After last week’s general election the dust is settling… or is it?
Nigel Farage who resigned, is back in charge of UKIP; the Tories, unbridled by the now decimated Lib Dems, have gone immediately on the offensive. As was their modus operandus last time around, they are going to cut hard and fast at the beginning of the term, and hope the good times are sufficiently rolling in 2020 so that most of us will have all but forgotten the pain of the now. If you dare to read their first 100 days in power plan, you may agree that their ruthlessness is breathtaking.
2020. Sobering to type that date. I am old enough to almost think 2020 belongs in the domain of sci-fi. Sadly it does not – if the Conservatives have their way, it will be how long we have to wait before we are given the opportunity to shake them loose once again.
Sadly, I believe we will be saddled with them until that far-off and frabjous day and furthermore that they will ride us hard. I never, ever, thought the coalition government that formed in 2010 would hold. I was convinced that the Lib Dems would revolt, at least once, more, if I’m honest. However, for whatever reasons, they did not. The cynical amongst us may say it was so that they could hang on to some sort of power, at least. Nick Clegg would say it was so that he could be the No man to the worst aspects of David Cameron and his gang’s policy of slash and burn. Since all these Nos came behind closed doors, I am not convinced. Clegg says that the history books will judge them more kindly than the electorate did – I am not so sure.
And so to the Labour party. I am afraid I misjudged the electorate as much anybody in the Miliband inner circle. I took it as a self-evident fact that the Tories, even with the Lib Dems tugging at their trouser hems, were a destructive force across the country. I thought that even those people who were not being demonised as workshy would grasp the fact that they too would be at the mercy of the great Tory monster, were they to ever stumble and fall. I thought that the safety net of the welfare state and the NHS would be too precious a resource for the electorate to gamble with. I thought that the words of Neil Kinnock, before the general election in June 1983, would be remembered or, at least, recalled.
If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–
– I warn you not to be ordinary
– I warn you not to be young
– I warn you not to fall ill
– I warn you not to get old
But in May 2015 it seems that the electorate preferred to gamble on keeping the little money they had in their pocket now, rather than the certain but temporary inconveniences and inevitabilities of life. Somehow, over the last five years, the Tories had controlled the popular narrative. Somehow, the party called Labour, was not the party of the worker – the Tories were. Somehow Labour stood for taking money to give to the poor. Somehow the nonsense that held that Labour had caused the deficit had stuck and try as he might, Ed Miliband could not persuade the public otherwise.
I have learned this. Winning the next election starts the day after the last election. Controlling the narrative from the centre-left is hard when the majority of the print press is centre-right, if not outright right. People are influenced by what they hear and read, almost subliminally during a term of government and if the message has taken hold, you can’t turn it on a sixpence in the six weeks of an election campaign before the ballot. The message has to appeal to the majority for the majority of the time.
I know Labour is the party of working people, but that needs communicating at every opportunity from this moment forth. I know Labour isn’t out to take the money from the modestly off to give straight to the poor, but that has been people’s fear. I know that when I vote in a general election, I’m voting for my local MP and not the leader of the party, but the self-evident fact is that hardly anyone sees it that way, so a party leader has to have kerb appeal. I know I won’t look down the list of candidates at the next election and wonder what he or she can do for me, but I’ve come to realise that is how some people approach the vote.
So what I’ve realised is that I have fallen into the trap of thinking that others see what I see. I’ve realised that as much as political parties want to change the world, the effect they can have in terms of the majority and how they choose who to vote for is limited. I may belong to the Labour Party with grand aspirations of making society a better place for all, but the fact is most people don’t have the time for all that jazz. I can’t expect people to use their precious vote in an solely altruistic manner once every five years. Although I would disagree with Richard Dawkins and his belief in the selfish gene, and go to my grave insisting compassion and selflessness is the only way forward, I have to admit that for many, life ain’t like that.
We might want to change the world, but the electorate don’t want to know that. They want to know how they might be a little bit better off than they were before you were elected. They want to know that their lives will continue as usual or better. They want to know that nothing remarkable will ever happen. The facts are that the English, for whatever reason, are conservative (with the small c) in nature. Labour can aim to change the world for the better, for all, but for the next five years they are going to have to make sure they are planning to do it quietly.
Personally, I’d rather we went down the radical route of the SNP in all its social justice glory. But actually, based on the numbers, the SNP can’t afford to do it, without the English tax payer. And that’s the problem with English socialism I suppose, that people think that Labour are good at spending money, but really crap at creating the conditions in which people can start making it.
I may prefer to hug trees and hope we move to a post-capitalist society in my lifetime but the electorate don’t seem much up for it. That being so, for the next five years the Labour Party, myself included, will simply have to work with what we’ve got and make sure we make a better fist of it than last time