Leon Church is a civil engineer in Port Glasgow, who after a lifetime of Labour support recently joined the party. He looks at why Labour lost and why we should take great care over our next choice of leader.
Following our defeat in May, the number of questions aimed at Labour – why it lost, what it’s for and where it goes – seem so insurmountable that any attempt to answer them is futile. If that’s the case, then I might as well have a go.
There are many reasons why we think we lost and if you are reading this letter then you probably have read all the reasons before now so I won’t bore you with repeating them. It’s easy to get lost in the many reasons why we think we lost; but the general public provided some succinct answers why they didn’t vote for Labour.
The general public are less like a team of political analysts and much more like a magnet, attracted or repelled or pulled to one pole or the other. If a political party isn’t attractive to the general public at a general election then no amount of seduction, goodwill or affection towards that party can draw the public in.
Recent evidence from pollsters has shown that through the ‘soft eyes’ (a term used by detectives to look at the big picture) of the public, Labour had an unconvincing leader, wasn’t trusted with the economy and had a confused campaign message. Mainstream working class voters voted Tory and UKIP for these reasons. If we can’t attract these voters, no wonder we lost.
On leadership, in a straight contest between Ed Miliband and David Cameron, the public preferred Cameron. In the voters’ eyes Ed didn’t have ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ is), couldn’t sell himself or the party and its policies, and wasn’t respected. Cameron, with his pragmatism, tactical instincts and sometimes toughness, was preferred. This doesn’t mean Cameron is well liked or loved, simply that they didn’t particularly mind him being Prime Minister (conventional choice) and saw Ed as no better and possibly worse.
On the economy and campaign message, both of these are intertwined. The financial crisis of 2008 hangs over the country like a long shadow. After years of redundancies, burgeoning personal debt, low or non-existent salary rises and longer working hours people wanted some security, not unpredictable change by an unconvincing leader with no credible message. Voters played it safe. We might have been better at empathising with them with slogans like ‘cost of living crisis’ but overall they didn’t think we were worth the chance.
Looking ahead for Labour on the issues of leadership, I’ll be looking for someone who is willing to ask tough questions of the party, willing to go outside their comfort zone, can sell their vision and policies to the general public and beat Prime Minister George Osborne in a general election.
On the economy and message, we should be showing Osborne what a real ‘long term economic plan’ looks like. Our plan should be about the people. People can’t feel secure for the future when they are saddled with unsustainable debt throughout their lives from leaving school to get an education, buy a car or house, get married, have children and finally retire. People should be able to spend, travel, start families and start businesses to enable the economy to grow and pay for well funded and secure public services for the long term.
We might not be able to end boom and bust in the private sector but we should aim to do it for our schools, hospitals and care homes. Constant investment matching inflation or real terms spending year on year – sustainably, this would feed back into the economy with people confident the Government is handling their money wisely. Harnessing people’s confidence and good nature for the benefit of the country.
Government debt can be reduced once the economy starts growing again. A simple message with some joined up thinking and a focus on people, their debts andhardships and what we can do to lean against inequality to provide a decent standard of living for what they want to achieve in life.
As an aside, with constraints in demographics and natural resources, countries that make fundamental research in maths and science a high priority will be the countries that prosper economically. Labour should be at the forefront of this change. Furthermore I would like to see Labour drive real solutions to housing, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, monopolies, a public inquiry into the financial crises and human trafficking. Sorry, let me rephrase that to what it actually is – 21st century slavery.
In conclusion I ask all Labour members in this election to keep an open mind about choosing a candidate until the last moment. I think this election has happened too soon after the general election given the magnitude of the result. I think the speed at which it has happened has only exacerbated our problems.
This was a painful letter for me to write but we should listen to the voices of caution or pay a bitter price for avoiding reality.
P.S. Regarding the Scottish Labour leadership election, I think whoever wins, the party is generally going in the correct direction. For the EU referendum, I can think of no better leader for the pro EU side than Alan Johnson. Stay positive folks.