Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Why Labour Really Lost The Election

There was a lot of speculation over the weekend about why Labour lost the last election. It was sparked by the release of Margaret Beckett's Report, and the criticism of it, by Deborah Mattinson, the party's former pollster. But, none of this speculation really addressed the question of why Labour lost. The real reason is that Labour has failed to convince a majority of voters of the correctness of the ideas and principles for which it stands. Indeed, one reason it failed to do that is because, for the last thirty years, it has followed the advice of pollsters, and others to tailor its message to what they claim the voters want. In the process it has made it very difficult for anyone nowadays to know exactly what it is that Labour's principles are, because they have been made increasingly vacuous, and and ever changing, in order to meet that objective. Its one reason that Jeremy Corbyn's clear principles have cut through, and been taken up enthusiastically.

The various pollsters and pundits who treat politics as a commodity, encouraged by the fact that they are really only interested in selling a set of politicians to the public, so that those politicians have a job for the next five years, have no interest in trying to win voters to a set of ideas. And, of course that means that when someone like Corbyn comes along, this challenges their world view. But, it also causes a problem for the supporters of Corbyn, because their alternative concept of politics, whereby it is about standing for a set of principles and trying to convince others of their correctness, is not something that can be achieved overnight, and it is a view that cannot be abandoned, therefore, simply on the basis that you have not yet achieved that aim.

If we think about other areas of life, it would be seen as obviously ridiculous. When Galileo, discovered that the Earth was not flat, and that it was not at the centre of the Universe, that view was not at all popular, especially with the Catholic Church. Had he been advised by today's pollsters, spin doctors and political gurus, he would have immediately dropped the notion, and done the obvious thing of falling in behind the popular view. The same thing could be said about Darwin's views on evolution, and so on.

Yet, in a world where short-termism, and instant gratification dominates, the idea of sticking to a set of principles and beliefs, and engaging in the long haul slog of convincing others of those views is always going to be difficult. The advocates of that commoditised, fast-food view of politics will be quick to criticise Corbyn if Labour does badly at the polls in May. Yet, that is even more ridiculous, given that he has only been leader for a few months, that right-wing Labour MP's have been trying to undermine his message during all that time, and despite the fact that in so short a time, it is quite clear that the old adage applies that you cannot fatten a pig on market day.

The problem for Labour, however, is also different than for the Tories. The reality for Labour is that in order to win it has to be able to offer the vast majority of society solutions to their problems, and other than at specific times of prosperity, those solutions are not simply in the gift of any government. The solutions required for the problems of the vast majority of society cannot be provided by any government, no matter how well meaning it might be. Those solutions rest in the hands of the vast majority of society itself.

In times of prosperity, when the demand for labour-power is high, wages will rise, unemployment and so welfare spending will fall, and the government will be able to assist in a redistribution of wealth and income within the confines of its powers. But, apart from such times, governments cannot themselves effect such changes. Ed Miband, started to grasp that concept with his talk about “pre-distribution”, and John McDonnell, is now talk about this, by reintroducing the idea of encouraging worker-owned co-operatives, and so on.

The real solution to workers problems of low incomes, temporary employment and so on, cannot be resolved by government tax and benefits policies, but only by workers themselves having control over those aspects of their lives, through the establishment of worker-owned co-operatives, linked together through a co-operative federation. They cannot resolve the problems that exist at an international level, other than by themselves forming international organisations, and working within existing international organisations such as the EU, to further their collective interests. Any suggestion by Labour politicians that the current EU referendum can be viewed through the lens of “Britain's interest”, will necessarily undermine that collective interest, just as the SNP focus on “Scottish national interest”, did so in the Scottish referendum.

The answer to the social problems within workers' communities, across Britain, will not be resolved by governments, but by the workers within those communities themselves taking back ownership and control over them, and establishing their own democratic structures for doing so. The problems of criminal gangs, and people traffickers, utilising the refugee crisis in Europe, will not be solved by national government, each trying to pursue its own “national interest”, but only by workers, across Europe, uniting to provide a common European solution, to bring in refugees, to establish the required facilities and infrastructure, in each country and locality, so that they can be absorbed.

But, there has been a very long period, during which voters across Europe, and elsewhere have been encouraged to the view that politics is something they consume, like any other commodity, rather than that it is something that is integral to their own lives and existence. Restoring that knowledge is a long term task, and in the meantime, any government that fails to provide the necessary solutions, will not get the votes required to form a government.

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