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.


  1. You don't seem to have answered the question, but the answer is 'very, because although they increased their share of the vote, it was only in constituencies that they either already held or which they won from the Liberal Democrats; in constituencies which they will need to win from the Conservatives in order to have a hope of governing again, they actually lost votes, and are therefore on course to be a party which only ever wins about 200 seats (but wins them very safely).'

  2. You're absolutely right. That's why we need proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.

    1. You might very well think that; the British public do not agree with you and they are the ones who get to decide.

    2. By banging on and on about their "economic plan" the Tories have managed to convince a gullible electorate of their economic competence. The case for PR has genuine merit so I feel justified in banging on about it. In the end PR will prevail.

  3. In the end PR will prevail

    The British public hates coalitions.

    Why would they ever accept changing to a system which virtually guarantees the end of single-party government?

  4. FPTP may have been suitable when over 90% of the electors voted for one or other of the two big parties, though even that premise may be challenged. It is profoundly unsuitable when, as now, there are half a dozen parties each with substantial support. In time the "British public" will come to realise this. In the meantime those of us who realise it now must keep on publicising the best alternative.

  5. It is profoundly unsuitable when, as now, there are half a dozen parties each with substantial support. In time the "British public" will come to realise this

    What other system, faced with the situation of half a dozen parties each with substantial support, could deliver (not every time, but still often) majority governments?

    I think you underestimate how much the British public is attached to majority government, and reacts against the continential-style system of Parliaments made up of 'blocs'.

  6. Well they certainly voted against change in 2012, but things can change.