Saturday, 9 May 2015
A friend of mine with far more experience than I of so-called "senior management" in British secondary schools tells me that, whenever he wanted a discussion of the causes of some debacle or other the response was inevitably : " Never mind that, George (and assumed name): we must put it behind us and move on." So the causes of errors never received adequate examination and the team continued its merry way to the next omnishambles.
It seems to me that both the Liberal Democrats and Labour are in danger of making the same mistake, with the rushed resignations of the leaders precipitating the participants' engagement and the media's speculation on the next stage - the new leadership. Tim Farron has already been tipped as the Liberal Democrat favourite, Alan Johnson has already declared that his hat will not be in the Labour ring. So we are encouraged to pant with excitement about the next contest instead of pausing to reflect on why we lost the last and far more crucial one so spectacularly.
Both parties, indeed all the "broad left," need to take a long hard look as to why the Conservatives were able to win an election on the basis of a false claim for their own economic competence, the equally false claim of Labour's economic incompetence, actual bribes (borrowing from we over 65s at 4% when they could have borrowed on the markets for a fraction of that rate), and potential bribes (housing association stock built with taxpayer subsidies to be sold off at a discount to the lucky occupiers whilst there is a a critical shortage of affordable housing), and many more misrepresentations and obfuscations
Was it he fault of the media: the overwhelmingly hostile press, largely foreign owned or by non-doms and tax exiles? Was the print media, in an age of twitter and other digital forms of communication, significant, and if so what should be done about it? Rules to break up ownership? Full implementation of Leveson?
What about election spending? We shall receive the precise details in a few weeks, but can safely assume that the Tories outspent Labour by a factor of three and the Liberal Democrats by a factor of umpteen. How can we convey the unfairness of this? How limit it in the future?
And what about spending between election? Someone (a PhD student?) needs to be commissioned to assess the effect of Lord Ashcroft's (once again a tax exile?) spending in key marginals the Tories hoped to gain. Was the swing to the Tories greater in these, and if so how do we combat it in the future?
There will clearly, as is normal, be much talk of electoral reform. And, as normal, interest will evaporate after a fortnight or so. What can be done to keep it alive, and what can be done to secure agreement between the broad left parties on a revised system to be introduced when we next get the chance?
The above affect all the parties, and I'm sure there are many others.
Here's one specific to the Liberal Democrats: that of honesty. I'm not sure but I think it was Professor John Curtice who said in a radio interview yesterday that, in his view, the Conservatives won the election on the day the Liberal Democrats reneged on our pledge and failed to vote against the tripling of university tuition fees. His reasoning was that, in that moment, we lost our credibility and reputation for direct dealing and our support in Liberal/Tory marginals (of which there are, or rather were, more than Liberal/Labour marginals) promptly switched to the Tories. And no amount of huffing and puffing about what a good job we were doing in the coalition could win it back
Never again should we make any pledge or promise that we don't intend to do our best to keep.
Media-generated excitement about who are and are not to be the next leaders should not detract us from a thorough inquest in our flawed performances in 2015