After the crushing result for Labour in the most recent general election, criticisms are coming in thick and fast regarding the direction in which the Party is going. In the days since the election, following Ed Miliband’s resignation, several key members of the Labour Party have spoken out against his leadership and, most notably, the leftward lurch that the Party took during his time in office.
Chief among these figures are the likes of Lord Hutton, former minister Alan Johnson, David Miliband (ouch!) and, the man himself, Tony Blair. Lord Hutton blamed the Labour Party’s failure of the adoption of “old school socialist’ policies, while David Miliband, who has ruled himself out of running for the leadership, said that the party was failing to do enough to ‘woo middle class voters’ according to the Independent newspaper.
Meanwhile, Alistair Darling, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, has criticised Ed for “having no economic policy” and said that the party was now in a worse position than it was in 1992. Adding salt to the wounds is Labour peer, Lord Sugar, who has resigned from the Labour Party saying that it simply was too anti-business. Lord Sugar will now sit as a cross-bencher peer in the House of Lords “representing the interests of business and enterprise”.
So, is that the message, was the Labour Party simply too left-wing to appeal to the voters? Is Chuka Umunna (supposedly with the backing of Mr. Blair himself) right in wanting to take Labour back to the right, do English voters just not have an appetite for a left-wing party?
Since Labour’s founding and as it moved into conventional politics, it has constantly had to shift towards the centre on various issues, to appease the middle-class voters and secure more seats. The last major lurch to the left happened during the campaign for the 1983 general election when Labour produced their most left-wing manifesto in decades in a bid to try and win over the working class voters who may have been fed up with Maggie Thatcher’s first term.
The manifesto was about as left as they come, calling for the re nationalisation of the British Shipbuilder’s Consortium, British Telecom and British Aerospace as well as unilateral nuclear disarmament and the abolition of the House of Lords. The result was a disaster for the Labour party, with Labour losing 60 seats and the Tories gaining 58. Subsequently the manifesto was dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”.
Labour would remain in opposition for another fourteen years.
It wasn’t until 1994 that the Labour party would take off again with the youngster Tony Blair taking over as leader of the Party following the sudden death of John Smith. Blair embarked on a new mission, rebuilding the Labour Party under the guise of New Labour.
Under Blair’s leadership the Labour Party took a substantial dive to the right, becoming more business friendly and less focussed on the toils of the working class. Some might argue that the final nail in that particular coffin was the removal of Clause IV of the Labour Party Constitution in 1995, which originally read:
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
Clause IV was seen by many as the part of the constitution that committed the Labour Party to socialism, the dropping of this clause from the constitution therefore seemed to signal the final departure of the Labour Party from the path to socialism.
However, it must be said, that under Blair, Labour saw huge success and won a landslide majority in the 1997 General Election and another in 2001. 2005 saw their popularity slump, but a slim majority did see them govern until 2010, albeit with a much reduced popular vote and fast waning popularity.
The final collapse of the vote in 2010 and the resignation of Gordon Brown as the leader of the Party prompted another change in the Party, with Ed Miliband – noted for his left-wing views within the Party – winning over the Blairite (and his brother), David Miliband.
The election of Ed, who even came to be known as Red Ed, prompted in a sense that the Labour Party would be moving back to the left, distancing itself from New Labour – which had seen many a Labour voter feel disenfranchised and which many blamed for the financial crash.
Ed Miliband announced plans for a prospective Labour government to allow the government to bid on rail franchises, effectively allowing for nationalised railways, freezes on energy bills and tighter regulation of the energy companies, the raising of the minimum wage to over £8 an hour, outlawing zero-hours contracts, lowing tuition fees, reintroducing the 50p tax rate for top earners… the list really does go on.
Now, while it wasn’t as left-wing and socialist as some in the Labour party would like, it did see a slight move back to being a “party for ordinary working people” and away from the pro-business days of New Labour. But the electorate didn’t buy it. We’ll leave Scotland for now, as that’s a separate case, but what went wrong in England and Wales?
Well, if we’re to believe the likes of Lord Hutton, Lord Sugar, Tony Blair, etc., it’s because Labour went too far to the left and the voters didn’t like that. The Labour Party, despite what it’s name and founding principles suggest, should be pandering to the middle class voters who might ordinarily vote Tory, but aren’t quite sure about the chap in charge.
But the truth of the matter is quite the opposite. Labour faced the wipe-out they did because precisely because they have moved away from the left and, hence, away from the working people of Britain – their core vote. I saw an interesting map, the other day which details the constituencies in the UK where, in first past the post, Did Note Vote would actually have won the seat. I’ll put it up and see if you spot a pattern.
Shown in pink, are constituencies where if all those who were registered to vote but didn’t had their vote count for a “did not vote” party, that “did not vote party” would have won the seat.
Firstly, it’s pretty appalling the sheer number of seats where this is the case – but look at where they occur. The vast majority of pink seats occur in urban areas and areas in which people traditionally are more likely to vote Labour.
There is also another map, that I found quite interesting which shows, by constituency, the party that came second in terms of the popular vote.
If you look at the areas where Labour came second, they largely seem to tie up with the areas in which Did-Not-Votes would have won it. So what’s going on?
The long and the short of it is that a huge number of people in these urban and traditionally Labour areas have become completely disenfranchised with politics altogether and a large number of them are, sadly, working class voters who no longer feel that the Labour Party has their interests at heart.
What do these people do? They simply don’t vote – Labour doesn’t represent their interests and, as far as they’re concerned, the Tories aren’t much different, so what difference does it make?
Another alarming feature is shown on the 2nd Place Map and that is the large amount of UKIP purple kicking about disenfranchised Tory and Labour voters alike have fallen for the nationalist populism of Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party which offers a nice target to blame for all their woes – immigrants and Brussels. And again, it’s because working people simply haven’t got a party that truly represents them.
Only a truly left-wing Labour Party, with the working class peoples’ interests as its core values, can have any hope to re-engage the core voters of the Labour Party and rebuild themselves as a party of the people and hence work to rebuild Britain as a fair society.
I am saddened that Ed Miliband resigned, but it was probably the right thing to do after the result. But it does leave the door wide open and whoever comes in next will have a lot of work to do in rebuilding.
Unfortunately, however, the candidates stepping forward for the role, notably Chuka Umunna, are closer to the Blairite section of the party and want to see a return to the right and a pro-business pandering to middle-England once more – the kind of vote that only comes along when people get fed up of the guy leading the Tories.
Of course Blair, Sugar, Hutton, etc. would call for a move to the right, they’re wealthy and quite like the way the right does things, but they don’t represent what the Labour Party stands for any more. If Labour want to be successful party and actually get things done, we need another Ed – we need someone who can take the Party back to its left-wing roots and re-engage with the working class people of Britain.
Only a truly left-wing Labour Party can fix Britain, all that remains to be seen is whether Labour can manage it before it’s too late.