Following a defeat or set back it is natural to contemplate what went wrong, human nature having developed this tactic to avoid repeating mistakes forever. One of my favourite and oft-quoted pieces of wisdom is that one, sometimes attributed to Einstein, about the definition of insanity being expecting a different result from the same action.
A political party displaying this most human of traits should therefore be an encouraging sight. The Tory ‘brand’ wasn’t deemed to be detoxified until they had fought and lost two elections on the issues that had helped to turn everybody off them in the first place – immigration and Europe – so it is refreshing that the Labour party is wasting no time in beginning the process of staring at its navel. Like a chorus of Wodehousian aunts, there have been no end of ‘where it went wrong’ articles seeking to assist Labour in this endeavour, so ten minutes hate has cut through the chatter to bring you two of the best.
The first is from Max Dunbar and targets two key points: the reaction to ‘dog-whistle’ scapegoating of welfare claimants and immigrants and the expansion of the intrusive security state, neither of which pleased the right-wing nor garnered much support on the left. We have indeed reached a pretty pass where the coalition government can claim to be on the left of the previous government on its prison sentencing policy. (H/T to Chicken Yoghurt for the link.)
The second article is a longer piece by Ross McKibbin in the LRB, which begins with an intriguing break down of the electoral results. It is interesting to learn that:
Despite very favourable circumstances the Conservative vote is proportionately much lower than it was in 1992.
as well as hear of:
the continued failure of the Conservatives to make any gains among voters in the AB classes – the upper and solid middle classes, 57 per cent of whom voted Labour or Lib Dem, in almost equal proportions. In 1987, for the first time, the majority of those with university degrees didn’t vote Conservative, and they have not been won back.
In spite of all the propaganda, it seems we are not heading straight back to the 80s and Thatcherism red in tooth and claw. Which is almost a shame for the Labour Party, as it would make life, electorally at least, much easier for them. They know how to fight those battles. Instead, they are going to have to engage in some careful thought to bring about a reversal in their electoral fortunes. One reason for so many differing opinions on the matter being aired is that there are a litany of different areas to choose from – was it the NHS, immigration, education – and each commentator has their own pet reason for the loss. Mr McKibben cuts through all of these when he urges the Labour Party back to basic principles:
There are moral lines no social democratic party should cross and Labour has repeatedly crossed them. The result has been policies that are socially and morally objectionable as well as politically futile.
A recognition of such would be a good place to begin. Then they could approach the problems so concerning the leadership candidates from the correct angle. This will require a deeper understanding of the issues than can be gathered from the tabloid front pages:
Those who worry about immigration usually claim that immigrants take British jobs and/or British houses. Neither is actually true; what is true is that there is an acute shortage of social housing, and that Labour connived at the shortage… the housing shortage was, therefore, a source of real social deprivation.
Let’s see if Labour can meet that challenge and avoid the temptation of a return to the old habits of setting policy by whatever plays best with the Sun, Mail and Express editors. To use an overwrought footballing metaphor, there is everything to play for…