Monday, 5 October 2015
How catastrohhic was Labour's defeat?
The media, and even the Labour party itself, seem to have accepted that labour suffered a catastrophic defeat in May this year, and a consensus has developed that this was because their manifesto was "too left wing" and that Ed Miliband was "not prime-ministerial materiel."
Labour's defeat was certainly devastating, but only in the sense that, until the results of the exit poll were released at 10pm, we all thought that Labour and the Conservatives were running "neck and neck" and those of us on the the progressive side of politics believed there was more than an even chance that the next government could be a "rainbow coalition" of Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens , and possibly, the SNP.
Those hopes were shattered as the exit poll, which few believed at first, proved to be right. In the case of the Liberal Democrats, more than right: I believe it predicted we should just attain double figure, but we ended up with only eight MPs.
It is indisputable that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats experienced a catastrophe in Scotland, losing between us a spectacular 50 seats to the Scottish Nationalist Party and retaining only one seat each.
However, the results in England reveal a very different story.
In England both Labour and Conservatives gained votes ( Labour +3.6%, Conservatives +1.4%) and seats (Labour +15 and Conservatives +21), all, I think, from we Liberal Democrats.
In Wales the Labour vote increased by only 0.6%, though they still lost as seat, and the Conservatives gained three seats with an increase in total vote of only 1.1%. Neither party campaigns as such in Northern Ireland.
So, concentrating on the results in England, Labour's "too-left wing" campaign under the "not-priminsterial" Ed Miliband was by no means a failure. They increased their vote, in percentage terms, by more than double the Conservatives, and it was only the distortions of the electoral system that this produced fewer additional seats.
The obituary of Denis Healey in today's Guardian quotes him as reconsigning the need to "close the gap between our active workers and the average voter in the country." Labour's present establishment could tackle this not by deserting or ditching what whey perceive as their even more unelectable leader and retreating on his even more left-wing policies (most of which seem to me to be perfectly reasonable) but by support him and using their energies to explain, refine and publicise the policies which have so energised Mr Corbyn's supporters.
Liberal Democrats should contribute, not by taunts of "hard left" and "Trostkyite," but by emphasising the policies on which we agree, such as housing, fairer taxation,and the protection of human rights, and bringing to the mix our enthusiasm for Europe, and, of course, proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.