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How to Win and Lose Elections (2)

In the second half on his analysis of the British election results, Peter Martin speculates on future directions for the Labour Party

There’s been a lot of navel gazing in British Labour circles recently about what went wrong last week and what needs to be done to prevent a re-occurrence next time. Presumably in about five years time. The arguments are pretty much along the same lines as the last time that Labour suffered an unexpected election defeat. Naturally, those on the right want to move more to the right. Those on the left want to move more to the left. Those in the middle think a new personality might do the trick.

Who’s right? Let’s just stand back and look at the numbers. According to my calculations the Tories received about 24% support from the electorate in the 7th May 2015 UK elections. Labour about 20% support. That’s including those who didn’t vote. So to win government, next time, Labour need to get at least another 5%. If they are positive, and were prepared to really go for it, they could aim for another 10%. If they achieved that they’d be back big-time.

So what’s the best way to do that? Let’s leave the politics out of it as much as possible and just think in pragmatic terms. Do they try to persuade nearly half, or a quarter if we allow for the same reduction in the Tory vote, of those who voted Tory this time to switch sides? I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s ever going to work. I know a good few Tories and I can’t think of a single one who would ever vote Labour, even if the Labour Party were offering the most Tory of policies and had a picture of Maggie Thatcher on the front cover of their next manifesto. Of course, if the party did that they would jeopardise their own core vote. That’s never a good idea.

I’d say the same would be true in the USA too. Both the Democrats and Republicans would expect only limited success if either moved towards the other politically. Probably it wouldn’t be enough to make a real difference. It could well be counterproductive and would naturally give more justification to those who were disillusioned with the lack of political choices that were on offer. They’d choose to do other things, rather than becoming involved in the election and would be less likely to make the effort to vote. This argument probably wouldn’t apply to Australia which has compulsory voting – the Aussies are quite unusual in that respect.

Alternatively, Labour could aim for the 56% who didn’t vote for either them or the Tories. This, again, would include those who didn’t vote at all. Labour wouldn’t persuade them all, that’s for sure. But, they’d just need to sway 1 in every 5 and they’d be home and dry.

This is an implied conclusion which, I have to acknowledge, will be more appealing to the left than the right. But, I’d argue it’s the reality too. The left would argue that by being true to their historic principles, and offering a message of hope rather than despair to working people they would have a better chance of winning. They’d argue the need to have a distinctive message which wouldn’t allow anyone on the doorstep to say “but you’re all the same”.

I’d add that the party, as a whole, needs to make a start on the explanation of how the economy really works which is not at all how most people think it works. Once more people have that understanding it will become apparent what the real choices are from both a left and a right perspective.

Peter Martin blogs on his own site; Modern Monetary Theory: Real Economics


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  1. flohri1754

    Interesting that Cameron will be claiming a “mandate” for certain things …. and that with 75 percent of the vote NOT going to his party ….

  2. olive

    Why not try and get greater participation in the voting process ……Labor could research the demographics of those who didn’t bother to vote ( about 34 % apparently) , estimate what proportion of this 34% might be inclined to vote Labor or at least what kind of issues might motivate them to vote for Labor …are they young , elderly , whatever ….and work on getting them to consider a vote for Labor next time around. The Labor machine needs to become clever and the whole voting system in UK needs a radical shake up.

  3. paul walter

    It is an already defeated army, with the loss of financial support of its traditional base, organised Labour decimated by de-industrialisation. Also its once clear raison d’ etre has evaporated and its confidence, too, in changing times, as politics seems to have moved from the situational politics of existential survival to the intricacies of identity politics. Once its job was straight forward: the defence of working people. But there seems no longer a capacity to identify the base and the will to do that anyway, since the leadership itself is now white collar and more preoccupied with the identity politics of gender, ethnicity, race and the aspirational drive.

    In postmodern times with day to day survival no longer an issue in the West, people identify as “women” or “blokes” or “gays” or “activists” primarily involved in a particular issue and reluctant to commit to, or even be aware of poleconomic explanations involving determinants derived of socio-economic class, in the “divided we fall” sense.

    Labour is a broad church movement unable to resolve the the shattering of its base through historical processes and in alienated times people look after number one and get “aspirational”, to dodge the bullet of socio cultural and economic disintegration.

    Labour warned its prospective base in its myriad forms of the threat of disunity and it pointed out the obvious problems of Vulture Cameronism, but people felt insufficiently moved to drop personal objectives of one sort or another to secure the communal base and there little evidence that the leadership was that much committed to the cause and to underlying principles (as with aussie labor)..also revealing has been the headlong flight from principle, to do with aspects of the Obama Presidency that contributes to pessimism and the flight from solidarity within the masses through fear accentuated by Murdoch style media and press.

    It remains to be seen what consequences will arise from an unfolding process, but a term of Cameronism with constraints was, as was expected, harsh enough for those groups and individuals outside of the charmed circle and it seems eminently possible that things will go hard on the majority as the welfare state civil society is roled away into some form of decaying, rat-race, meritocracy/aristocracy.

    Once the anesthetic of prosperity wears off people may feel differently, but by that time it will be too late. As with the Athens or Rome of an earlier age, the golden era of Western societies will have come and gone, irrevocably.

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