familiar phase of conducting a leadership election. In 2010, after thirteen years of a Labour government, and the ill-fated reign of Gordon Brown, there was a widely-held sentiment that a new leader would breathe life into a visibly tired and, in parts of the country, reviled party.

It was a job of regrouping, reuniting and then combatting the unheralded coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. There was a high hope, even expectation, that a return to power after five years was all but inevitable. After all, who didn’t despise the Tories and their sell-out collaborators, the Liberal Democrats?

This was an election that Labour could have won but ultimately chose not to. The litany of excuses is already being offered up early by a clearly stupefied left. The fight to define election defeat is well under way.

It is, of course, the fault of everyone but the left.

Stunned, it has returned to its ideological redoubt. What was its first major contribution to the post-election British political landscape? To march, of course. And so they did, hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, depending on whom you believed, marching against austerity. Just as they had done, multiple times, to no obvious affect, since 2010.

It was a return to the purity of their comfort zone; to rail against the Tories and their cuts. One could almost feel their collective relief that Labour had lost the election and they could thus continue the struggle. The left, clearly, has learnt little over the course of two devastating election defeats.

The Labour party collectively is on its knees. To win, it needs the strength to get up or it will perish on them. It has a choice. Labour has often flirted with existential crisis. It is a party feels the fear of victory almost as acutely as it fears defeat. But at present all the signs are that the left will play the same tune for the next five years, but somehow expect a different song.

The challenges facing the Labour party are stark.

Wiped out in Scotland, none-existent in the south of England, UKIP secure in second place throughout much of its northern heartlands and unable to win strongly in anywhere but major conurbations. It demands more than just protest for the sake of protest. Protest must, ultimately, be towards an end. But those who marched last weekend were merely affirming their bewildered anger towards those, the majority, to note, who did not vote Labour last month.

Telling the nation that they were wrong for electing a majority Conservative government is never a credible electoral strategy. So too is the left’s default accusation that the Tories simply like inflicting pain for the sake of it. Whisper it, but Labour is going to need some of these Conservative voters in 2020.

It’s time to be grown up and set aside the student politics placards and marching. The left can have its marches, but it must realise that to do so it is talking to only itself. The nation has moved on since 2010. The cuts and their provenance have been firmly pinned on the Labour party and its actions in government – which still appears unfathomable to some.

Labour will start the next election almost one hundred seats behind the Conservatives. Remaining out of power for twenty years is a distinct possibility. The next leader must, of course, win the coming party membership ballot, but more importantly look beyond those two hundred thousand to the millions who did not, who could not, vote Labour and appeal to them directly. Otherwise Labour will simply be repeating its leadership election exercise come the summer of 2020.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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40 Responses to “Labour’s on its knees and the left’s interminable marches against austerity are part of the problem”

  1. ex labour says:

    How did all those anti austerity protestors get into London…who paid ? Oviously not much austerity for the anti-austerity brigade.

    The problem is that many of these people, like the Occupy movement, are union stooges, professional protestors who complain about anything, students and Harriets and Henry’s still on the teat of their middle class parents who think its a fun day out to rebel against daddy – then go back to the estate in Oxforshire.

    The country has seen through this and no matter how much the BBC lefty luvvies try to ram it down our throats it dosen’t resonate anymore. Above all the public associate these people with Labour and that is damaging to the party. But until the anticipated leader (Burnham or Cooper) disown nonsense like this, it will remain a monkey on the back of the party. This, on top of putting Corbyn on the ballot, is killing any sort of phoenix like ressurrection of centre left politics and whilst its may appeal or appease the harder left the more sensible parts of the Labour must be dying inside.

    Burnham or Cooper will be an equal disaster by the way. Tories are set for a long run.

  2. swatantra says:

    Oh come on, lets be fair! We can’t blame the Left for all our woes! Only 75 % of them.

  3. Robert says:

    This article is a waste of space! David tells us that Labour had a bad result in May. Thanks a lot!

  4. Of course David’s attack on the left only works if we accept that Ed Miliband was of the left and that caused the election loss. We would need to hide from ourselves that Ed was part of the New Labour experiment and at the worse could be called a Brownite. We would have to ignore that the election campaign was being run by Douglas Alexander, a Blairite ultra. We would also have to ignore that in the PLP the left could only get Corbyn into the leadership contest with sympathy votes from a few non-left MPs. Apart from those extremely one-eyed, I’m not sure this will work.

    What we are looking at is the New Labour experiment now as a record of 3 wins followed by 2 losses. Do we bet against the slope in loss of popular vote since 1997? (Miliband did manage to increase the vote slightly, but maybe in a year where the third party took a massive hit we should have expected more.)

    We could hope for the Tories to suffer from a civil war over Europe and win it that way in England. The big problem is that looking at Burnham, Cooper or Kendall it is hard to see a turn-round being made.

    I did wonder how Progress would try to blame the left for this latest defeat. Repeating myself, the big problem for them is that one of their own was running the election campaign while another was the new head of the Scottish party. Still why let truth get in the way of a good yarn, eh?

  5. Dave Roberts. says:

    Actually Robert it tells us a great deal more than the fact that Labour lost the election but you would need to read that article without far left blinkers.

  6. Timmy says:

    Very accurate analysis. We chose to lose, because we couldn’t face the accountability and the consequences of the mistakes made in the 2000’s.
    Whether a little more capital spending early in the last parliament would have helped the economy recover faster was pretty moot, and the rate of public spending increases was going to have to be slow throughout this decade and the next whichever party was in power (the Coalition put it up every year, despite their rhetoric).
    How does the left respond to a time when there is less money available? Follow the Syriza route, or focus on finding lower cost ways to social justice?

  7. Johnnydub says:

    As neither a Tory nor a Labour supporter, I currently regard the Labour party with dismay.

    I may not agree with Labour but the Tories need a spirited and coherent opposition, otherwise they will implement stupid policies.

    However the discussion is around ideologically purity; you have extremists like Owen Jones and Len McCluskey trying to resurrect the longest suicide note in history, and fundamentally an unwillingness to compromise to actually attract enough voters to be relevant.

    If I was a Labour supporter I’d be pretty despondent.

  8. Bob says:

    Crobyn is a cross between Anthony Wedgewood Benn and Michael Foot and i do hope he becomes leader of the Labour Party just to prove the lunatics really have taken over the asylum.

    Cooper and Burnham, serial bandwagon jumpers and far too implicated in the Blair and Brown governments for the electorates taste. You just have to the disavowing the last election manifesto on which they would have presented as policy to the electorate. Cooper now stating that we need quota’s for MPs based on race gender and ethnicity

    Kendall is a clone of Blair, so no change there then.

  9. MacGuffin says:

    The only people I know who support Labour now are public sector workers and net recipients of benefits, and the latter aren’t really reliable voters on election day.

    This is not a winning electoral coalition. Nor, quite frankly, is it a good look.

    Labour, you have a problem.

  10. Aaron D Highside says:

    ‘David Talbot is a political consultant’. Yep, that’s what we need more of.

  11. Ben says:

    Absolutely spot on.

    The very existence of social democracy is at stake in this country as anything like a credible political entity unless we do something more productive than shouting loudly at ourselves in our collective comfort zone.

    We need to start speaking calmly, passionately, and articulately in forums that will actually make a difference. i.e. not just having a lovely day out waving sweary placards .

  12. Fubar_Saunders says:

    Sadly, an accurate analysis. Johnnydub is exactly right to say that there is a need for a spirited and coherent opposition.

    The author is also absolutely right to say that there has to be a vision, a direction to inspire voters that encourages voters to buy into it. And he’s also right to say that the recent strategies and the default knee-jerks are spectacularly unhelpful to the cause and do not inspire people.

    It wasnt the capital spending that did the damage, although the PFI-saddling of NHS trusts didnt help. It was the destruction of bank regulation, the high levels of immigration, the sleaze which we were all told would not happen under New Labour like it did under Major, but did and happened more often – and the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.

    And the inability of the party, despite two election defeats to the weakest conservative leader since Ted Heath, to put their hands up in significant enough numbers to say “we got it wrong. We wont make that same mistake again”.

    Thats what did the damage. There are a number of Labour MPs who Tory voters would vote for as local candidates, who are good constituency MP’s (Danzcuk, Jarvis, Frank Field, Hoey, etc and many others),but the leadership of the party seems to be determined to shoot itself in the foot.

    Given the wipeout of the Lib-Dems, the ongoing internecine UKIP goings on and Dave’s complete ineffectiveness in Europe – the picture isnt looking particularly good.

  13. Realist says:

    One of my grandfathers was a miner. The other was a printer. My parents were teachers. My brother and I are computer programmers. My family has moved on, and it is no longer the 1920s. Labour is the party of the past and there aren’t enough metal-bashers to vote for them any more.

  14. oliver says:

    ‘This was an election that Labour could have won but ultimately chose not to.’

    This thinking is also part of Labour’s problem. The inherent (and wholly false) belief that the if only the public were just a little more willing to be nudged left, then they would return Labour to power. Labour ‘could’, or ‘should’ have won the election is the exactly the sort of smug self denial that will lead them to another defeat at the next election.

  15. Albert M. Bankment says:

    The article itself, and ex labour’s comment up ^ there, reminds me of those photos of the fatuous Occupy protestors, loudly decrying capitalism while hunched outside Starbucks and poncing the wifi for their iPhones and Macbook Airs. Intercoursing hypocrites!

    Also, how is that all the soap-dodgers, who complain that life is so impossible in this time of austerity, have more than enough of it to spunk on tattoos and piercings? I fulkly accept that fags, dope and booze make a hard life more endurable, but what physical or psychological sustenance is provided by tats and holes?

  16. Derek Emery says:

    The problem for those with strong political belief is that the world is real and will not map onto any particular political ideology. The public are much more likely to see the world for what it is – warts and all – than politicians who require it to fit their preconeptions and find it impossible to understand the public’s choices.

    The EU and not just the UK faces drowning in debt due to impossible to fulfil unfunded liaiblities. The combination of the EU lowest growth in the world, anti-innovation and ageing demogrpahics means there is no possiblity of meeting these in future See

    Since 2008 the UK has beec on a rising debt trend that will reach 300%+ by 2040 without ongoing cuts over the decades.

    Ageing deomographics is an unfixable structural problem. Immigration cannot cure it unless magically you could guarantee millions of top engineers scientists etc coming here creating massive new wealth. The reality is it is largely the poor and unskilled that come here thus lowering the GDP/person. This is the direct opposite of what is needed to meet booming unfunded liaiblities.

    The public recognise that we are in this position and the only way forward will be to cut and cut. This is incompatible with Labour ideology.

    Incidentally the UK is the only country in the EU that it prepared to face this reality.
    The EU is still pretending there will be endless money avialable to mainitian a level playinfg field with the EU large social costs. The EU has 7% of world population, has 25% of World GDP and has 50% of weotld social costs.
    The 25% figure is dropping fast under the presusre of globalization which is leaving the EU in an increasinlgy poorer position.
    In the long term this is untenable as the EU share of world GDP will be down to around 8% by 2050.

  17. Patrick says:

    Ben upthread seems worried that “The very existence of social democracy is at stake in this country”. Good! Social democracy is democratic socialism. Ie Socialism. It doesn’t work! The harder or purer you go for it the sooner you run out of other people’s money. Greece voted (democratically) socialist for decades. Look where it got them. I thinbk educational standards must have fallen under New Labour – it seems nobody is any onger able to look at the evidence of all the countries that have tried full-on socialism and seen where it got them. So let’s all fervently hope social democracy dies in the UK. Let’s fervently hope that we get a democractic choice of left and right wing parties that both understand how easy it is to destroy an economy and where that leads you. People rejected Labour in May becasue they were fucking scared of it. Rightly so.

  18. forgotten man says:

    Just possibly the lack of votes was because the labour way of doing things simply doesnt actually work.

    It sort of reminds me a bit of the Parrot Sketch, the labour party has ‘beautiful plumage’ but is an ex idea..

    Labour support is , these days, largely a life form that depends on being close to red hot springs of government money which are more prevalent in Scotland (SNP are ‘Old Labour’ with an amputation fetish) and large cities, London being the biggest source of this red hot money gushing out.

    The government money can be in many guises, form housing benefit through to SPaD salaries , which I’m pretty sure the writer of this piece has been on the receiving end at some point… via quite a bit of ‘expense’ spending.

    Move away from these anomalous hot springs and they die off pretty quickly in the real world.

  19. Rich says:

    Here’s Labours problem in a nutshell:

    Chuka Umunna, Dan Jarvis, Mary Creigh and Tristram Hunt are not on the leadership ballot paper.

    Jeremy Corburn is.

    What does that say to the Country?

  20. chris says:

    What are the big things Labour concentrated on during the last parliament.

    Getting back at Murdoch and restricting a free press particularly any press that does not agree with Labour.

    Making markets work, so therefore fixing profit levels etc. Pretty anti business.

    That’s all I can remember. Whilst this may please the Guardian and high ups at the BBC, this enclave does not represent and certainly is not representative of the country. Think of all the sun and news of the world readers Ed and Tom Watson set themselves against. And clearly for political advantage or else we would have had the mirror closed down too.

    The biggest problem Labour have now is Gordon Brown ten years ago squashing any potential rivals so that the quality of senior mps now is woeful.

  21. John says:

    We will not have anything said against Church
    She is keen tat everybody but her pays tax at 70%

  22. John says:

    We will not have anything said against Church
    She is keen that everybody but her pays tax at 70%

  23. Confusedshus says:

    Can someone remind me, as a potential voter of Labour next time, are we against Austerity and against the tory Debt, or are we pro-debt and against Austerity?
    Someone told me it was against Austerity and against debt – but that doesn’t seem to add up.

  24. Coeur de Lion says:

    What I find astounding is the believe that Labour lost because they were not ‘left’ enough.

    If Labour had been ‘more left’ they’d have won the SNP and the Green seats, or so the argument goes – and the Tories would still have had a majority.

    Labour must find a way to win the seats that the Tories won, mostly from the Lib Dems. You don’t win votes back from Tories by being ‘more left’

    Even if you look at vote share rather than seats, 13% voted for UKIP, so the left is a long way from favour.

    This leads me to believe that anyone preaching a leftward lurch, actually doesn’t want to win and have to see there ideas tested.

  25. Annette says:

    I recently taught my EAL students a number of words to use in debate: hogwash, drivel, claptrap, balderdash, pigswill, poppycock. All of them apply to this article. Protest for protest’s sake? You mean because our society is in such tip-top shape? Labour lost because they were useless, and they continue to be useless. Stop blaming it on others.

  26. Tafia says:

    Chuka Umunna, Dan Jarvis, Mary Creigh and Tristram Hunt are not on the leadership ballot paper.

    Jeremy Corburn is.

    What does that say to the Country?

    If you think that the general public think Umunna and Hunt are something other than jumped-up limp wristed dandies and mummys boys then you are a plank. Both are totally unelectable. Creagh they have virtually no recognition or knowledge of. Jarvis is the one that is capable of ‘connect’ – bit this time round he doesn’t want to know. Come the inevitable leadership election post the 2020 defeat, Jarvis should be the man you go for.

    The public are not going to vote for a prospective Labour PM who has never worked in the real world and in the private sector. Get that idea out of your head. They’ve got better things to do – such as scratch their arse.

  27. sammy gravano says:

    Albert M Bankment
    I fulkly accept that fags, dope and booze make a hard life more endurable

    Well, hey-ho, I find that culture, exercise, and healthy eating make one of those ‘hard lives’ more endurable.

    Too each their own I suppose.

  28. Frank says:

    Labour is the party of “State Control of the Means of Production.”
    Margaret THATCHER entirely destroyed your beliefs in the 1980’s. Labour should just die gracefully.

  29. George S says:

    about 1 week after the election I was at a meeting. I literally had to leave the room for a few minutes and count to 10 when the discussion turned acrimonious. the electorate in our area was called by various party members as racist, bigoted, stupid, gullible.
    Someone close to our losing candidate suggested legal action claiming ballot box tampering because the polls didnt match the results.
    At no point did anyone suggest it was our policies were out of step with the electorate.

    I still dont think we have learned any lessons and if its going to take 20 years to mount a comeback we may not make it at all … the state will be smaller, unions will no longer be able to deliver anything useful (recent marches have been tiny), scotland is lost and may never be recovered and the immigrant population through growth will possibly be fielding their own candidates by then … thus labour will die.

  30. John P Reid says:

    What Oliver said,spot on

  31. Jesus Flippin Heck says:


    Don’t try to be more Tory to get the Tories to vote for you!
    They already have a party they can vote for.
    The Conservative party.

    Why don’t you try to get the Left voting for you again?
    All these people marching against austerity?

    The ones who saw no point voting for Labour because you offered the same austerity as the Tories?

    And how will you do that?

    Maybe if you stop telling people that austerity is the way to go, that the Tories have it right and that you wouldn’t change a thing about their brutal budget.

    You know? Take an anti-austerity stance?

    Like all those socialists who are marching, but who don’t have a party to vote for?

    In Scotland they have an anit-austerity party to vote for.

    People seemed to like that message, don’t you think?

    Why the hell do you think Corbyn gets such massive applause every time he speaks. Why do you think the Left like him? Is it, maybe, because he’s the only Left wing candidate?

    He hasn’t got a rat’s chance of being elected as leader, which is a crying shame for Labour because he is the ONLY chance you have of winning the next election.

  32. Connor says:

    You lot a better just voting Tory, 12 million people never voted
    Surely it’s better to aim for them rather than
    A few Tory voters

  33. Albert M. Bankment says:

    Dear sammy gravano –

    I certainly wasn’t advocating or condoning fags, dope and/or booze; I neither smoke nor take drugs, and drink sensibly. I was merely saying that I can understand how some get temporary relief from the daily grind in oblivion, but tattoos and piercings don’t help at all in that department. They are merely affectations. If they can afford expensive professional jobs, then money clearly isn’t all that short.

  34. John P Ried says:

    Connor do you feel those who don’t vote.bcause there’s no party to offer them what they wan,t or they don’t vote,because they don’t care

  35. Tafia says:

    Albert M. Bankment – and drink sensibly.

    I do for the first half dozen pints or so, then it all starts to go a bit haywire.

  36. Ex Labour says:

    @ Jesus Flippin Heck

    “Corbyn.. because he is the ONLY chance you have of winning the next election”

    Are you on drugs ?

  37. paul barker says:

    what the hell is the moderation policy on here ? Theres a vile, homophobic comment by tafia, why hasnt it been taken down ?

  38. Tafia says:

    which homophobic comment is that then. As far as I’m aware none of them are gay.

    And for you to think limp wristed dandy or mummys boy is homophobic says more about your appalling lack of education than anything else. I have to assume you went to school under New Labour – that would explain it. They just mean effeminate, obsessed with ‘self’, weak and effette – and effiminate, no matter how much you squeal like a little girly, does not mean gay.

    Incidentally, I can introduce you to a former paratrooper and SAS soldier who is homosexual – however if you ever call him gay he will take you outside and kick your face in. He much prefers to be called ‘pouf’ or ‘queer’ and refers to himself as such.

    And all ‘political correctness is the habitat if the irrelevant, the ignored and the laughing stock.

    And I bet this isn’t moderated either. Because it’s true. And moderating the truth is fascism. Knob.

  39. Tafia says:

    Or perhaps you have confused me with Albert M Bankment and his uuse of the word ‘fags’.

    And yes I am taking the piss out of you. because it’s all you deserve, it amuses me and the wife is hogging the TV watching Judge Judy so there’s nothing even remotely more interesting to do.

  40. John P Reid says:

    Jesus flipping Ecko,we did try to get the left to vote for us.the libdems,apparently some did,and we still lost

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