Politicians: I’m the person you’re talking about and I might have some useful information

15th May, 2015 10:11 am

Excuse me, Mr and Ms Clever Politician People, so sorry to interrupt. I know you all have lots to talk about – why didn’t working people believe our message, why didn’t the door-knocking have an impact, what is it people want.


But I actually am a ‘people’. I work in a care home, with the low-paid work force you are trying to understand. I knocked on those doors, day in day out, without the buffer of notoriety. I live outside the Westminster bubble that you’re trying to see past.

I’ve been listening to you chatting, and there are some great ideas, not knocking any of you… I just thought, since you’re talking about me, I might have some information of use.

1) ‘The Electorate’ is not a thing.

Nor, for that matter, is ‘The Working Class’ or ‘The Scottish’. Hence the petulant frustration of those coming up with theories of what those groups want only to find one awkward buggar behind door number three. Having been a local councillor, I can tell you it’s difficult to get ten people on the same street to agree on what happens to a tree. To suggest we can find one slogan that will appeal to millions of voters is nonsense. Granted, this observation in and of itself will not help you find an election strategy. But it might save thousands of promising political minds bludgeoning themselves to death while wailing ‘what do you people want!’ Lots of different things, obvs.

2) There is a difference between what would get us elected, and what would lead to a successful government

I’m not even talking about airy fairy concepts like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. I’m not so naive as to dream we’d do something just because it was right. But we should be wary of doing things just because they are popular. Because what people tell you they want, and what they actually want, are two different things – and woe betide any government that gives people the former and not the latter. People may say they ‘want all the foreigners out’, but what they actually want is the world they think that will lead to. What they’re actually asking for is a world where they can get a job, or looks more like 1955, depending on who you are talking to. And as The Electorate is not a thing, you can’t go back to it in five years’ time and say ‘well, you asked for it!’ if a lack of foreigners has not lead to more council houses or bigger Curly Wurlys.

3) It’s not just our problem

If two sprinters run a race with concrete shoes on, one of them will win. The loser may then be tempted to look at the winner and think, what is it about my performance? However, there were a lot of problems with this campaign that aren’t exclusive to Labour, or indeed to politics. Find someone involved with a local Labour party branch and ask them, do you think the people running things fear change? Do you hear the phrases ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ or ‘we’ve tried that and it doesn’t work’? Of course, these observations apply to all walks of life, and almost certainly apply to the Tory party. These things aren’t the reasons we lost – but if we slip those concrete shoes off, it might be the reason we win.

4) Ed Miliband is not Socialism.

I have many good arguments for socialism. None of them are ‘all socialists are flawless human beings’. As such, the fact that some Scottish Labour MPs were complacent, or the fact that Ed Miliband wasn’t popular, doesn’t change my mind about the message. That’s not me saying the message must’ve been right (sorry, no easy answers here in the real world). It just doesn’t prove the message was wrong. If sales of the next iProduct are poor, Apple will not automatically assume that people have gone off smart phones and try something else entirely. They may well sack the sales manager and hire someone better suited to sell the product they already had.

5) Conversation is not an achievement in and of itself.

I like Ed Miliband and I still agree with a lot of what he had to say. But if he told all Labour Activists to do the hokey cokey next Monday, I’d still ask why. When he told us to go out and have 6,000,000 conversations, we should have asked why. All those insights you gleaned on the doorstep, all those issues you uncovered – did you feed any of those back the national party? Did you do anything with that information at all? Because if all you did was respond with a scripted argument as to why that person should vote Labour, that’s not a conversation – conversations involve listening.

6) There is no such thing as an expert in politics

There might be experts in Science and Geography. I’m not one of them, so I wouldn’t know. I do know that all the experts saying ‘it’s obvious where Labour went wrong’ didn’t know that Labour were going wrong at 9.59pm on the 7th of May. So maybe we shouldn’t rush to take advice off the people that were telling Cameron where he was going wrong two weeks ago.

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  • Mandy Hall

    Not sure what your point is ?

    • Michael Carey

      It makes some good points – the fact that it doesn’t say ‘and this is THE point that we all missed and if we fix that we’re fine’ is a strength. Let’s have the debate first. I think part of the point is not to blindly trust the authority figures in the party who are convinced they have ***the answer***, but to genuinely debate. I think we’re in danger now of going into panic mode and grasping onto New Labour, regressing into our comfort zone, without properly thinking about the questions this piece raises or the real lessons of the last five (ten, twenty?) years.

      • Mandy Hall

        I agree with that analysis but he could have said that in one short paragraph.

    • Steve Doran

      Just that we cant allow our analysis of this campaign to fall into the same traps the campaign might well have fallen into. We can’t listen to candidates or ‘experts’ that claim to know The Message that The Electorate want, just because its easier and more convenient for us to have One Message to focus on. We can’t confuse the product with the salesman, even if it is difficult sometimes to disentangle the two. We can’t assume just because the Tories did it, it will lead to election success, or that just because something is electorally successful it will be a success for the government.

      The electorate isn’t one mass with one mindset – we’re a complicated group of millions of individual. Any plan that tries to simplify that will fail.

      • Mandy Hall

        I support that – indeed that is what I have been saying more or less since the election

  • Ben Gardner

    I agree, now is the time to ask questions, not answer them. Here’s a few:

    1. Why was turnout ‘only’ 66%?
    2. How many voters did Labour lose to UKIP?
    3. Why did people who voted Labour in 2010 switch to the Tories?
    4. Where exactly did that 15.1% of lost Lib Dem vote go?
    5. Did the Greens stop Labour winning any seats?
    6. Why did Labour lose seats in Wales?

    • Christian Wilcox

      Bingo. The Green Surge kept our Croydon Central candidate out.

    • silas.silas

      I think hardly any 2010 Labour voters switched to Tory – however what’s clear is that a LARGE number of 2010 Lib Dem voters did exactly that. That’s the puzzle to me. If they didn’t vote for Cameron 5 years ago, what has changed? I can only think it comes down to leadership. Clegg was fresh and convincing 5 years ago – people voted because of that, rather than anything to do with the economy, right vs left, or establishment vs anti-establishment. This time round Clegg was discredited, Miliband never convinced anyone outside the Labour bubble, so Cameron was the only alternative. Do people agree?

      • Ben Gardner

        If you look at the Ashcroft ‘aftermath’ poll it shows that 5% of Tory voters had voted Labour in 2010 – so that’s just under seven hundred thousands. You’re right though that twice as many said they had voted Lib Dem; that’s a hard one to figure out. Did we all just fundamentally misunderstand the typical Lib Dem voter? Must of us saw them as just liberal Labour voters.

    • NT86

      The Greens prevented Labour from winning Brighton Kemptown and Plymouth Sutton & Devonport which were reduced to three figure majorities, but the Greens polled relatively high holding their deposits in both.

    • Ben Green

      Ed balls lost his seat due to a split from the greens

  • Christian Wilcox

    I can’t remember the last time a normal person with a real CV got somewhere in UK Politics.

    Sarah in Croydon was a strong one here ( she was half political, half real-world ), but she was pipped by a Career-type.

    Westminster just doesn’t tie in with the real world anymore.

    • corinium

      All political parties (not just Labour) would see a far greater connection with the voting public if they selected candidates who are older, have had careers outside of politics, indeed precisely NOT selecting the sort of people who have wanted to be a politician since their teens. Its the identikit political wonk of any colour rosette that turns voters off. No candidates under 40 and must have worked outside of politics for 15 years at least. Look at the interest in Dan Jarvis precisely because he doesn’t fit the usual MP mold.

      Oh, and no politicians children either.

      • Christian Wilcox

        Sounds good. I’ve never trusted Politicos with kids anyway. They never put enough hours in to cover their patch properly.

  • Judo Rick

    “There is a difference between what would get us elected, and what would lead to a successful government”

    this is the argument I have been having with the Labour leadership

    what is the point of getting into power if you are not going to implement policies that improve equality, wealth distribution, workers rights, opportunity, social mobility, child poverty, infrastructure, housing, social care and so on

    if you are just going to offer another set of Neoliberal economic policies not much different to Tory policy then why should you be elected? Government should be about doing what you really believe not just getting power

  • Peter Colledge

    This is a very good post. It points out that there is no universal message, that if you seek the opinions of focus groups, you are not going to get anywhere.

  • Aaron Golightly

    What if the next iproduct didn’t sell for about 40 years, do you think Apple might think about trying something else entirely then?

    • Dave Postles

      Your analogy is fundamentally wrong. Apple is a cult – just like you consider left Labour. It also went back to BSD Unix (the OS of the 1970s, in the eyes of some) to produce OSX. There are much better OpenSource adaptations of BSD Unix, but they do not have cult status. On the other hand, Labour has been honest and open, but Apple is a notorious tax avoider, offshoring its profits.

      • Steve Stubbs

        But Apple is successful, unlike labour. Who is right? Who sees their “market” correctly?

        The next GE is already looking a mountaiin to climb, with over 9% swing required to match the torys and more for a comfortable majority. We had better learn to understand our “market” a bit better if we are not going to be in the same position in 2020.

        • Dave Postles

          What percentage of the market does Apple have?

      • Steve Doran

        …I think you may be taking the analogy a bit more literally than I intended it.

        • Dave Postles

          You should have selected a better analogy. Why even mention Apple? – it stinks.

          • Steve Doran

            I mentioned Apple instead of saying company X, it was designed to illustrate a general point.

          • Dave Postles

            Apple represents the worst of corporate business.

          • Steve Doran

            In your opinion, clearly, and there may be many that agree with you. But an analogy is used to draw comparisons between an argument, and the argument still holds regardless of what we think of the company – an evil company, or a good one, will still see the distinction between a bad product and a bad salesman.

          • Dave Postles

            It’s a cult. You might as well suggest that the Labour Party should emulate the Mormons or the Moonies. Apple is successful because a small group of people worship its products – although there is increasing disquiet about its ‘experts’ in its stores.

          • Steve Doran

            Again, that’s why I use it as an analogy for an argument as opposed to a blueprint for our party – I never suggested that the Labour Party emulated Apple in general, or even emulate specifically Apple in this respect – I use Apple as one example of many companies that distinguish between the product and the personnel, and as such investigate both things separately.

          • Dave Postles

            Apple apparently treats its customers with disdain, according to recent reports. If you don’t like the product, too bad, as the ‘experts’ in the stores will consider that you are an apostate.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            Have you thought of taking up these issues up with Apple themselves rather than with some random guy who just happened to use the name as part of an analogy?

    • Steve Doran

      As I say, I’m not arguing that the message must be right. I’m simply saying, we should do some thinking – and some research – into what people think of the message, and why, rather than assuming because we lost an election that it MUST be the product. For the record, I think Labour would be wrong to retreat into the past, and I’m certainly not making an argument for a return to 1970s socialism. I’m simply saying we should think about what socialism looks like in the 21st century and actually look into what people think of that, rather than taking all we need to know from whether they vote for the bloke/woman selling that.


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