As you might expect, our chum Dan Hodges forecasts woe and plagues of crickets. Apparently Jeremy is “to the left of Karl Marx“, because opposing the bedroom tax and rallying against cuts is obviously more radical than smashing the capitalist state machinery and expropriating the expropriators. The left “don’t get it” – the general election result proves that the British electorate are not in the mood for their policy provision. They are a spent force the parliamentary party has to indulge, and only a thorough drubbing on a policy platform they like will ram the message though their dogmatic skulls.
Dan’s starting position, as it has always been, is that Tony Blair found the shiny baton of electoral success. Gordon Brown fumbled the hand over in the relay, and when it came to Ed Miliband’s lap he didn’t think to pick it up. For Dan, Labour’s route back to power is dull, grey, technocratic politics because what the electorate expects are boring, risk-averse, but basically competent managers. Any whiff of left-wingery frightens the horses. In my view the self-evident truths Dan and his co-thinkers subscribe to are simulated nostrums specific to the Westminster matrix, repeated and transmitted ad nauseum by sympathetic media figures to the point where it’s the received political commonsense. The problem is, it’s wrong.
Let’s be sure about this. Labour didn’t lose the election because it was “too left“. No one gave Labour the body swerve because of the mansion tax, the energy price cap, an increased minimum wage, the pledge to build more houses, and the abolition of the bedroom tax – not least when these policies were popular with the voting public.
Labour lost for two main reasons. First, on economic competence. The Tory argument that you can’t secure the NHS without securing the economy absolutely cut through. And the second was insecurity – how Labour will cave to a SNP set on milking the (English) taxpayer, rendering these islands defenceless, and imperil the union. It’s a political vein you can expect the Tories to tap again and again. Therefore the situation Labour finds itself in is a very difficult one. How can it simultaneously appeal to enough Scottish voters, enough English swing voters, and enough “traditional” voters flirting with UKIP. That difficult discussion demands all minds and all wings of the movement to be involved. This is why I’m glad Jeremy is on board, it means the left will have its say throughout the summer of leadership debates.
I’m sure Dan and his co-thinkers think the left have nothing to contribute and should have had their entry barred to the contest. Allow me then to talk the language they understand. At the general election, the Green Party won 1.1m votes. As James O’Malley points out, if just 2,984 of them had voted Labour instead in the relevant key marginals, there would be no Conservative majority government now. Let us suppose that the narrow contest they coveted had taken place. Thousands of left recruits, many of them recent, would have departed from the party. A larger cohort of some left-leaning voters hoping to see their values and hopes reflected in the leaders’ debates would also have been put off. Where would they have gone? Perhaps to the Greens, perhaps to a lefter-looking Liberal Democrats. The Blairites may be happy to see the back of these “wrong sort” of members and voters, but in so doing they would also say goodbye to a clutch of seats. It’s not 1997. Left Labour-leaning people do have somewhere else to go which, incidentally, is why Labour under their favoured Miliband was unlikely to have fared any better.
Another point that Dan and friends might also wish to mull over. While beginning under Kinnock, since Blair took over the party there has been a centralisation of organisation and a diminution of policy input from constituency parties. Gone are the days where policy was determined by the floor of conference, and now it’s mostly a managed affair for keynote speeches and the like. If there was more in the way of member-led democracy, then perhaps – just perhaps – the left would have found an outlet in policy debates. Instead they created a logjam which meant the only way the left could get its voice heard is by running a leadership candidate. If the Blairists don’t like it, tough. This is a situation two decades in the making, and their finger smudges are all over its blueprints.
So the debate we’re going to have, the proper soul-searching debate so many from across the party paid lip service to in the days following the general election is happening. Good. Let’s get on with it.