Feeling world weary, down-trodden, and thoroughly bereft of any lust for life after the Euro elections? Don’t we all. But here in Edinburgh East, a two way battle with the SNP on the crest of tidal wave of popularity, we can’t afford to stop and feel downbeat. Losing to the SNP in the Euro elections hurt, but we kept our 2 MEPs and now we must dust ourselves down and get on with the job of taking the campaign to the SNP. That’s why last night, when the news of Labour’s worst defeat in our history broke, we went door knocking.
And what did we find?
* Significant support for Labour, helped by an excellent local Labour Councillor.
* Significant support for the SNP. Not nationalists, but disaffected, angry people, often former Labour voters.
* And for the first time, notable support for the BNP.
I know it’s early days and there’s a certain rawness to the voter ID you get the day after an election, but I seriously fear for the impact that the BNP’s arrival on the Euro stage will have on the future of our politics. The millions of pounds they will receive in Euro allowances is essentially irrelevant. What worries me more is the legitimacy that their election has given them. We now have two democratically elected facists representing the UK. We have them not simply because Labour did badly, or the Greens failed to do better. We’ve got them – because hundreds of thousands of people across the country voted for them.
However abhorrent their views, the BNP’s election was democratic and fair. They have a mandate and five years in which to serve it.
I saw one BNP poster up in an Edinburgh East window tonight. But several more voters mentioned it on the doorstep. It wasn’t direct support, more implicit. Things like “The BNP have the right ideas on immigration”, “Too many immigrants taking our jobs and our houses.”
The BNP’s language resonates with voters because it’s the same way people are talking in pubs and living rooms across the land. The fact that’s ignorant, bloody minded, fuelled by prejudice and fired by hate is completely secondary. It’s an emotional rhetoric. Simple and conversational. Human. A language which Labour has long since forgotten. Yes, it’s racist. But it’s how people think and feel and we’ll forget that at our peril.
To tackle it, we have to communicate the power of our over-powering counter arguments in the same simple, conversational, human terms. In the run up to the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, Labour boasted about the fact that it’s manifesto was twice the size of the SNP’s. As if the weight of a manifesto measured the degree of ambition within it. 100 pages long and I couldn’t name five things in it now. It was worthy. Thorough and detailed. Rational and dull.
The SNP on the hand had 6 simple promises. Some they would keep. Some they would break. But memorable nonetheless: scrapping bridge tolls, more police, dumping student debt, to name but three. Voters knew what the SNP stood for and very few could disagree with the pledges. Voters know what the BNP stand for and the vast majority reject it. But the oxygen of a legitimate win lets the BNP support breed whilst the pain of our loss leaves us gasping for air.
This is my plea to those writing Labour’s next general election manifesto. I expect Gordon Brown’s name to be at the front of it – but whatever happens, the pages that follow are far more important.
That request for the opportunity to serve a fourth term, must be bold and emotive and it must be Labour.
What do we value? What can my granny expect to live off? Is it fair – are we equal? What school will my kids to go to? How rich are the rich? How poor are the poor? How do I get to work and can I walk home at night? What rights do I have and what’s wrong with the world?
No more managerial speak and statistical bulletins. No roll calls on success. Nobody will vote for what we have done – only what we promise to do.
If I can’t sell it in a sentence on a doorstep, I don’t want to know.
If we find our political instinct again and emotional narrative to communicate it, we won’t need to spend our time spelling out the dividing lines between the parties. It should be blatantly obvious.
It just has to be.