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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