Monday, 18 May 2015

What Next? - Part 7

For Labour (5)

The narrative that is being developed by the right-wing media and the Blairites, who they are filling their screens and pages with, is that this was a momentous loss for Labour, and that the cause of that loss was that Labour had put forward a programme that was too left-wing, and which did not accept that Labour had overspent when it was last in office.

The idea that this was a momentous loss is not just being put forward by the Blairites; people like John Cruddas have made similar statements. But, in fact, the idea that the election was a disaster for Labour is as much a myth as the idea that Labour lost because it was too left-wing, or that it could not claim economic credibility, because the last Labour government had overspent. Once again, look at the facts.

The last government had a majority of around 80. This government has a majority of just 12. To have reduced the Tories majority by that amount is in my opinion a massive step forward, not a step back! It requires the Tories to lose just 6 MP's, for them to be in a minority, and that could happen within 12 months. Whenever by-elections occur, unless they are in particularly safe Tory seats, they are likely to lose votes. The main reason for Labour not winning such by-elections will be if it is presenting itself as a bunch of losers, and disorganised, which is another reason why it was a mistake for Miliband to have resigned.

To what extent was the election a disaster for Labour, and to what extent does it fit the Blairite narrative, and that presented by the right-wing media? In England, Labour GAINED a net 15 seats, having gained 21, and lost 6. So, it could hardly be described as a disaster in terms of losing seats compared to 2010. Moreover, Labour's share of the vote in England rose by 3.6% points, compared to only a 1.4% point rise in the Tory share of the vote, and a 16% point fall in the Liberal share of the vote. That neither confirms the idea that this was a disaster for Labour, nor supports the Blairite argument.

The closest party advocating something close to what the Blairites suggest Labour should have put forward, is the Liberals – though some Blairites seem closer to the Tories. But, the 16 point drop in the Liberal vote hides just how disastrous their performance was. Not only did they lose 37 of their 43 English seats, but this 16 point drop in their vote share actually represents a 66% drop of their vote share.

By contrast, Labour's 3.6 point rise in its vote share represents a 12.86% rise in its vote share. The Tories vote share increased by just 3.5%. In other words, Labour failed to win the election, but its performance in England could not be described as disastrous, because the Tories majority was reduced from around 80 to 12, Labour gained a net 15 seats, and its vote share increased by nearly 13%, or nearly four times that of the Tories. The real problem for Labour, contrary to the Blairite narrative came not from Labour being too left-wing, but, in comparison with the SNP message, not left-wing enough.

Labour's real problem arose from losing all but one of its seats in Scotland to the SNP, and the fact that with such a large number of SNP MP's being promised by the opinion polls for months before the election, that meant that the Tories were able to raise the nationalist bogeyman, so as to swing nationalistically minded English voters behind Cameron, or Farage, and away from Labour.

It would be a grave mistake for Labour then to base its analysis on where it went wrong, and where it should go, on the idea that either this election result was a disaster, or that it lost because its position was too left-wing. In fact, the conditions of the election were largely unusual, and heavily influenced by Nationalism. If Labour really wants to know where it went wrong here, the focus should be on why it lost votes to the SNP, because had Labour continued to be the dominant party in Scotland, the Tory/UKIP narrative of the Scottish peril would not have flown, Labour would not have lost those votes in England, and would thereby have secured a majority.

But, this question of why Labour lost votes to the SNP is significant for other reasons. It is significant because of the question as to why Labour loses votes to nationalists in general. The reason that Labour loses votes to the SNP, in the end comes down to the reason why Labour loses votes to UKIP, or in the past to the BNP. It is because of a failure of Labour to address the underlying problems facing workers that cause them to seek the easy solutions that the nationalists provide, plus a willingness to then seek compromise, and bureaucratic solutions to those problems. In times of general affluence, as with other aspects of social democracy, that approach can at least partially succeed, but in times of austerity, it most certainly cannot.

The SNP will attempt to drive a bigger nationalist wedge into proceedings over the coming period. Cameron's rush to whip up English nationalist hysteria against the SNP, in order to garner votes, will play into the SNP's hands in that regard, but will also lead him into a dynamic that will favour the more extreme nationalists within his own party, who will push for greater English nationalist power, as well as a break from Europe. Both of those trajectories represent bad news for workers.

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