Labour risks talking its way to UK election defeat

What on earth is going on with Labour?

The party first hit a double digit lead in the polls – the UK ones, that is – over the Conservatives at the end of March this year.  Since then, it has regularly polled a lead of over 10%, reinforcing the maxim that Oppositions don’t win elections, but Governments lose them.  The drop-off in support for the Conservatives has everything to do with it either being found wanting on some of the big issues, or found out in regard to others.

There’s also little sign that the Tories have a clue what to do to seize back the initiative and start leading the news agenda.  Michael Gove’s brilliant but utterly batty attempts to do so in education fall well short of what is required.  Day in day out, the UK Government is being buffeted by events and headlines and cannot get off the back foot.  This malaise filters through to the electorate’s psyche, hence the drifting away of support.

And what does Labour have to do to capitalise on it all?  Nothing.  Talk strong, seize every opportunity going to hammer the nails into the Tories’ coffins but otherwise, keep their heads down and offer the political equivalent of tea and sympathy to voters.  And watch the poll lead grow steadily towards 2015.

So why on earth has it started on a round of voluntary redundancies at its headquarters?  All that does is trigger a warning light in voters’ heads that all is not right with the good ship Labour.  Who wants to think about investing a vote in a leaky, unstable vessel?

And then there’s the unseemly internal wranglings over what can loosely be termed the soul of the party, with the unions in particular trying hard to junk the right of the party.  Folk on the left don’t like Progress and its New Laboury connotations and want rid.  Such tensions might have aye been in the movement but to bring them out into the open now suggests that the party is focused on internal differences – never a very good idea.

Yet, it is clear from recent performances by the Labour front bench that the party has jumped the centre fence and is back in left territory.  Ed Balls has been performing assuredly and authoritatively on the economy, offering a credible alternative with his pseudo-Keynsian growth measures.  Andy Burnham put in a good shift on BBC Question Time last week, attacking the immorality of the rich getting away with paying less tax than the rest of us.  And as long as Cameron holds fast to his Culture Minister, Jeremy Hunt and Leveson looks like it’s going to do nothing to lance the cancer that caused it to be established, there’s hay to be made.  Especially when there’s Tom Watson popping up everywhere like a grinning Cheshire cat to hiss I told you all so.

The big hitters seem to be rather enjoying themselves, which isn’t hard when there are so many easy targets to aim for right now.

So, why oh why, has their leader chosen this moment to blast his dog whistle on immigration?  Indeed, what was all that mumbo jumbo on Britishness and identity the other week about?  Hasn’t Labour learned anything from previous disastrous forays into this territory?

Ed Miliband wants and needs to be seen to be offering leadership but on issues that are relevant and of the moment.  These kind of perambulations on tangential issues serve little purpose, other than to annoy his ain folk and create column inches in the fag-end days of the parliamentary term.  The discomfiture among Laboury types I tweet with was tangible yesterday; some of them were even so bold as to call him out, and no doubt their blogspaces are full of head-shaking despondency this weekend.

If Miliband should be saying anything right now – and that is debatable given the timing in the electoral cycle – there is plenty upon which he could be offering some long-sighted vision. In light of the cosy relationships which Leveson has exposed, there is an opportunity to spell out how we might craft a differently-oriented political society, which does not rely on cronyism and a village mentality.  We might be stuck with austerity for the medium term, but there is plenty to be said about how to calibrate a more sustainable economy and a fairer society.

We have a rapidly ageing population – how do we ensure that people can continue to contribute economically and socially into older age, but at the same time be assured of dignity, respect and a decent standard of living in their dotage?  England’s economy sees everything – still – sucked into the vortex that is London and the South East:  how might a Labour government go about spreading the jam more evenly around the shires and regions?  The measures that the Blair government put in place to address poverty – especially child poverty – are gone, probably forever, so what might a Miliband-led administration do instead?

These are the kind of far-reaching policy areas which would – crucially- carry his own folk with him, rather than stop them in their tracks.  And they would give voters something to mull over as we turn the corner into the home straight towards the next UK election.  Nothing should be packed with detail – yet – but sprinkling ideas around would be a useful way for the Labour leader to spend his time.

If only to give the impression of coherence.  Of a leader pulling in the same direction as his party.  Of a party comfortable with itself, with all its component parts and wings rowing in the same direction.  Of a party which looks like it’s gearing up rather than conducting a fire sale of its assets.

Because impressions count.  The longer Labour seems to be all over the place, the more doubts will grow about the quality of Miliband’s leadership and the suitability of Labour to form the next government.

Which is why the party might want to contemplate over the summer how it can say and do nothing, more and better.



12 thoughts on “Labour risks talking its way to UK election defeat

  1. I think Ed Milliband mentioned the immigration issue because in the south it most definitely is an issue. He is probably afraid that if he doesn’t mention it Labour will be punished. (I think he’s probably right where the English vote is concerned.) It has to be addressed and tackled. I have a friend who teaches in Hackney in a primary school. She has a class of more than 30 and only five of the children in it actually speak English. I don’t think it is remotely racist to say if that situation is reflected elsewhere then teaching must be an absolute daily nightmare. Immigrants seem to favour the south, and London, for obvious reasons: they think that’s where the best opportunities are much as others from other parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland did in the past who went there in droves to make their mark and settle. There is growing resentment towards immigrants in the south and again I’m not sure it is out and out racism but more a fear of the sheer numbers and the impact. And that’s just the ones we know about. I’m not sure where any government would start to address the issues thrown up (as in the education system for example) by the situation. Perhaps he is trying to begin that process and I think he’s done the right thing even if he seems unsure where he is going to go with it. Those within the Labour Party who are throwing up their hands in horror at the very idea of mentioning immigration are, in my view, the foolish ones. I think if the issue is addressed sensibly then Parties like the BNP will be prevented from exploiting the fear I mentioned earlier in the hope of turning it into out and out racism.

  2. Do Scottish voters really believe that politicians shouldn’t lecture people on morality ? That was Ed Milliband’s response to the Jimmy Carr tax avoidance issue but it sounded hollow. Maybe lecturing is the wrong word but I think the electorate do want to see political leaders challenge unfairness by marshalling public opinion and setting it within an ethical framework.
    When the Labour leadership and Milliband in particular think about taking to the political stage they need to decide whether to fish or cut bait.

    • That’s British politics for you – politicians are expected to be completely devoid of vice or bad habit, but hell mend them if they even try to highlight our own flaws.

  3. Milliband has obviously chosen to blast his “dog whistle” for one reason. In England and in the key marginals it gets votes. Don’t forget that come the next Westminster Election, New Labour still have to look like a government in waiting (1992 proved that the maxim of governments losing elections was wrong, remember one of the reason’s for there not being a Conservative majority two years ago was that Cameron didn’t “seal the deal”), so they have to sound as if they are on the side of the normal working person – who’s current fear is of an army of immigrants who come to this country driving wages down. Of course, part of the problem is our (both England’s and Scotland’s) education system and how young adults are brought up, but when there’s an easy target in the shape of imigrants that goes out of the window.

    The funny thing of course is that Milliband’s Labour party are not that left leaning, though they are clearly to the left of the “soft tory” Progress. Milliband, Balls et all have clearly learned lessons from Brown in acting New Labour while speaking fluent Old Labour. Balls has not to date recanted on his conference speech last year outlineing his acceptance of Austerity and there is no likelyhood of Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland – the true settled will of the Scottish people. Instead, Balls should be pressing for the faster implementation of the Lib Dem’s policy (and for going further) of raising the tax floor, which will put liquidity into the economy and start to put growth in.

    As for the Union’s dislike of Progress, remember that Cameron has obviously styled himself on Blair, pursuing some of his policies and studying how his government worked. he even called himself “the Heir to Blair” which got up noses on both sides of the spectrum. Blair and that strand of New Labour has never been a friend to the Unions, and in truth never a friend to the ordinary man on the street.

  4. I found this very interesting as I have been thinking much the same myself. What goes on in politcal parties is quite interesting whether you like the party or not! There are times when parties have to “renew” themselves. In the SNP I would credit John Swinney hugely for the internal and indeed political direction he took, some of which – e.g. OMOV – I opposed at the time but which in hindsight was the right choice.

    But Labour seems to have a mania for renewal which borders on being actually maniacal. And because they seem to renew themselves and rethink things over and over and over again it almost becomes like the status quo. They are in danger of actually losing their identity now I feel and it is fairly unnecessary when the Coalition is unravelling by the day. If there is one area they need to work on it is the economy. Forget everything else, the economy is the one issue that they need to get credibility on because as things stand I believe that they will still lose the electon down south because they are so associated with economic incompetence.

    It is a different politics down south, the issues are different. I’m no expert of course but on the basis of what I read and what I hear from friends in London it still is the economy that is the over-riding concern and it doesn’t magter how loopy some of the Tory/Lib Dem polices are, if people feel that Labour can’t be trusted to manage the economy competently they will lose.

  5. It’s simple. Labour needs centre-right swing voters to win England. The Lib Dems have destroyed themselves as a political force, so Labour voters have nowhere to escape to. That enables Miliband to lurch even further rightwards on issues like immigration, safe in the knowledge that it’s a no-lose gambit.

    Labour activists/apologists will frown meaningfully and tut, but then keep right on fighting on behalf of the idealised Labour Party that exists only in their heads, rather than the nasty neo-Tory one that contests elections, and which long ago betrayed everything it was founded to stand for.

  6. Why the concern about Labour’s fortunes? Who cares whether this parody of a once principled and honest movement goes down the tubes. What is left of the Labour Party, freed of the shackles of principle and idealism, is concerned only about assuming power and no more so than in Scotland where it is the biggest impediment to Scottish independence. The longer Labour are out of power the easier it will be for the independence movement to win. A residual affection for what some people remember Labour as in Scotland is holding us back.
    The establishment and the media it controls are using Labour in Scotland as its vehicle to frustrate Scotland. In itself Scottish Labour, bereft of any obvious political talent or ambition for Scotland, has virtually nothing to offer and UK Labour has nothing whatever to offer Scotland.
    At both Scottish and UK level their betrayal of almost everything they used to stand for means I despise them . I expected nothing of the Tories and Scotland has largely abandoned them. Time we put Labour to the sword effectively as well.

    • I think that’s a very narrow approach. I think it is sensible to pay attention to what is happening in all political Parties not just in Scotland or the wider UK but in Europe and beyond. The person who chooses to focus only on the Party of his/her choice will ultimately be uninformed and ill-equipped to deal with the opposition wherever that happens to be or in whatever form it presents itself. We are all aware of Labour’s fall: one only has to look around Holyrood to see the calibre of Labour MSP now “serving” Labour voters in Scotland. And that’s just the Leader! We cannot assume things will remain that way with Labour forever. And whether we like it or not there are those who wish “real” Labour back again and who are still to be persuaded on independence too. Telling them to wake up and smell the coffee isn’t going to do that because it comes over as arrogance and that’s the biggest turn off ever for many voters.

      • It is very important to differentiate the floundering Labour machine with the significant section of the electorate inclined towards supporting it. The best thing that could happen in Scotland would be the collapse of the Labour Party in its present form and I make no apology whatsover in saying so. The Labour Party in Scotland is the last refuge of the union but its natural support is not.
        Denis Canavan, Tommy Brennan and Colin Fox are very important to the national movement at the moment

    • Colin Fox???????????????????????? To borrow a phrase from John McEnroe, you cannot be serious!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Have you got some particular problem with the leader of the SSP?
        I don’t. As far as I’m concerned he is a decent and honest political leader and he happens to be on our side. With friends like you…………..

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