Labour hasn’t won this few seats since 1987. Here’s why:
May the 7th, 2015. The day when the David Cameron would be ousted from office. But despite the predictions of a hung parliament, the Conservatives won with a clear majority.
How could a Labour party on the offensive lose so spectacularly? A colossal failing like this is never down to just one factor but a sum of many, in this case; policy failure, media spin, poor image and opposition parties.
As Jeremy Paxman so eloquently said, Ed Miliband was seen as a ‘North London geek‘. This was perhaps the most succinct description of the issue of Miliband’s image problem, he was seen as an awkward and weird man who possessed an unusual likeness to Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame. There are Tumblr pages devoted to just how awkward he comes across doing even the most mundane things; eating sandwiches, talking to people, drinking tea etc. Ed Miliband is very much the clumsy one to David Miliband/Cameron’s (delete as appropriate) rather suave media savvy self.
Perhaps this image of not being media savvy was cultivated to look more like a real person and less like a politician. His response to a photo of him awkwardly eating a sandwich? Does “If you want a politician who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don’t vote for me” strike of an awkward man unwilling to play a politician’s media games or a political man carefully cultivating a serious persona?
Labour had a policy image problem. It was too left wing, except when it wasn’t. Either way, Labour had to deal with the perception of being too left wing which in times of austerity carries the unenviable notion of being fiscally irresponsible – the Tories had made a good case of scaring the public over Labour’s financial plans, both past and present. Ed Miliband in the final leaders debate on Question Time refused to acknowledge that Labour had overspent pre-recession – this statement was met with a lowing sound – Labour’s defeat was already sealed.
As Tony Blair quite correctly says: “the route to the summit lies through the centre ground“, and Ed Miliband shifting the party to the left just didn’t sit well with the electorate.
The Conservatives, for their part, campaigned effectively. They played the scare card and it worked. Their policies over the past 5 years have also largely affected natural Labour voters anyway; the working class, the vulnerable and marginalised.
The Lib-Dems who had tempered the coalition were on course to lose badly, which they indeed did. No one would forget that on their first policy in power they made a complete u-turn with the university tuition fees. Their reputation is in tatters. Their absence from government will be felt over the next term as they will no longer be able to curb the worst excesses of a Conservative government with a mandate.
The SNP rampaged through Scotland, taking all but 1 of Labour’s seats. Miliband tried to assure the electorate that he wouldn’t do a deal with them, but perhaps this unwillingness to compromise showed a typical lack of adaptability to the electorate, not to mention an ungracious attitude.
UKIP received the third most of all votes in the country, though only received 1 seat for its troubles. Polls show UKIP voters splitting the Labour vote, and their working class ‘common sense’ manifesto did much to detract from Labour’s vote.
An ideological politician has few natural media allies. Ed Miliband didn’t have the arranged backing of the media like Blair did of News International. The Guardian and The Mirror were the only two major outlets that supported Labour. All the others supported the Conservatives (The Daily Mail, The Financial Times, The Independent, The Evening Standard, The Telegraph, The Times, The Economist, The Sun). Perhaps not a surprise that media barons have a vested interest in keeping out a party that promised to make life harder for the wealthy. Miliband had promised to close tax loopholes, abolish non-dom rules and bring back the 50p rate of tax – targetting people like the Barclay Brothers (tax exile billionaire owners of The Telegraph and The Spectator) and Lord Rothermere, the non-dom owner of The Daily Mail. The vested interest is clear.
Arguably, Labour did more to let the Tories in than the Tories did. Or less. Depends on which way you look at it. Either way, bad luck and Labour’s electoral incompetence handed the Tories a second term. And distasteful as it may seem for Labour, the Third Way might be the Only Way.