We saw it coming

8th May, 2015 4:20 pm



Outside of the bubble of the short campaign, Labour MPs knew earlier this year that the kind of defeat that has now transpired was heading our way. The campaign was a galvanizing movement: Ed Miliband performed exceptionally well, drove a disciplined campaign, established a clear policy platform and on the ground at least, the disciplined team of doorknockers seemed focused, committed and optimistic. Labour fought a good short campaign, the Tories a wretched one and the lesson is straightforward and indisputable– this election was not lost for Labour over the last four weeks, but over the last four years. The short campaign made many of us believe that a victory of sorts was within reach. Deep down, when we close our eyes tonight and reflect upon the millions of people in need of a Labour government and whom we have failed, we will remember the realpolitik of the past Parliament.

Tessa Jowell is right: we can’t dump all of this on Ed. That wouldn’t be fair or accurate and the roots of today’s catastrophic failure took hold years ago. Faced with an appalling defeat in 2010, the Parliamentary Labour Party became immersed in ennui.

The modernising techniques of New Labour made the PLP a professional, clinical political force. Loyalty and discipline were – for the most part – hard wired into an election-winning machine. Despite the recriminations seen between 2005-2010, these ‘professional’ behaviors remained within the PLP – adhered to and prized by whips and the whipped alike. But the price for this loyalty was the suspension of a collective critical faculty. In 2010, faced with a changed and still changing country, faced with an international financial crisis the likes of which none of us had ever prepared for and which required an entirely new approach from parties of the left, few in the PLP were prepared to engage with the new realities staring us in the face. For those that did understand – across the party’s entire spectrum – there was little encouragement from the leadership to contribute towards shaping the thinking of the PLP. At precisely the time when the PLP should have ben firing on every intellectual cylinder it had, it had instead become inert.

This inertia was compounded by the fact that the leadership of the PLP was not chosen by a majority of Labour MPs. Ed Miliband undoubtedly won the Labour leadership contest fair and square, but faced with leading a group of people who did not choose him as their Leader, the difficulties inherent within such a scenario ran their inevitable course. Party unity was not a hard won achievement; it was the symptom of a parliamentary party incapable of rebooting itself to meet the changed environment in which we found ourselves.

For me, nowhere was this more visible than in the emerging relationship between the party and traditionally Labour non-metropolitan areas. In our rugby league towns and lower league football cities, in the places most people have heard of, but never been to. These areas need Labour (ever more so as the state retreats) but a cultural divide has been allowed to open up between the party and for too many of those people for whom it exists to serve. The same happened with the Democrats in the US. Once the party of the working class in the southern states, millions of working class Americans in these states now vote overwhelmingly against their own economic best interests by voting Republican in every US election. Why? Because they connect ‘culturally’ with the Republicans in a way in which they no longer do with the Democrats. It’s a toxic development but an avoidable one. The tide ebbs and flows, but the danger for Labour is real. Between 2010 and yesterday, the Labour leadership has known this is happening, but so far failed to address it in a vocal, energetic way. The real tragedy? We have the policies designed to heal the divide in the shape of comprehensive proposals for English devolution, yet seem unwilling to tell the people that we will give them what they want, despite intending to do so – not as a sop but as a matter of belief. Why?

Faced with the reality of the SNP surge – the result of a similar disconnection between the party and its base in Scotland – this failure is even more bewildering to understand.

More important than the fortunes of any political party – even ours – is the future of our country. This election may very well have heralded the end of the United Kingdom: the once unthinkable is now upon us. Whether or not this is the case – and Labour should always work to sustain our remarkable Union – a new settlement for England is already overdue and Labour should make this our central mission as we regroup, rebuild, and fight on.

We saw this failure coming, and I cannot explain why the Party inflicted this defeat upon itself.  For my part, to every single person that needed us to win; I’m sorry.

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  • swatnan

    Labour has to change. it is not just for the working class,n or even just working people, it has to be more inclusive than that. It has to reach out to all, in every sector and become a real social democratic party It may even have to change its name to the Social Democratic Party, it pains me to say so. Otherwise Labour is no longer going to win elections.

    • Christian Wilcox

      Do a deal with The Greens, get them on board, and call it Green Labour.

      It’s an idea *shrugs*.

      • Kit Ingoldby

        Do that and you wander even further into the cul de sac of irrelevance.

    • SkippyBing

      And to show it’s for the whole country, call it the National Social Democratic Party.

  • Christian Wilcox

    The Policies were bang on the money; but too many of our Politicians are millionaires.

    I feel we need to keep Ed’s message going, but move to the long game. As more and more take hits due to The Torys ( like in the 80’s ) more and more will grow to hate them. 2020 will see an anger in the community so extreme no amount of newspaper lies will cover it.

    Ed’s policies were correct. Give it time and The People will get it too. The last thing we do is roll out war criminal Blair et al again. They fell a long time ago.

    People chase excitement and dreams. The only one they see is the Rich Man Off On Holiday on The TV. That won’t last forever, as our economy continues to collapse. People will wake up. Have faith.

    As for now? Our kids and disabled are stuffed. We should focus our efforts on them. The Boomers are rarely woo-able without doing something awful, so it’s time to build a movement to actually out-vote them.

    We have to focus on the disabled and kids. Steer that anti-Tory hatred we know will come into something reliable and united.

    • bevinboy

      Good policies mean nothing when responsibility is not taken for what Labour did wrong pre 2010.

      The two Eds were both in denial about it. that is where the lack of trust on the economy comes from.

      Just now Baroness Prosser was on PM Radio 4, in the same state of denial.

      Just stop it, stop, stop and stop. When you are in a hole, stop digging.

      Every word of denial that is printed or said now, is more lost territory to be regained when there is a new Leader & team.

      • Christian Wilcox

        Blair was a nightmare, and still holds too much sway. I agree.

      • DanFilson

        So you too are in denial about public spending as a % of GDP as at 1997 and over the following decade?

        And maybe you should look at UK National Debt and see how that rose – by half! – between 2010 and 2015 and is still rising. The very phrase “paying down the deficit” is utter nonsense as you can reduce a deficit to nil, at which point you stop needing to borrow, but you aren’t remotely paying off the UK National Debt until you have reduced the deficit to nil. Which the Tories are still nowhere near to doing.

        • Christian Wilcox

          The key social movement is against The 1% and Bankers.

          We can prove we were paying off The Debt before said Bankers stuffed us.

          After that we need to look at Splitters and why they’re doing it ( dividing the Left-wing Vote ). And, if they take the michael, we have to give them a bloody nose. It’s either that or let The Torys carry on harming the most vulnerable in society.

          Cute Fluffy Bunny-Rabbits won’t save this one. We need strength, fairness, and unity. That will harness the hatred-to-come as more and more people suffer under Tory-max.

    • CrunchieTime

      Ah, the Boxer the cart horse strategy. Yes, that should work…

      • Christian Wilcox

        The hatred on the street is towards The Rich.

        How many Labour politicos are Rich? Quite a few…

        Spot the clash.

        • CrunchieTime

          Frankly I think that’s completely irrelevant. But feel free to run with it, don’t let me stop you.

        • DanFilson

          It depends what you mean by rich. Philip Hammond rich or lucky to have inherited a house in N1 but no nest egg of shares rich.

          • Christian Wilcox

            A £2m house is not Rich? How do you work that one out?

            Why do I get the impression you’re a London-type…

            Ok, with anyone wealthy they have to be seen to be helping The Poor. Nice Rich people are fine, as they will donate and pay more Tax etc.

            No-one begrudges someone for doing well. It’s when they refuse to help The Needy that the hatred rises. ‘Priviliege’ etc does include inherited money after all, and if said Privileged person then refuses to help their needy neighbours then the hate rises some more. Simple Psychology.

          • DanFilson

            Who mentioned £2m? Not me. The mention was of too many top Labour folk being millionaires; I doubt many are multiple-millionaires and those few will have to pay their due whack, however tough that is.

            But being worth £1 over £1m by virtue of having a pension pot that’ll pay say £25k pension and a house that though bought cheap is now worth over £850,000 makes you a millionaire, even though your family and you live in that house and you don’t fancy moving from the house you were brought up in. I have said as long anyone will listen that I think Labour should refocus onto taxing wealth, the mansion tax being the first attempt since Dennis Healey dipped a toe in this hot water 40 years ago. And if we can get an effective lifetime wealth tax going, not easy, then let’s obsess less about high top marginal rates of income tax. We should reintroduce an investment income surcharge, and drop the top general marginal rate of income tax to 40%. The state should not take more than 40% of any extra pounds you earn over a certain threshold; but we should tax wealth and not on a only when you die basis.

          • Christian Wilcox

            £850k is a fortune to real people.

            Dropping the top Tax Rate to 40% only helps the super-wealthy. That crowd are actually the enemy.

            If you think this is good Left-wing Politics then you are not a Lefty.

            Low Taxes for The Rich, and pandering to the London Elite, is precisely why so many do not trust us. People in the regions are truly growing to hate London now. Normal people DO NOT have £850k houses. Most normal people are still stuck in naff rental these days.

            The cut-off for Home-owning-as-the-norm is about the age of 45. People under, unless VERY lucky, are heavily stuck in Generation Rent situations.

            The Green Surge harmed us because of rhetoric like yours. The youngsters did not engage in sufficient numbers, so the Baby-boomers were able to do it again.

            This is why we need a more Local agenda. London-Weighting applied to the Benefits Cap ( for example ) would fix A LOT.

            London Weighting on Tax? May well be worth looking at.

            Reviewing what London Weighting is? Might well be needed as well.

            Letting off the stupidly-wealthy in a Blanket approach? Suicide. That’s WHY Blair fell by 2005. Too much Champers, not enough real people.

          • DanFilson

            I did say that reducing the marginal top rate ovf income tax should only be in accompaniment with the introduction of effective taxation

          • Christian Wilcox

            I’m sorry to challenge, but people are dying due to Tory policies getting popular. It’s not great out there, and as a Cllr you know full well your pot of cash is shrinking too much.

            Thank you for clarifying.

            I agree on the full Council Tax rejig.

            I never did get why we only had one level of Corp Tax, when the Tax itself has an SME rate ( which is never used ). We can easily help SME’s, whilst hitting the wealthy more, by using that. But it’s never done.

            Personally I’m a big fan of Land Taxes. If it can be moved the Tax can be dodged. You can’t move a house or field.


            I am still loath to lower the Top Rate of Tax when the debt is £1.4t with ~£80b of deficit left. I can’t see anything like that being justified for the next 30 years now.

    • reformist lickspittle

      I agree that the policies proposed this time were basically correct and are not the reason we fell short, but we need to communicate them to people in a way that resonates and makes sense to them.

      Warmed over Blairism/Brownism is *not* the answer, though.

      So no thanks to Umunna/Cooper as next leader please 😉

    • Kit Ingoldby

      The policies are irrelevant if the voters don’t have the trust. Until Labour can face up its economic mistakes in over spending and over borrowing, nothing they say will be believed.

      • Tom

        You’re clearly anti-Labour, so I don’t know why you even bother to post. We would we listen to someone who rails against ‘leftists’ elsewhere?

        • Kit Ingoldby

          So stay in your echo chamber if you think that’s going to get you anywhere…….

          • Tom

            There’s a obvious difference between ‘not-Labour’ and ‘anti-Labour’. There is no reason why our economic policy should be determined by reference to people who do not have our best interests at heart. And certainly not by economically illiterate people like yourself who seem unable to look up anything other than CCHQ soundbites.

          • Kit Ingoldby

            Playing the man rather than the ball. Have fun in your echo chamber.

    • M2

      “We are right and the voters are wrong”

    • DanFilson

      “The policies were bang on the money” Really? So how come the SNP policies resonated so well with a Scottish electorate that only last autumn voted decisively against Independence, Glasgow apart, and how come a million voters found voting Green attractive even though they knew only one seat was really winnable. Issues like renationalising the rail operating companies and alternatives to Trident weren’t really discussed, let alone considered.

      You are believing too much of the other side’s propaganda if you think too many of our politicians are millionaires. Let’s see how you dry up after reaching 10, and even then the names won’t necesssarily be names of power and influence; but maybe you are including the unrealised rises of property prices where the lucky MP has held the house over a period of years or two plus generations. When you refer to steering any-Tory hatred but then cast bricks at MPs who by fortune live in homes now topping a million, think of pot and kettle.

      • Christian Wilcox

        I’m sorry, but what I saw was very different to what London ‘experts’ rolled with.

        I saw Head Office roll out Blair again, and our polling in Croydon drop just after that.

        I saw messages that were so sterile that they lacked any ‘personal charm’.

        I saw decisions forced on us by high command that were certainly a worry to us Locals ( Croydon got an AWS in a marginal, not in a safe seat, for example ). Thankfully Sarah was a good lass, but even so. It was all too risky, and stank of an old-guard who lost their influence with the Public by about 2005 ( a decade ago ).

        Each solution put up in that manifesto was an accurate way to fix the problems. People will realise as those problems now get worse, which gives us a second chance. The problem was in the advertising.

        Ed Balls, Jim Murphy, etc. All Blairites. Known for being into Blair-ey stuff. People hate Blair for Iraq and PFI ( and education issues ), and for his lack of Housebuilding. Blairism no longer resonates with The Public ( as you now know ). First impressions were simply that the Labour old-guard were still hanging around.

        We need a much more Local agenda next time. We need the party broken up in a Federal way. A core message, but with Local bolt-ons to appeal to Local people ( the actual voters ). Labour London doing the London thing; Labour North doing the Midlands thing; Labour Scotland probably being thrown out on their ear, but at least it’s Local and listening; and English labour directly challenging the Tory Heartlands on key issues that these still-dominant Pensioners can see in front of them.

        See in front of them? How do you counter The Sun etc? You have to demonstrate Locally that said Newspaper is not telling an honest tale. Pensioners do not live on The Internet like us younger types, and the Baby-boomers still hold considerable swing.

        The days of Universalism are over. We have to accept that and move on. We need to let the Local Talent through, not keep barking orders from High Command ( typically London-types on high wages, which looks like cr*p to your average poor person ).

  • Antonia

    Thank you for saying sorry. You are absolutely right in many of the things you say. They couldn’t see the wood for the trees and who advised on the “Edstone” pure hubris and I’m sure it did cause damage. Humility and passion win every time. Austerity was the battle and the labour party didn’t take it seriously.

    • reformist lickspittle

      I really don’t think the slab made much difference.

      Don’t let this become a myth like the Sheffield Rally.

      • Antonia

        I understand what you are saying and yes the rot had set in a few years before hand but I do think the slab was important in that it showed a complete lack of judgement.

        • DanFilson

          A lack of judgment is one thing, but I concur with reformist lickspittle that it didn’t make much difference. The cause of this defeat goes far further back.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    Does the author really think most English voters want regional devolution?

    I think there’s a big risk that it might drive a further wedge between voters and the party, if there’s no real grass roots desire for it. Let’s be honest, it only started getting talked about straight after the Scottish referendum and seemed like it had been pulled out of the hat as a way of averting EVEL.

    I can’t see it working, England doesn’t have regional identities like the national identities of Scotland and Wales. People don’t want yet another layer of government.

    • reformist lickspittle

      He just says he wants “English devolution” – the word “regional” is not cited.

      • Quiet_Sceptic

        True although the only proposals I heard announced were around English regional devolution, if there’s another structure being proposed be interesting to see what it is.

  • Antonia

    ps and I told my MP but he didn’t listen, the Labour Party didn’t listen.

  • Kenneth Watson

    the”cultural esoteric” US juxtaposition is clever but is far from perfect as civil rights legislation brought through by LBJ who was despised as President in his home state of Texas alienated the Old South ,its KKK ,Minutemen, mass of extremist survivalists and hate groups and religious fruitcakes etc etc ……rather the problem is as another says here the simple issue of trust which the party lost at the Crash and failed to win back ,though did make huge advances as those dreaded polls showed during the leadership campaign when Balls began to explain it as if to adults and people listened and understood…the clear lesson from Scotland is that austerity is a massive vote-loser and doesnt work anyway as all the current economic indicators Labour didnt hit home on confirm whilst in pursuing it as an election strategy Labour conceded to the Tory blame game that the Crash was a domestic affair caused by overspending and underregulation and nothing to do with the Thatcher Reagan banking liberalisations cum enabling technologies which largely defy all domestic controls…..Labour is ready on the starting-blocks to have learnt nothing but rather to pleasure itself in floral explanations

    • Josh Cook

      If you think that our disconnection from our working class base is the same as alienation of the Old south and its KKK then you have just exemplified the problem.
      Too many on the left have contempt for the people they putatively claim to represent. The disconnect is real and it’s pushing us into the History books.

      • Tom

        ? I thought the whole point of his comment was precisely that the US analogy *did not* work?

  • MarkPolden

    It needs to be reallised that Blair is labours Thatcher and to go forward the leadership needs to be cleansed of association. The party needs leaders who are new and not from the London bubble

  • Jane Manby

    err what a whole page to say what the rest of us could in one sentence?
    “labours’ political class are out of touch and have pissed off its core voters”

    Morley and Outwood being a perfect example!
    The incumbent with a 12000+ stood aside after the boundary changes for Teddy Testicles who got in with only a 1100 lead in 2010.
    5 years later he has lost the seat, which would suggest he failed to work his arse off for the constituency so people would vote him back in.
    That is not the whole story though,
    Morley last had a Tory MP 45 years ago when it was part of Spenbourough and as a strong labour voting town Thatcher moved it into Leeds. Morley had a massive labour membership and 5 out of 6 labour Councillors it now has only independent Councillors. Labour needs to look at how it has treated the people it wants to vote it in because if we are pissing other places off like they have pissed off Morley there is no hope for us.
    As to Outwood you can not even argue that this was a Tory voting area that was pushed into Morley at the last boundary changes to split the Labour vote because it wasn’t. It too was a fairly strong labour voting area.
    Now we can tell ourselves that it was because Cameron ran a SNP scare campaign, or that the SNP were a threat but the reality is the labour party are at fault for being out of touch.

  • Mike Thomas

    Using 1930s ideas to win a 21st century election didn’t work.

    And please, do try the ‘just a bigger push’ strategy and see where that gets Labour in 2020.

    The centre-left in Europe are by and large far more on the right than the present Labour Party. Except France, where voters are delighted with Hollande’s form of 1970s socialism – the kind that Ed admired.

    Labour will only begin to succeed when it embraces social democracy – the kind laid down in Germany in the 1950s. That in itself is more Classic Liberal than Socialist so I am not optimistic that Labour could ever make the intellectual leap.

    Someone overlaid Labour’s constituencies with an old map of the UK’s coalfields – the match was uncanny.

    And that sums up Labour’s core problem only too well…………….

    • Tom Miller

      I would have called our offer pretty social democratic. Mixed economy in which growth is harnessed with taxation, and intervention in markets where they are failing (e.g. rentals or energy price hikes).

      It’s hardly soviet, is it?

      In my view the problem in England is much more about the cultural stuff correctly outlined in this article, heavily compounded by the loss off 50 seats in Scotland.

  • Mandy Hall

    I’ve seen it coming for ages. The grandees in the party were too busy depending on the UKIP / Tory battle that they didn’t see the danger from UKIP in our own backyards. My dad voted Labour all his life – would not ever consider voting Conservative despite being very right wing in his views. The problem is that once what should be our’core vote’ were given the opportunity of voting for someone other than the Tories but for someone who matched their particular mindset … Labour has won in the north east – yes but in more than a few consticuencies thousands have voted for UKIP. They have another four years to build on that. We no longer have a ‘core vote’ that can be depended upon. It will be interesting what happens in the next set of local elections in the County we’re in – I wouldn’t depend upon there being the virtual clean slate of Labour councillors.

    As a party we have to face facts. We failed, very badly, imho at these elections. We failed when Miliband was elected and we have continued to fail ever since. All of our policies are pale copies of Tories (a bit different here and there) we have continually failed to make the case for the party to be in goivernment, failed to show where we would be strongly different from the Tories. That’s why the liberals crashed so badly – why bother to vote for a different party when the Tories will be in Government anyway. I can see voters asking themselves why bother voting Labour when their policies are very similar?

    Why did the SNP win? I don’t believe that all of Scotland want to be independent but the SNP put forward a different agenda (doesn’t make economic sense but I don’t think that mattered) to those of others – they gave a sense of being different, of being more than a pale washed out version of the Tories (none of the endless triangulation of the Milliband era).

    I saw Nick (‘we haven’t done as well as we hoped’) Brown on tv a lot yesterday and he continually blamed the electorate for not voting Labour. Hello, Nick… voters have a choice and if you’re not giving something that the voters will buy then the party is to blame. I’ve seen a lot of people ruminating on whether we should nmove to the left or to the right – politics have shifted permanently. We should be asking ourselves – what would serve social justice first and foremost and only then how do we achieve that? Not whether we are too left /right wing or not enough …

    I see there was a popular call on Twitter for David M to come back and save us all. WTF? I was sent into despair.


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