So, a quick break from holidays, to share this from Jon Cruddas on why Labour lost the last election:
The first hard truth is that the Tories didn’t win despite austerity, they won because of it. Voters did not reject Labour because they saw it as austerity lite. Voters rejected Labour because they perceived the Party as anti-austerity lite. 58% agree that, ‘we must live within our means so cutting the deficit is the top priority’. Just 16% disagree. Almost all Tories and a majority of Lib Dems and Ukip voters agree.
Amongst working class C2DE voters 54% agree and 15% disagree. Labour voters are evenly divided; 32% agree compared to 34% who disagree.
He goes on to demonstrate that belief in ‘sound money’ policies does not mean being against redistributive tax and welfare policies. (Although I could produce dozens of macro economists who would be more than prepared to argue otherwise).
The electorate voted for fiscal responsibility. But as the statement on wealth distribution reveals the electorate also holds radical opinions on the economy. 60 per cent agree with the statement, ‘the economic system in this country unfairly favours powerful interests’. This rises to 73%t amongst UKIP voters and 78% amongst Labour voters.
He goes on to deal with an idea that’s been animating some excitement in some quarters:
The idea of an anti-austerity alliance with the SNP is unacceptable to a majority of English and Welsh voters. 60% agree that they ‘would be very concerned if the SNP were ever in government’ compared to 15% who disagree.’ A majority of Conservative, Lib Dem and Ukip voters agree, as do 40% of Labour voters.
Labour’s defeat in Scotland does not set a precedent for its leftward shift in England. The SNPs anti-austerity politics simply increased the risk that Labour represented to English voters.
The response to the SNP amongst Welsh and English voters reflects the increasingly federal nature of the UK, and the growing political salience of a politics of identity and belonging. 63% say that their English or Welsh identity is important to them.
Scotland poses a dilemma for Labour. It has a different political tradition and its voters are more progressive and collectivist minded than in England. The English tend to be more individualistic and have a more ‘small c’ conservative disposition. Labour will need to develop a more federal politics to accommodate the paradoxes of radical and conservative dispositions and our national cultural differences.
Paradox is the key terminology. Slapping hastily gathered scraps of anti austerity wallpaper and slapping it all over the deepening cracks between English and Scottish political cultures won’t work.
For one it would be to ignore the fact the SNP’s ‘agenda’ (no sign of anti austerity means or measures in Holyrood btw) scared the bejesus out enough English voters to drive the Conservatives over the line to their first outright victory in twenty years.
One of Ed Miliband’s (several) resolute failures was to continue to ignore the pervasive nature of this growing problem.
Polling is a useful but limited tool. Handy if you are clear what questions to ask. What it cannot give you are the kinds of new of policy ideas that Labour desparately needs in order to bridge the gap between being party of protest and the putative party of government.
That involves understanding what went wrong, and learning to listen to what the voters are telling you needs changing, and finding a way to do it that doesn’t leave the country destitute. In traditional British leftist terms that involves finding a way to tackle the disengagement between the party’s diggers and its dreamers.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty