After Labour’s dismal performance in Thursday’s election there have been a lot of theories on why it turned out to be such a terrible night for the party. In the media the most prominent explanation has been that Miliband took the party too far to the left, thereby alienating “wealth creators” who consequently opted for the Tories. The proposed remedy for this is simple, reclaim the centre ground and return to the good old days of New Labour.
The problem is this is the laziest piece of political analysis I have seen in a while. For a start it is barely worth pointing out that Labour did not lose all but one of their seats in Scotland as they were too far left, but instead it is due to the gradual disillusionment in Scotland with a party that no longer represents their values. To try to attribute the collapse of Labour in Scotland to anything else, such as the SNP rallying of a vulgar form of patriotism, is again to miss the point. The most powerful argument the SNP have made in both the referendum and election campaigns has not been that we no longer want to put up with the English, but an independent Scotland will no longer have to deal with the Tories. It is pretty clear then that a move to the right will do nothing to save the party in Scotland, as this was the problem in the first place.
How about in the English marginal seats that Labour needed to take to make up for their losses in Scotland, was it simply the case that Miliband’s proposed tax rises scared too many voters away? I doubt this is the case in constituencies like Bury North and Carlisle where I suspect the Conservatives actually won due to too many would be Labour voters defecting to UKIP. Although it was overlooked in the election run up it is obvious that UKIP voters generally come from economically deprived areas, and so they were always going to pose a real threat to Labour. For example if you look at the figures in Bury North, UKIP gained over 4000 votes from their 2010 total and you can be pretty much certain these votes would have come from low income voters who you would expect to vote Labour, as very few low income votes have ever gone to the Tories in the North.
How can the party claw back some of these votes from populist parties like UKIP? You’re insane if you think a move to the right would do it. The low-income voters who opted for UKIP all over the country did not do so as they had read a bit of Hayek and thought free markets sound like a lot of fun. They became Ukipers as, like them, UKIP is populist and angry. The return of New Labour style centrism will do nothing to win these voters back.
In fact for many low-income voters, particularly the traditional white working class, the New Labour mix of economic conservatism with social progressivism is their worst nightmare.
Looking forward it probably is the case that a centrist Labour would win a few more seats in England than they did in this election. However with Scotland seemingly a lost cause I doubt this move could ever win a majority without essentially imitating the Tories, and at that point why bother even calling yourself the Labour party. The truth is that whilst New Labour won elections by charming slightly more socially minded conservatives, their core voters were gradually jumping ship and we are only seeing the results of that now. Scotland has found an alternative and I am certain that if there were a populist left wing party like the SNP in Manchester, Liverpool, Sunderland and Newcastle, Labour would barely have any seats at all.
I do not think we can over exaggerate the fundamental problems the party faces. It appears to me that the only way back is to stick to the progressive path Miliband was taking the party, albeit with a more charismatic leader capable of gaining some populist support, and wait for the Tory incompetence and nastiness to leave the country desperate for a change. New labour is not the answer. It’s the problem!Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Joe Walters