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What went wrong for UK Labour?

Through my study of political narratives I’ve learned many interesting things. But the one most important lessons is that a political narrative has to be simple to be effective. I will add yet another opinion to the thousands that are being written this weekend to analyse what went wrong for UK Labour by saying that their political narrative was all over the place and didn’t give mainstream voters something concrete to hang their hat on.

I’ve already seen a lot of commentary on Twitter from progressives who are saying ‘if only Labour had been more left-wing, they would have won’. There’s no evidence for this. If Labour had been more left-wing, in fact, they probably would have lost by even more. And if being more left-wing was the answer, why did the Greens do so badly? This attitude seems to be the usual knee-jerk reaction from many progressives, who think that if only a major party appealed more consistently to a single individual’s values, they would win easily. Because we all think we’re mainstream – even those of us who are further left than the Socialist Alliance. Perhaps it’s not that we all think we’re mainstream. Perhaps it’s that we all think our political values are the correct ones and if a party wants to win they should adopt these correct values and then all their problems will go away. This attitude is not only spectacularly selfish, it’s also completely unhelpful. Because just standing there where you are and saying ‘if only Labour was more like me’ doesn’t help to convince the myriad of voters out there who fall all over the political spectrum, from left, to right, to moderate, to swinging in the breeze, to having no idea what left and right is, to the racists who voted UKIP, that Labour is the party FOR THEM. The truth is, to win an election, you need to show you’re ready to govern for EVERYBODY and progressives need to get better at showing how their values are GOOD FOR EVERYBODY – even those who have different political values to theirs. This is the simple platform that Labour should have built their political narrative around – appealing to the better values of all voters in the UK, not just the values of progressives.

In fact, if progressives have bothered to check out UK Labour’s policies, they were, in the most part, extremely left-wing, particularly as compared to the Conservative alternative. Raising the minimum wage. Re-funding and not-privatising the NHS. Pro-immigration. A mansion tax. More vocational education opportunities. Tightening loopholes that assist with tax evasion. Sure, if you’re looking for a party who will completely reject the idea of capitalism, you’re not going to find the Labour party appealing. But the mainstream are not interested in rejecting capitalism – the point is the mainstream just needs capitalism to work in favour of the masses, rather than the few very rich. This was an idea that Labour leader Ed Miliband did try to communicate, but it was drowned out by a very messy narrative of having to defend against other progressive parties hell bent on splitting the progressive vote, it was drowned out by unhelpful progressives urging voters not to vote, and it was drowned out by a Murdoch campaign the likes of which should send shivers down the spines of progressives worldwide. Do people really still do what Murdoch tells them? Yep! So what are progressives going to do about it?

I’ve written before about a clean, simple, narrative based on the idea that wealth equality is good for everyone. It’s good for the rich, it’s good for the poor and it’s good for everyone in between. I don’t see any evidence of UK Labour, or for that matter, the Australian Labor Party, taking any of my advice while they flounder from one issue to the next, poking holes in the Conservative narrative but not offering anything convincing to hold onto instead. Labour and Labor have mostly the right mainstream progressive policies, which mostly fit neatly into this simple narrative. Wealth inequality is bad for everyone (except the ultra rich). Wealth equality is good for everyone. I just wish progressives would jump on board and help promote this message, and rally Labour and Labor to own it, rather than sticking with the really unhelpful ‘if only Labour/Labor was more left wing’ narrative. Because we have an election of our own coming up and if Abbott wins again, I honestly think I’ll lose my mind.

 

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51 comments

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  1. Peter F

    My reading of the election is that the fear campaign associated with the Scottish vote, which suggested that Labour would need to form a coalition with the scottish nationalists, was sufficient to scare people towards the Tories.

  2. mikestasse

    “progressives need to get better at showing how their values are GOOD FOR EVERYBODY”

    Therein lies the problem I think….. debt levels in the UK are astronomically high. Whenever I watch any of those UK based shows on TV to do with real estate, I am blown away at how much they pay, and hence borrow.

    So once you’ve become a debt slave, you will vote for whoever makes the best noises regarding economic management, because what everybody in debt needs is a growing economy so they can service their debts. THAT is in fact how we transitioned from a society to an economy.

    What the people who voted conservative don’t realise is that by the next election, the UK economy will have crashed because growth is finished. Worse, the UK is also out of fossil fuels and is now at the mercy of anyone willing to sell them some.

    The only good thing to out of this is that the Tories will get the blame. The bad thing is that pitchforks will come out soon. Did anyone else watch that show on the ABC titled “the super rich and us”?

  3. mark delmege

    You gotta admit FPTP is very undemocratic in a time of multi party interest and the establishment papers of the type owned by Murdoch set the agenda for the other state and private media. Most people are not politically motivated and go with the flow…

  4. donwreford

    What went wrong for labor? Blair’s image of depravity for the labor, Murdoch’s propaganda, the failure of the British public to rise above mass cowardice and the British public’s indoctrination over centuries of being subject to being servile to the establishments party line.

  5. Douglas Evans

    I was personally persuaded by the argument that Milliband Labour was defeated by two types of Nationalism. South of the border the Tories argued that if Labour got Government they would be in partnership with the SNP so middle of the road English voters who had previously voted Labour went to the Tories in droves. North of the border, the current flood of Scottish Nationalism meant that everybody voted SNP wiping out nearly fifty Labour seats. South of the border Milliband Labour apparently sounded uncomfortably militant to the electoral centre which stampeded to the right. North of the border it was (I read) seen as not nearly ‘left’ enough and was continually outflanked on the left by the SNP. Caught between a rock and a hard place it had no ‘narrative’ to save itself with.

  6. David

    Douglas Evans good response Douglas, that’s my reading of it as well, you put it more succinctly. I fear Bill Shorten doesn’t have the mojo to present a convincing alternative to the lies and rubbish Abbott and his incompetents and it needs a group of his peers to take him aside, tell him so and convince him to stand down as leader.
    Oh look there goes Father Christmas on his sleigh, hi you are early Santa!!!

  7. David

    Woops missed a few words as in… “lies and rubbish Abbott and his incompetents are guilty of.”

  8. diannaart

    Just wondering if the polls had indicated a Tory victory instead of the neck-to-neck race (as well as all of the above-mentioned) would there have been such an easy victory?

    Just thinking propaganda had a very big role to play.

    Just concluding we had better be extra vigilant to guard against the same happening here in Oz.

  9. Geoff P

    Labour in UK were not wiped out, far from it, what I think the voters ignored as in Australia, they have not given enough seats to be a useful opposition as far as voting goes, this frustrates folks in Oz as they think Labor are impotent (policies reveal differently), but the voters made them that way as it was in the hung parliament.

    I suspect the same thing will happen in Australia again, Conservatives gain a second term & Senate reframed to suit Liberal agenda, this of course will be disasterous for the disadvantaged, but Aussies don’t seem to care, nor do the disadvantaged, with the growth of the donkey vote or the failure to vote entirely.

    I am a little frustrated by the continued friendliness between Conservative & Labor MPs in Oz, this is my main concern as they are quite different policy wise, but genuine anger or great passion absent, except for a few.

    I thought there was a turning point against Conservatives with the Alberta result, but the UK result has shut me up.

  10. randalstella

    There was no ‘stampede’ against Labour in England.
    Actual figures from the UK count show Labour up by about 3.6% in England, the Tories up by about 1.4% there.
    The Labour rise was concentrated in their strongholds.
    In marginals their vote dropped by about 0.7%. They lost in English marginals.
    Even if Labour had held all their Scottish seats, the Tories would still have formed Government.

  11. Möbius Ecko

    Geoff P the shock turn against the conservatives in Alberta was a real shake up in light of the fact that province had been solidly conservative for 44 years.

    The Tories in Britain will go the same way, unless they do something miraculous in completely turning around an economy they helped sink through austerity whilst becoming a more moderate socially aware party. There’s no hope in hell of them doing that as it will be not only more of the same but worse on top, so they will go down.

  12. Douglas Evans

    @randalstella point taken.

  13. Diane

    Regardless of politics and party, when it comes to a national election, the charisma of the head of the party plays a large part. Ed Milliband comes across as wet and weak, and the thought of him representing Britain to the wider International community is possibly what turned many voters away from voting for the Labour party in Britain. If I had been voting, it certainly would have influenced me – however much people tell me I am voting for a party and its policies and my local MP.

    Here in Australia, I think Bill Shorten’s brand of greyness and blending into the wallpaper was possibly what the Labor party needed in the wake of the Rudd debacle and infighting, but I really feel if Labor are to have a chance of winning with a good majority at the next election here, the party needs to change its leader to someone with presence and charisma, quietly and with no infighting, a bit like the Greens did recently – Plibersek would be a good choice but maybe Australia has shown it’s not really ready for an intelligent and powerful woman at the helm. Abbott got in on the basis of people voting against his opponents, and while he and his colleagues do seem to be disliked by so many, I am not sure if that same tactic can work in Labor’s favour this time.

  14. Terry2

    The FPTP system can distort things, for instance the total votes nationwide for UKIP were 3.9 million and they won one seat, contrast total votes for SNP 1.5 million and they won 56 seats..

    Some interesting statistics here : http://www.bbc.com/news/election/2015/results

  15. mark delmege

    I suspect I come across as a harsh critic and I hope I am but I also know that on most issues they cut the cake better than the conservatives and are streets ahead on many other issues. All the same we should push them at every chance. Most here are non conservatives so it doesn’t really matter what we say amongst ourselves on one level. But they are also dead shit rotten sometimes and we should remind each other how and why. Shortie won’t win an election unless Abbott upsets the establishment – and they wont give Labor or progressives any airtime on challenging issues. Us pandering to the establishment is pointless and counter productive. Besides there are enough slack bastards in the Labor party to do that. Self censorship is a lazy road and we all do it for whatever reason but maybe less is better. A good leader is gold and I’m yet to be convinced that Tanya is the one.

  16. Jexpat

    Geoff P:

    As several other posters have noted, the situation in the UK is an entirely different beast, with the election having nationalistic overtones, conflicts & rivalries that go back 800+ years, and involve emotions stirred up in a recent referrendum on Scottish independence.

    It’s a very different place, the UK, than younger federated nations like Australia, the US and Canada- where our interstate rivalries involve more more mundane matters such as distribution of GST revenue or heated sports matches.

  17. stuff me

    At least some of the problem is an old prick called Murdoch.

  18. diannaart

    I agree, Murdoch is the significant common factor between the old nations and the new.

  19. Bacchus

    What about Tony Burke for the next PM mark?

  20. randalstella

    The UK is so different that the Tories imported Lynton Crosby to do a fear and smear campaign. Were they under an illusion – in what was a very close contest ?

    More fundamentally, people concerned for social equity were repeatedly disillusioned by Labour’s complete concession on Budget/Debt Crisis palaver. For example, Labour’s Treasury spokesperson pledged to maintain the Conservative’s budget cuts. This left their policies on social reform looking hollow, purposelessly without priority and beyond any reasonable promise; except to be under complete siege to Crosby’s smears about Economic Responsibility. Labour were effectively Tory-lite, and apologetic even about that difference. Seem familiar?

    Then there is Murdoch and his hordes of snivelling liars. Their exposed close ties with the Tories did the Tories no harm at all. Their exposed criminality made no difference. The public who matter read the Murdoch trash sheets, and believe them. Seem familiar?

  21. Jexpat

    The Tory’s also imported Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina (who’s a nasty, right wing piece of work).

  22. mark delmege

    Bacchus, no thank you.

  23. eli nes

    spot on geoff p labor quite correctly made no gain from mary jo fisher, has made no move against the depressed robb and has been seen on commercial media supporting the coalition on many occasions.
    They are collegiate with their fellow pollies and therefore vulnerable to being seen as supportive of the status quo rather than the alternative government.
    The rabbott knows acquiescence is agreement. He always qualified any bipartisan support with a negative and invariably left the impression he could do better.
    Yes, mark, the next pm will be scott morrison and I have never wanted to be more wrong.

  24. king1394

    Non-compulsory voting also means that people don’t think they need to make a special effort to vote if they think their party will win anyway.

  25. Mark Needham

    UKIP voters are racist.
    ” to the racists who voted UKIP ”
    Keep believing this, something to hang your hat on.
    Me, nah mate, I’m not racist, I vote Labour.

  26. Roswell

    Murdoch went feral. Seriously feral.

  27. Zeik

    What a laugh you wankers are – You all sound so “All knowing” gurus of how it should be done and patting each other on the back. All after the fact of course (who isnt an expert then?) and you lefties speaking from a position of power and wisdom (opposition that is!) You guys dont know what reality is but rather bury your heads in the sand. What a joke you all are.
    Have a nice day!

  28. Jexpat

    Apparently, in Zeik’s bubble, epithets and psychological projection pass for analysis.

  29. Wun Farlung

    Zeik
    If you would like to enlighten us “lefties” what your interperetation of reallity is, we could share in the joke
    Or are you just another brainless Troll incapable of critical thinking and putting forward a coherent opinion?

  30. Zeik

    No wonder you guys are want the boats to keep coming and increase welfare payments with names like that.
    Anyway – dont hurt my feelings please.

  31. Zeik

    Wun Farlung – Is that a Chinaman with lung cancer?

  32. Wun Farlung

    I think that answers the question

  33. Wun Farlung

    Zeik
    Without the ever so shiny boats, terrorists and lies, what have you righties got in the way of political wisdom?

  34. Zeik

    Dear One Bung Lung – Give up the cancer sticks, they are not good for the complexion. And as for Jexpat – what were the results of your HIV test?

  35. Zeik

    Dear One Bung Lung – Obviously the LNP have better polices than the ALP and Greens. Why? Simple – more Australians voted for them you dill!

  36. Wun Farlung

    Sucker. Give up while your behind
    Oh! look over there, a dole bludger to kick… shiny

  37. Zeik

    Dont we all love the political wisdom of the ALP – Cash for clunkers, Pink batts, School Halls, Stop the beef trade, Stab PMs in the back, Extortion of HSU members $$, Opposition leader accused of rape, Fuel watch, Alcopops, NBN waste, Illegal boats let in, Recruiting Peter Slipper, Maintaining support for Craig Thompson, Carbon Tax, Got into bed with Greens, Mining tax, Spied on Malaysia PMs wife, Class warfare, Laptops to everyone, The Education Revolution ………the list goes on and on and on and on and on…………….

  38. Wun Farlung

    That’s a start.
    Now if you can only manage a bit more detail instead of the slogans that the LNP and the Murdoch (dunny) papers sprout you’re on the way.You forgot “debt and deficit disaster” and “budget emergency” but then so has Abbott and Hockey
    Do you know what happened to the debt and deficit disaster?
    You appear to be so well informed.

  39. Zeik

    Chunhuo

  40. Wun Farlung

    I think you should go back to the smellograph or perhaps give Alan Jones a call he and his listeners may be able to understand you

  41. stuff me

    Ahhh poor Zeik, short for zeik heil no doubt! 😉

  42. Dion Giles

    Maybe British Labour will never recover while it clings to the legacy of the economic Thatcherite and war criminal Tony Bliar and his minions. To what extent have metastases from the Blairite Labour Party apparatus found a place in the ALP?

  43. Jexpat

    Tony Blair of course, has another take.

    One that he hopes will rehabilitate his disgace.

    Memo to Tony: you should have listened to Cherie (and maybe also thought about the draught from the poisoned chalice).

  44. Mark Needham

    What debt?.
    That wasn’t “expenditure”, that was a ‘loan”.
    There is no debt.

  45. mischmash1m

    LNP Murdoch rappers are getting so repetitive and boring, same old ancient lines..It proves Murdoch brainwashes the uneducated ignorant masses while his super rich mates have million dollar party’s to enjoy laughing at them. Abbott/Murdoch/Jones would look down their arrogant noses at Zeik..but Zeik would still lick their feet. lol

  46. stephentardrew

    Blair has well and truly joined the Dark Side.

  47. stephentardrew

    Oh and by the way Australian Labor: Beware the Ides of March.

  48. jimhaz

    [Plibersek would be a good choice but maybe Australia has shown it’s not really ready for an intelligent and powerful woman at the helm]

    Plibersek is neither. She is a as useless as Shorten. Way overrated. A rote type speaker – boring as. She is just a toff mum – nice enough, says the expected things, gives an appearance of competence – but no leader for such a difficult job. Of the ALP women I prefer Macklin and Wong – you can at least tell they believe in what they are saying.

    Personally I’m keen to see an ALP pollie who can wax lyrical. An academic – someone like Andrew Leigh perhaps.

    “A former associate to Justice Michael Kirby, Andrew’s last job before entering parliament in 2010 was as an economics professor at the Australian National University. He was awarded the Young Economist Award, a prize given every two years by the Economics Society of Australia to the best Australian economist under 40.”

    The ALP has lots of quite decent ministers, but no leaders. Leigh is no leader either, too soft, but at least he is brainy. I’d have two deputies as attack dogs to countermand the LNP and Murdoch’s aggressive lying.

  49. randalstella

    I thank the correspondent Kadinsky for this ominously recognisable observation from the recent intellectual and moral fiasco – the UK elections.

    From the London Review of Books blog:

    “For five long years, Labour allowed the Tories and lib dems (and the BBC) to establish a glaringly inaccurate narrative about what had caused the gigantic deficit in Britain’s public finances. It was a rewriting of the recent past as audacious as anything seen in Britain in modern times.

    This invented story – that the deficit had been caused by the reckless social spending of Blair and Brown – fatally framed Labour as a party that could not be trusted with the economy.

    Labour’s consistent failure to challenge this narrative has now ceded us another five years of fanatical ideological government; five years that will likely spell the end of the NHS. Nothing will baffle future scholars of this period more than Labour’s self-defeating collusion in their opponents’ audacious rewriting of history.”

    If Labor fail to heed this, Australia will be another crazy, charred island, another off-shore Murdochonia. They could start by showing a bit of outrage, and direct that energy into policy statements. Those concerned about social justice and the environment are waiting. Still waiting.

  50. diannaart

    This invented story – that the deficit had been caused by the reckless social spending of Blair and Brown – fatally framed Labour as a party that could not be trusted with the economy.

    I’ve heard this tale somewhere else… don’t tell me… I’ll get it in a minute…

    WTF?

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