It’s two years until the general election – doing “ok” isn’t good enough anymore

7th May, 2013 11:35 am

Two years from today, Britain will vote in a general election that could define a generation. If the Tories manage to secure a majority, then they will have recovered from a twenty year decline that at times has looked terminal, plunging Labour into another bout of long term opposition. If Labour secures a majority, Ed Miliband will have achieved the historic feat of returning from opposition in a single term – and Labour will, by 2020, have been in power for 18 out of 23 years. There will be a new de facto party of government in British politics. Of course, there could be another coalition. But that doesn’t bear thinking about…

So with three years gone and two years to go, how are Labour doing in the quest to make Cameron a one-term Prime Minister? Six months ago, I would have said well. Strong by-election results in places like Corby, making the most of Tory mistakes like the top rate tax cut and setting the agenda on Leveson, the stage was set for Labour to kick on and win in 2015.

Right now – after last week’s elections – I’d just say ok. And with only two years left, ok isn’t good enough anymore.

The county council election results weren’t as bad as some of Labour’s opponents (and Ed Miliband’s fiercest critics) would like you to believe. Luke Akehurst’s scorecard shows that Labour in many case exceeded expectations, and the election took place in the bluest of True Blue territory – 80% of those voting last Thursday have a Tory MP. And yet, the results still weren’t great. We lost 291 seats in 2009 and won the same number back in 2013, but that number is distorted by a huge gain of 27 seats in Durham – not somewhere that is going to decide the next election. And whilst Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire councils were won back for Labour (the latter by the narrowest of margins), Staffordshire remains in Tory hands, and the great work being done in Lancashire by Arnie Graf and others brought a huge gain in seats, but not enough to win a county that many considered a top priority.

In short, we did slightly less well than in 2005, on a day where we scraped our way to a third term.

These weren’t bad results. We didn’t go backwards (it’s hard to imagine how that would have been possible) – and in many places we were close. But two years from a General Election – close isn’t good enough anymore.

There are positives to take from last week though, and learning from those areas in which Labour did do well could be the different between success and failure on election day in 2015.The party should be speeding up candidate selection and the hiring of hundreds of organisers that was promised last year – the longer we go in target seats without a candidate or ground organisation, the less chance there is of wresting it from the incumbent. In those areas where we selected candidates earlier, and have organisation in place – like Hastings, Harlow, Lincoln and Stevenage – we performed well, picking up seats in key target areas for 2015.

Elsewhere though, our organisation seems insufficient, unable to out organise either the local hierarchy (the Tories) or the anti-politics mob (UKIP).

But Labour’s failure to achieve the great set of results that Ed Miliband needed to put the past few weeks behind him wasn’t just a question of organisation – it’s also a question of policies and politics.

In Lancashire, I know that a great deal of time was spent writing a manifesto that was informed by and drafted with the involvement of local people. This may well have been the case elsewhere in the country. But with the best will in the world, people don’t vote in County Council elections on the basis of county-wide manifestos – as evidenced by the UKIP surge. I’m pretty sure no-one was putting an x in the UKIP box on the basis of their views on potholes and speed limits.

So what was the offer that people had last Thursday from Labour? What was the compelling national case for a Labour vote in last week’s election. Vote Labour for housing? Vote Labour to deal with the youth unemployment crisis? Vote Labour for Social Care for your loved ones? At present – and this terrifies me – whenever I’m asked why someone should vote Labour, too often the only answers I’m able to give are negative ones. Because the Tories are ruining the economy. Because unemployment is too high. Because inequality is increasing week on week. But if Labour is going to have little success at being the party of protest – and last week showed us that’s the case – then we must instead plough onwards with being the alternative party of government. And that means a positive message for what a Labour government would look like. At the moment things are too abstract I’m afraid.

We need a more concrete offer. What is it?

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  • Simon Gothard

    UKIP anti-politics mob? Or just anti-politics in its current corrupt form. Where us the public see husbands and wives, sisters, brothers and old school pals infesting our postions of public office.

  • blokefromkent

    The party just doesn’t have anything to offer at the moment. The store cupboard is empty.

    The saving grace has been that the other parties have been making Ed Miliband look good. The slightest prospect of an authentic protest voice – UKIP – and the party loses votes in its core areas.

    The Labour party has needed since 2010 to offer a future. Instead it constantly harks back to the worst excesses of its past, and what it seems to be offering is the ideologies of the 70s, bankrolled by the trade unions, to be delivered by the team that brought us Blair’s integrity and Brown’s ‘prudence’.

    The party needs a proper clearout.

  • Doctor Yellow Face

    We could have no policy or one policy. Policy won’t make a world off difference if that message is not hammered home via the airwaves and doors

  • Graham Barker

    Concrete… Stick Ed Miliband’s feet in some and throw him overboard?

  • terryec

    Good post Mark, it is worrying what is on offer and as you say there aren’t many Labour positives, more of the same seems to be the stance at the moment or we can’t say what we will do two years out from an election gives no reassurances whatsoever.
    Ed Miliband was my choice for the leadership and IMO he has done quite well to get us where we are after the shambles of 2010 but he needs to start moving forward now.
    To get my vote next time and I need to say this very strongly as I am a life long Labour supporter but I will not vote for status quo in the policies that have been introduced, we might as well stick with the Tory’s making our laws. If Labour do not promise to reverse the policies on the NHS, the school building programme, several benefit changes and if they do not promise a huge house building programme I will not vote for them.

  • David H

    It’s not policy that’s the issue IMO – not just with Labour but with all the mainstream parties – it’s connection: with communities (local) and the electorate (national). Labour is not connecting on a linguistic, emotional or physical level: the result is the lack of public enthusiasm for Labour as displayed in South Shields and as will be displayed in 2015 if nothing changes in this area.

  • The economy (including welfare), Europe and immigration are biggies. I am pro staying in the EU but think the referendum issue needs tackling head on. Also I think health and the NHS will become a major issue as the NHS reforms in England start to unravel.

  • The economy (including welfare), Europe and immigration are biggies. I am pro staying in the EU but think the referendum issue needs tackling head on. Also I think health and the NHS will become a major issue as the NHS reforms in England start to unravel.

  • ‘Doing Ok’ is all we’ve got. Can we get rid of him? No. So we ought to make the best of it.

  • Carolekins

    I can only speak for Co Durham, where we now have a majority of 62 (as opposed to 9). Lib Dems down to 9 (from 21), Tories down to 4 (I think). We had a well-organised campaign: candidates selected by Xmas, canvassing from early on, plus voters being clobbered by the bedroom tax, unemployment, very low wages. A very down-to earth message that resonates with the voters. Nothing New Labour (the Geordie Armanis couldn’t be further from the truth) or triangulated.
    Come on, Ed, for God’s sake!

    • postageincluded

      “Keep it simple, Stupid” is good advice, and congrats on a great result from an exile.

      Two caveats.
      1) National policy has to have national appeal, so “down to earth” is more difficult – whose bit of earth are we getting down to?
      2) The GE is two years away. You didn’t start your campaign in May 2011 and even though a GE has a longer lead-up I still think it’s a bit premature to start now. Too many hostages left to fortune. And the voters stop hearing a message that’s repeated too often.

      I’ll start panicking at the end of the year!

      • Carolekins

        Earth is what most of us stand on. I’d say
        * no mucking around with the NHS or state education
        * appropriate taxes for rich people
        * get rid of Trident (those two will make us a lot of money for a start)
        * build lots more social housing(jobs)
        * a living wage and decent conditions (no zero hours contracts).

  • And you’ll have it by the time of the next election. Stop being so impatient! The Tories are about to count another round of bloodletting over Europe so anything we have to say wouldn’t get reported anyway.

  • Mike Drew

    If the UKIP vote continues Labour could have a majority in parliament with under a third of the vote. Will that be a mandate?

  • Michelvis

    3 points: the Europe argument should be dismissed as the economy is too poor to risk leaving at the moment; also I think the previous Labour govt is too fresh in everyone’s minds – seeing ‘immigration’ is an issue; and have to ‘out-PR’
    those Tory bastards… don’t know how to.. soz

  • Francis Gerald Allen

    There is no doubt that there can be no complacency over the County Council election results(and in my area,Doncaster, where we defeated the reactionary ex English Democrat Peter Davies, if only by the narrowest of margins,no more than 650 votes, albeit on a very low poll,but at the end of the day a force of reaction has been defeated) but as you say there were some very good positive results for Labour in those elections.Personally I think Labour worked as hard as they could, maybe with the exception of certain elements of New Labour running,( or maybe slithering) to the media.So, taking into consideration the media campaign to boost Farage and UKIP and a very low poll,maybe due to these elections being the County Council elections I think that with a lot of hard work and really going to town against these new, reactionary,uber Thatcherite councillors and the Tories in the County Halls up and down the country Labour can be in very good shape to take Cameron and Clegg on in 2015, the Euro and local elections next year should be a very good practice run in.

  • Charlie_Mansell

    Can Labourlist do a table of how our vote was in each of the targets compared to 2010? The weekend papers used to do this in the 80’s and 90’s, but don’t now. It will be a good measure of how we are doing


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