Real life is not a pantomime and it insults the intelligence of an electorate to set up stage villains to boo and hiss and heroes to applaud and defend with “he’s behind you” type warnings.
Yet this is precisely how the Labour party conducted its general election campaign. A fact some of the contenders for the leadership of the party claim to recognise, (whether they were concealing their principles then, or now, is difficult to diagnose).
“Business as the enemy of the people” categorises one Labour theme. No doubt the plight of the labouring masses was a topic of earnest concern for young Ed Miliband as he formed his world view from conversations with his millionaire Marxist dad, when dad returned home dazed, dirty and deflated after a day of unremitting toil at the London School of Economics, (a trendy leftie type of uni), where he gave a few lectures.
Truth is class war and the language of it is, to most, a load of codswallop. Only ivory tower intellectuals and moronic shop stewards subscribe to that nonsense nowadays. It holds no charm for large parts of the electorate.
Business brings jobs which, unsurprisingly, a lot of the population want so that they can support themselves, their families and attain a better standard of living. Such people seem to have little place in a socialist utopia, they are too independent, too aspirational. Aspirational being a word Lord John Prescott says he does not understand and he is not alone in the party.
Labour’s core vote still needs to be fed a diet of propaganda suggestive of workplace exploitation. They need to be reminded that if they vote other than Labour, a dead socialist ancestor will start to do 78 revs per minute, even if cremated. No matter how proven its track record and appealing its policies a vote for the Conservative party must be presented as a betrayal of a mythical forebear martyred at Tolpuddle or Peterloo.
But that core is diminishing and that message is irrelevant to thinking younger voters who won’t vote Labour “cos mi dad did”.
Labour presents as always more comfortable with the not working classwork. They are reliably dependent. They will join the chorus of wailing denunciation against the exploitative bosses. Even if, they belong to a family on which, for the last three generations, no employer has cast as much as a shadow. A difficulty for Labour is that their hard working neighbours have lost sympathy with those who have chosen to opt out of employment in favour of benefits and with a party that seems to support that life choice.
The relationship of modern employer and employee is necessarily one of inter-dependence and mutual interest in prosperity. Anyone with savings or a modest nest egg has a vested interest in the economy, business success and a buoyant stock market because that’s a place where their pension funds invest.
Then there were the crossed fingers, Pinocchio nose enlarging Labour claims like “The last Labour government did not overspend”. Finance and economics can be a bit confusing but most people are far from stupid. They remember the endless spending announcements from government departments made under the last Labour government, when there seemed to be a competition to spend spend spend. They remember the illegal Iraq invasion, which helped de-stabilise the middle east, and the fruitless war in Afghanistan and their cost in treasure and, more regrettably, blood. They remember the silly note left by Labour’s treasury minister Liam Byrne saying “There’s no money left”. Is it surprising that a Labour party which could not bring itself to admit to having learned by experience was not trusted by the electorate to run the economy? After all, those who do not learn from past mistakes are likely to repeat them.
“Conservatives are for millionaires, Labour is for working people” type propaganda was Labour’s unconvincing message. Arithmetic alone makes the proposition ridiculous. With 50 million electors and 350 thousand millionaire households, any national party which shapes its policy exclusively to suit the millionaire minority is bound for extinction. Labour pointed to the reduction in the highest rate of taxation under the coalition government from 50% to 45%. What they failed to point out is that for thirteen years under the last Labour government the top rate was 40%. The increase to 50% was a poisoned chalice left by Labour’s Gordon Brown to come into effect only after he lost the 2010 general election. The coalition government then reduced that rate to 45%. So retaining a higher top rate of tax than Labour had operated in thirteen years of government.
Scare stories were put out surrounding that cherished British institution the NHS. “Tories had/would/will privatise/d it”. Unfortunately statistics demonstrated much more privatisation under Blair than by the coalition government. Perhaps, this is an area in which politicians and public need to take a reality check. No-one except Mr. Farage, in an unguarded moment, suggests that access to healthcare should depend on means but the system is not perfect nor beyond improvement. If 4 hour waiting targets in A&E are now being exceeded is that because administrators no longer cheat by keeping patients in ambulances outside the building so that the clock does not start to tick? Are there systems in place which will prevent another Stafford type hospital killing its patients and, if not, will government be prepared to subject it to the scrutiny of a full public enquiry as the coalition did with Stafford, when Labour’s Health Secretary Andy Burnham, now a leadership contender, had refused to do so. Will whistle-blowers be protected or be bullied into silence by administrators and unions? It is perhaps this type of issue which needs addressing, rather than focussing solely upon funding.
Ultimately, the Labour campaign was one of whine and whinge. Faced with the significant successes of the coalition government that was all Labour did in response. Labour could not contradict the simple fact that there were more people in work, fewer in receipt of unemployment benefit than under the last Labour government, so it moaned about zero hours contracts ignoring the facts that such arrangements were comparatively few but popular with students and young mums who wanted flexible work commitments. Whingeing and whining failed to resonate with an electorate experiencing an increasing “feel good” sensation and with real experience of the difference between dole and job, a life experience which few Labour politicians have shared.
So the slogans failed to impress and the scares failed to frighten but, perhaps, as the Labour party searches for a leader it needs to do more and rediscover some guiding principles, if not to convince the electorate, at least to make the party a credible half decent opposition.