Working out what happened
Life constantly goes forward and thus the General Election result announced on 8th May is fast receding into the past.
For the average punter/voter, trying to follow the antics of the ‘losing’ parties is a complicated task involving (as it inevitably does) a delicate tippy-toeing between the various ‘in house’ and media analyses of what went wrong and then what needs to be done to put things right.
To be fair, I was impressed by a good deal of the entrail-examining and the blunt conclusions reached. The Labour party, which received a heavy kicking from voters both north of the border and indeed (as it turns out) south of it as well, was as swiftly out of the blocks as anyone once the awful truth came to be revealed.
Within 36 hours of Ed Miliband and his wife jetting off to the Mediterranean for a well-deserved bit of post-Election ‘R & R’, a Stalinist purge ensured that his reign as Labour leader was ‘toast’. Senior party figures duly queued up to identify where he and his campaign went wrong and simultaneously announce how they had distanced themselves from the stricken vessel long before it went down with all hands, as it was inevitably bound to do from Day One, i.e. when Miliband Minor committed fracticide to win the partly leadership.
The position of the trade unions remains a vexed one for Labour, given that Ed Miliband had won the leadership largely because he had the backing of Unite, a major donor – he was certainly not the first choice of either party activists or the majority of Labour MPs.
Some might say from that moment – because of resentment from activists and MPs at being imposed upon them by union power – he had immediately become either a hero (if he should win the 2015 General Election) or ‘an accident waiting to happen’ (if he lost it).
He lost – and so battle commenced, as the phrase goes, for the soul of the Labour party. The Blairites (cue Liz Kendall, Peter Mandelson, Chuka Ummuna and Tristram Hunt appearing on the airwaves) were first to emerge, claiming that Labour under Miliband had been too negative, moved too far left and failed to attract the aspirational middle classes. Their (unanswerable?) ‘fact’ is, of course, that no Labour leader other than He-Whose-Name-Must-Never-Be-Mentioned – Tony Blair – has ever won three consecutive General Elections.
Then Unite’s Len McCluskey (generally pointed to as the villain of the Ed Miliband ascent to Labour party power) was wheeled out of his missile silo to announce that, if the Labour party chose the ‘wrong’ leader to replace Ed Miliband, Unite might well review its funding of the Labour party altogether.
This was a classic case of truth reinforcing myth.
Personally I have some sympathy for McCluskey. It seems obvious to me that, if you pay for something, to a degree you’re entitled to call the tune. Or at least, you’re entitled to feel that to a degree you can call it. What’s the point of being encouraged to give £5 million – or whatever it was – towards Labour party coffers if Labour is then going to go into a General Election peddling a series of policies that you fundamentally disagree with?
And thereby lies the rub for the Labour party as – in one form or another – it always has been.
Is it a party that represents the key and enduring interests of workers … or is it a marginally left-of-centre political party that wants to win United Kingdom General Elections in a 21st-Century ‘first past the post’ electoral system? [Assuming, of course, that the two are either mutually exclusive and/or quite capable of being so.]
Listening to the TV and radio pundits – and indeed to left-wing and/or union representatives on phone-in programmes – this week, the competing views have been starkly contrasting.
For union representatives, it seems that Labour lost the 2015 General Election because it strayed too far from its primary purpose, i.e. to represent the workers and their interests.
For present purposes the riposte from right-wingers can be summarised in the form of a question “Yes, but are you saying that you’d rather represent the workers and their interests than win General Elections? (Because, if so, you may be consigning the Labour party to permanent irrelevance in terms of power and government …)”.
The uncomfortable truth is that, rightly or wrongly, Labour party political strategists and (comparatively) centre/right-wing-leaning MPs regard winning elections as the be-all and end-all of a political party’s existence. Their argument is that ‘representing the workers’ is all very well but also ultimately pointless – in terms of winning power and the ability to govern the country – if doing so renders you unelectable.
This stance (for all its political reality-speak), taken to its logical conclusion, is close to admitting that principles count for little or nothing, at least when compared to developing a raft of policies that are popular enough with the bulk of the population to enable you to win a General Election.
And what kind of political attitude is that?
Difficult times for the Labour party, then. [I daren’t even begin to start in addressing the issues facing UKIP and the Lib-Dems …]