What lessons will Labour learn from defeat?

votingRed On Friday, my friend Howard wrote a short and –crucial for journalists- first to hit the streets reflection on Labour’s loss. I promised my response – and here it is. It’s my personal experience of Howard’s arguments, since they cannot be gainsaid. Howard, I write as a Green candidate who was hurtling, as the polls showed, to becoming the first in Barnet to keep her deposit. On the afternoon of election day I sensed that I would fail to do so, and that was confirmed at about 5am the following morning. The afternoon’s realisation was based on my own Twitter exit poll – people tweeting to say they’d have loved to vote for me but

  • The VoteSwap website had declared Chipping Barnet (a rock solid Tory seat since it was formed) a “semi-marginal” so…
  • Labour canvassers were telling voters that the Green Party had asked people to vote Labour
  • That message was reinforced by a letter from the Finchley Green candidate of 2010 – published in all the Barnet editions of the local paper – urging voters to vote Labour this time, omitting to mention that the writer had shifted allegiance to Labour three years earlier
  • Labour bloggers described Green votes as Tory votes and
  • smeared Greens outrageously.

The Tories were returned with a massive majority in my constituency, and indeed in all three constituencies in Barnet (also Finchley, and Hendon). Combining Green and Labour votes there would not have beaten the Tory score! And you can do the maths for yourself but I think that even counting in the LibDem vote (small) would not have outnumbered the Conservatives. How come? I have two answers:

1) Co-option

Labour brought their defeat upon us all. They did it by morphing into a pale imitation of the Conservatives, and as with any counterfeit goods they could easily be branded as an inferior quality party that would let buyers down when it counted – on the economy. Labour’s support for austerity (but –lite! Who would trust a little bit of something that the dominant narrative said must be big for all our sakes?); for fracking; and for TTIP are the most evident testimony to this. As you know, I believe this to have a simple, but devastating cause: big money! To explain why Labour adopted the market-fundamentalist lies rather than counter them.

2) tribal hatred

Labour’s instinct to knock out its closest competitors, was self defeating. Before the tricks stage of the campaign, Labour activists would either accuse me bitterly of taking away their votes (“split the progressive vote” they called it without irony), or make unofficial approaches to me to stand down in favour of their candidate, offering nothing in return. Once only a Labour activist wondered whether I could be persuaded to move across to Labour. Not once was I approached constructively to discuss the means by which to combine our forces, to take advantage of our shared hostility to Tory egregiousness.

You are right Howard: Labour needs to get a cognisance of what Paul Mason identifies as a party that “no longer knows what it is for, nor how to win power… [and that] has almost no ideological base, or coherence.” Unless Labour can kick out vested interests from its policy-making centres, work out what it is for, and how it can embrace allies, Labour will have reached what you call the end of its shelf life, and we will get something else instead. (Scottish passports?)

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