Deborah Mattinson’s article on the report she was asked to undertake by Harriet Harman after Labour’s defeat in the May 2015 elections, is illuminating. It goes to the heart of the matter and as she concludes, no party has the divine right to exist. Yet this is precisely what the current leadership is counting on. Despite our losses in Scotland, and being squeezed by UKIP, there is a tendency to assume that Labour will always be an electoral force because, in our living memory, it has been.
Yet our own history and success was built on the demise of the Liberals in the early 20th Century. To forget this is navel gazing in the extreme. That we would rather ignore the people who didn’t vote for us but did vote in favour of those who did not vote at all, even to spoil their ballot paper, is going to cost us.
In yesterday’s Guardian, there appeared an article stating that Labour faces losing all of its seats in the Scottish Parliament and faces losses in the local elections. This is a profoundly disturbing situation, especially as this is not a stance external to the leadership but resulting from it.
The Labour leadership need to get real. Usually opposition parties do well, not badly, in local elections, even if that is not then translated into national elections. What is happening if as an opposition party we are losing seats? When in government, this is put down to the unpopularity of policies. When in opposition, it is due to the public perception of the party, and it shows we are held in lower and lower regard by some of our traditional voters and by centrist voters.
Mattinson quotes one voter from Croydon, who states:
‘Labour talk with more empathy but it’s hard to tell if that is what they really think. They aim to do good, but I’m not sure if their policies will work out in the long run.’
This is actually the kind of voter who we should be able to bring onside with clear, well thought out policy stances. It is also the kind of voter who, while impressed by John McDonnell’s call on the government tax deal with Google, will nevertheless remember him brandishing the little red book.
We need to stop thinking that in 4 years’ time there will be a conversion of the masses to the Labour Party due to Corbyn, et al, which short term losses won’t affect. The fact is that we have no evidence to support such a claim and the idealistic stances taken by Corbyn do not have a wide appeal beyond equally idealistic non-voters who may wish to choose to vote in 2020. And it is a choice. If the numbers were so great, then there would be a surge for Labour in England, not a predicted 7% loss in seats.
I also think we need to have realistic policies that people can get behind rather than vague principles. Corbyn has tied his own hands on this one though. By insisting that the members and NEC sign off on policies, it makes it harder for him to say what he is behind. It could be that this year’s party conference clarifies this, but it will be too late for the local elections.
We do not have a right to be a political force in the Britain, we do not have the right to remain as one of the two major political parties, we do not have the right to even be the main opposition party. As the Liberals learnt to their cost, there are some political realities that have to be acknowledged, understood and acted upon in order to ensure the political survival of a party.
After 4 successive defeats in the 1980s, it seemed that we had learnt this lesson, which makes the current situation all the more ludicrous. History is revised to such an extent that Michael Foot’s defeat is seen as a success in contrast to Blair’s success which is seen as a failure.
The question is: Will the lessons of losses in the local elections be heeded any more than the lessons of electoral failure last year?
This post was originally published on the Labour Teachers website.