Labour’s defeat: the future is rarely as bleak as it seems

One of the advantages of reaching middle age is that, provided one has a good memory, one can see lots of things happening again.

I have never been interested in betting: partly a good Calvinist upbringing but also the fact that aged 9 or 10 on a Sunday School outing I put money into gaming machines in Barry’s in Portrush and noted (unsurprising with hindsight) that I got less out than I put in.

I have just once since been seriously tempted to place a bet. In 1992 after Neil Kinnock lost to John Major I remember people saying that never again could Labour form a majority government. I was a student and had little money but I remember thinking I would get great odds on Labour winning the next two general elections consecutively. In the event I was wrong and they won three in a row.

Labour is now in full sack cloth and ashes mode with John Cruddas suggesting this is their worst crisis ever.

It is clearly reasonable for Labour to look long and hard at why the lost and at their policies. However, they had had only a single election out of power following their longest ever consecutive period in government: a rebound with tem being out of power for more than one term was always the most historically likely.

Their leader may not have been as good as they might have liked (and he was mercilessly attacked in the press); their policies and views on aspiration, immigration etc. may not have resonated adequately with the pubic; they may have run a poor campaign but more than anything the weight of historical precedent suggested they would lose two elections in a row.

Something very similar occurred after the 1997 election to the Tories. Their best leader William Hague made the politically unforgivable error of thinking the Tories would return after a single Labour term and was duly demolished; ending his aspirations for the Premiership. Although nothing is certain in politics: Had he waited it is quite likely he would be about to embark on his second term in office as First Lord of Her Majesty’s Treasury.

Labour also need to be wary of the siren voices claiming that only ultra radical change will regain them power. Conventional political wisdom often suggests that it took New Labour under Tony Blair to make Labour electable again. Again what ifs are not real politics but remember there was a pretty conventional Labour leader well ahead of John Major in the opinion polls: John Smith. Although biased Smith’s biographer Mark Stuart has suggested that under John Smith the Labour landslide of 1997 would have smaller but still massive.

UK politics has a mechanism of autocorretcion. That may not be the case this time: certainly the SNP victory is unprecedented and the appearance of UKIP is significant in votes if not in seats.. However, in their grief Labour must be careful not to forget historical precedent nor throw the policy baby out with the bath water.

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  • Gopher

    I always think in analysis is you have to get to the salient point which is the Conservatives *won* the election. It was a very good election to win and a very bad one to lose. The Conservatives get to frame the UK’s constitution for the forseable future so parliament will be reformed. Nobody should delude themselves for one minute there will be increased powers to the regions without that reform. They also get to frame the UKs relationship with Europe and whether its in or out parliament will still be soveriegn. Whatever the answer UKIP will be nothing to the Conservatives post the referendum.
    So basically it no longer matters what Labour do, majority government has been taken away from them with that election. They now require the Liberals, UKIP and SNP to implode as well as the Conservatives. The political landscape has changed forever and whilst the Conservatives understood the battlefield and rode that change, poor traditional, doctrinally rigid Labour were caught in the headlights. A very bad vote to lose.

  • Turgon

    You could well be correct.

    However, those are similar sentiments to those about Labour in 1992 or the Tories in 1997, 2001, 2005 or even 2010 when it was suggested that they could never hold an overall majority again.

    It is just too early to tell.

  • Gopher

    Those were all fought on the same battlefield between two armies, In 2020 it will be a new battlefield chosen by the Conservatives with input from the SNP and the EU question will have been settled. On that field Labour mathmatically will only be able to form a government of a wide coalition, unless there is complete implosion of the other parties.

  • Turgon

    You may well be correct. Though very similar arguments were made against the Tories ever having an overall majority again.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I’d agree with Gopher on this. I think Labour are at a cross roads with three turns being to nowhere and one turn, maybe, being toward salvation. If the Unions and that awful individual, Len McClusky, gets his way, then they’ll elect another Ed Milliband, and they are finished. If the Party can live with the reality, then they need to pursue the centre ground, but who to pick up that mantle? I still believe the electorate want to see David Milliband but there’s no word on him returning. The SNP have taken Scotland and England doesn’t “do” Labour. The Tories will set the agenda and, potentially, define the political landscape for the next decades. It’s not a time to be a Labour supporter.

  • Zeno

    Stephen Hilton former Chief Strategist to David Cameroon in today’s Sunday Times.

    “Regardless of who is in office the same people are in power. It is a democracy in name only. operating on behalf of a tiny elite no matter the electoral outcome. I know because I was part of it.”

    He explains that it’s all the same people who send their children to the same schools and attend the same dinner parties. It doesn’t matter if it’s Labour or Conservative it’s money that rules. Money buys power.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    John – the current line up is abysmal. Burnham is a Union stooge, and along with Cooper is too close to the old, failed guard (the two Eds). I watched Mary Creagh on with Andrew Neill this morning and term “lightweight” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Similarly Tristram Hunt is laughable – the man is a plank. I’ve yet to hear anything from Liz Kendall, but she’d get my “vote” as she is married to Greg Davies, a very funny man. I see no one on Labours front bench that has merit. They need to go to the back benches and start again.

  • scepticacademic

    England doesn’t “do” Labour? I think you’ll find that Labour won a majority in England in 1997, 2001 & 2005. There’s no denying that 2015 is a massive defeat for Labour and they need to do some seriously hard thinking but there’s no knowing what the landscape of the 2020 election will look like at this stage. 1992 was a similar setback for Labour but that was followed by a landslide in 1997. A comeback in 2020 is neither impossible nor guaranteed.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    With Blair at the helm and completely entrenched in the middle ground. Do you see a Blairite being Labour’s next leader?

  • Granni Trixie

    But has Liz Kendall got a GSOH? If so,she’d get my vote too.

  • Gopher

    “Pure
    politics is merely the calculus of combinations and of
    chances”

    You seen today how many balls Andy Burnham has to keep in the air just within his own party for a shot at the leadership. Its a complete mess even before you bring in constitutional and constituency change and other parties to the equation.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Granni – I can recommend her husbands live show. I’ve seen him twice in the Ulster Hall and it’s been hysterical. Get yourself along….

  • dodrade99

    The Conservatives outpolled Labour in england in 2005.

  • It’s not impossible but it’s very unlikely. Your post glosses over the fact that Labour are far far behind the tories now and have lost their Scottish bedrock to boot. To win the next election on current boundaries Labour would need an 8.5% swing. To put that in context, only once since 1945 has a swing of that magnitude been achieved, by Blair in 1997. Even Thatcher post-Winter of discontent only managed a measly 5%. Labour are also stuck in a conundrum, to win back Scotland they’d probably have to trend left, but to win back England they’d have to trend right. How to square that circle is the big question for them, but, barring a Black Wednesday repeat, it’s very hard to see them making a comeback in 2020.

  • chrisjones2

    This sounds great.As a closet Tory we will never have to worry about an election again

  • chrisjones2

    http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/north-waless-greg-davies-liz-9268486

    The entire basis of your political analysis just collapsed

  • scepticacademic

    Labour: 286 seats; 8,043461 votes (35.4%)
    Conservative: 194 seats; 8,116,005 votes (35.7%)
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/vote2005/html/england.stm

    …whilst the Conservatives got slightly more votes, Labour won 92 more seats. My point was that Labour can win more seats in England, not a higher % of the popular vote.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    LOL – back to the drawing board Chris – so much else to choose from (sic). Shame though for the pair of them.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    If Labour lurch left they are finished. We have just seen what happens when Unions get to select Labour leaders, they get it wrong. The class war is over and unless Labour grasp this then they’ll be consigned to political history.

  • Gingray

    Good post Turgon, I think a lot of people will be quick to claim Labour are doomed however, without looking at the historical trends. They will be back in some form, although I could see the next government being a minority.

    You may not be a betting man, but this is a useful article which really hits the nail on the head for me:

    http://www2.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2015/05/17/labour-should-not-be-too-pessimistic-about-their-chances-of-taking-power-in-2020/

    It will be interesting to see if the SNP do a Parti Quebeci rollercoaster in terms of seats in a first past the post system, or if they can inbed themselves as the party of power in Scotland for a generation. Similarly with UKIP, will they keep 13% of the vote next time round or collapse following years of instability with the leadership?

  • 23×7

    I think people have read too much into the Labour defeat. There were some tactical errors, standing along side the Tories on the Scottish referendum being the biggest error of all but policy wise e.g. their focus on inequality, their offer was strong. The UKIP threat will also be resolved at the next election and Scotland will have played itself out.

    Labour need to sit tight now and watch the Tories rip themselves apart over EU membership. No joint campaigning this time. In addition the Tories have to find 12Bn of cuts as well as 8bn for the health service which will be difficult if not impossible. It’s good that they are taking some time on the leadership decision.

  • Mike the First

    Not in England.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Sorry Red but the only Party and leader I heard preaching class war was Red Ed and he got dropped on his ass. This Tory “eat the rich” narrative only appeals to the folks looking for state handouts. The majority listened to Ed’s Labour’lite message and rejected it wholly. I’m happy to sit on the wings and watch Labour and their union backers implode. Its all about the economy and wealth creation, not ever more handouts.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Maybe not a surprise 23X7 but I disagree. I think what we saw was a once in a generation result for Labour, which could well be their exit music. I struggle to see what the current Labour party has to offer this country and the electorate agree with me. The huge question to Labour is WHAT NEXT? Do they lurch left as Len McClusky would have them or do they revert to Blair middle ground? As you maybe suggest, do they just sit and wait and snipe at the Tories from the sidelines? Who leads them through this morass? No apparent leader, no apparent political roadmap to recovery, no real will or acceptance that they need to change…this could be a real slippery slope…

  • 23×7

    9.3 million voters clearly don’t agree with you. We always hear these alarm bells after a defeat. The way that capitalism is currently constructed there will always be a healthy market for a socialist or left aligned political party. Labour faced an unusual set of circumstances at this election which won’t play out next time. Inequality will continue to grow under this government and votes will eventually drift back from right to left. As I said previously Miliband had them politically exactly where they should be but for a variety of reasons he just wasn’t viewed as a credible PM. There’s no need for Labour to lurch further left or right, they just need the right leader and the right tactics.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Your last sentence is bang on. Unfortunately they have neither.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Well they’ve five long years to get their ducks lined up, because their messge, and you’re further left message, did not resonate with the voters. Money doesn’t grow on trees and look to France if you want to see what a left wing socialist government achieves in a time of austerity.

  • NMS

    Turgon, the problems of the British Labour Party are similar to those of all of its sister parties throughout Europe, see for example an earlier piece by yours truly http://sluggerotoole.com/2015/04/24/finland-and-the-dying-left-of-europe/

    The British position is worsened because of the party’s traditional dependence on its Celtic fringe. Their seats now held reasonably accurately represent their proportion of the vote – it is the Greens and UKIP, which are under-represented and the Conservatives over-represented.

    The auto-correction seems to be a move to the right, rather than the left.

  • 23×7

    Well apparently money does grow on trees as the tories have found 8bn for the health service from somewhere.

    As for France it’s in the euro and thus comparisons with the UK are difficult however a UK growth rate of 0.3% is harry a vindication of right wing policies. Despite being in such a mess French productivity per worker is 14% higher than the UK. Must be those damned French unions.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    So now you are criticising the Tories for finding another £8B for the NHS.

    I also like your French side swerve so let me give you comparative FACTS –

    1. Unemployment in France of 10.6% versus UK 5.5%. That’s all most double.
    2. Its even worse if you are under 25 with nearly a quarter unemployed in France.
    3. France top rate of tax 75% versus 45% in the UK.

    I could go on but its all there on Google to explore yourself….facts that is, not subjective opinions.

  • 23×7

    Ha ha. Don’t see any problem with 75% tax rates on earnings over 1M euro. Do people work harder when they pass this earnings threshold?
    In the UK we have a zero hours barista economy for U25s. Unemployment rates are thus a meaningless comparison. U25s are struggling in the Uk as well.
    As for the 8bn. They haven’t explained where they are getting it. Trees??

  • Sergiogiorgio

    As you say “ha ha”. When the facts don’t suit your socialist idyll you choose to ignore them. Try that other socialist panacea Greece and see what uncontrolled public borrowing and spending does for them. Maybe Spain, Italy, take your pick.

  • 23×7

    I see you’ve attempted to broaden the debate now that I’ve laughed your opinions about the socialist hell hole that is France (the number 1 tourist destination in the world) out of the room.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    That will be good news for the 25% of under 25’s that are unemployed in France that their country is the number 1 tourist destination. Keep laughing you plank.