The insight into why Labour lost in Scotland came from reading an interview with Mhairi Black MP. The youngest member of the House of Commons – by some way – the 20 year old SNP MP grew up in a Labour family. But crucially they switched to the SNP in 2007. Because the SNP delivered social change, while Labour just talked about it.
For years I have wondered why on earth people who live in poverty vote Labour. It makes no sense to me that in Ipswich, for instance, the council estates with the highest incidence of anti-social behaviour, with the worst roads, with a real paucity of services, are also the same places that are most strongly voting for the Labour Party who have run this council since 1979 – save for a brief hiatus between 2004 and 2011.
Some Tories in Ipswich – and elsewhere – call it turkey’s voting for Christmas. That’s pretty insulting, but it isn’t entirely uncalled for.
Between 1997 and 2010 the Labour Government did produce a number of policies that helped some of the poorest in society. But Blair won power by identifying that the public didn’t trust the Labour Party, and deliberately demonstrating his scorn for his party. He picked fights with “the Labour left” and characterised them as dinosaurs. What he was actually doing was separating himself from the heart of his party and that explains why so many people in Labour now would prefer to pretend that Blair never happened – a position Tories find bizarre.
Because Blair had won power by separating himself from Labour – in a way that Gordon Brown, the other big beast of New Labour, never did – the New Labour project became more about winning than in what Labour could do with that power. As a consequence, many of the policies pushed for the last 20 years have not helped those Labour are supposed to help.
The Labour Party is, at heart, the voice of the workers. It should be a movement about improving the conditions of the working people of this country, about improving their lot in life, and about supporting their ambitions to ensure that their children have a better life than they had.
Yet in Government, Labour introduced tuition fees, then increased them as top up fees. It introduced a system of benefits that sought to subsidise big businesses, allowing them to hold down wages and leaving people reliant on tax credits. It introduced the 10% tax rate – then scrapped it, doubling the tax rate for the poorest paid. It welcomed – nay encouraged – millions of unskilled workers to come to this country and drive down the wages of the British working class.
Is it really any surprise that Labour voters in safe Labour seats (they still exist in England and Wales) have become more and more lethargic? Turnout among Labour voters has collapsed in many core seats – and has become almost non-existent in many Scottish seats.
To many, Jeremy Corbyn is a disaster waiting to happen to Labour. I am quite convinced that he would lead Labour to defeat in 2020, even if the Tories selected a complete tool like Chris Grayling as their new leader when Cameron steps down. But it might just be that Mr Corbyn is what Labour needs, so the party can remember where it comes from.
At some point in the future, Labour will pull through this existential crisis. Rather than plumping for one of the three candidates parroting whatever they think the voters want to hear – as Alexandre Ledru-Rollin supposedly said, “there go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader” – Labour should seriously consider electing Jeremy Corbyn and reconnecting with those traditional Labour voters who have been patronised by the party for the last quarter of a century.
From defeat can come triumph. George Osborne’s greatest trick has been to convince the public that Labour caused the 2008 recession, rather than merely leaving the country incapable of weathering the gathering storm in the way it did during the dot com crash. But his second greatest trick has been to avoid answering tricky questions – like what happened to balancing the budget by the end of the last Parliament; what happened to rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing and away from services; what happened to making the economy less reliant on consumer spending, credit and debt?
Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall are the only two candidates capable of asking those questions without being asked about Labour’s record. Corbyn, because everyone knows he was busy opposing just about everything New Labour stood for. And Kendall because she’s only been around since 2010 and therefore can avoid the blame for the mistakes made by Brown, Balls and Miliband in the Treasury.
If the new Labour leader can put Osborne back on his heels, can reconnect with traditional Labour voters, can offer a different and coherent economic strategy for the future, then sure, we’ll reopen the ideological battles between Labour and the Tories, and sure the Tories (and I along with them no doubt) will argue that Labour are wrong, but if they stick to core principles, if there is a coherence to their policy platform, a consistency that chimes with what they profess to believe, there is no reason they cannot make major gains in 2020.
Indeed if they take the lesson Mhairi Black was sent to Westminster to tell them – that delivery for the people they are supposed to represent is the only thing that matters to those people – they could see an SNP style sweeping of the board. Harness the power of hope and deliver power to the people, and you will always beat the politics of fear and negativity.