Saturday, 9 May 2015

Five quick lessons Labour needs to learn

After the catastrophic defeat in the 2015 General Election, Labour will inevitably go through a long period of soul searching. Here are my first five thoughts on the lessons the Party needs to learn:

1.     THE GROUND WAR ISN’T EVERYTHING

We’ve heard for many years from organisers and some academics about the importance of the so-called ‘ground war’. According to their argument, it's flooding areas with activists that wins elections. Unfortunately, if the ‘air war’ is badly conducted, your ground offensive is unlikely to succeed. Labour failed to win key seats in which it had a strong presence. 

2.      YOU NEED A STORY TO WIN

In the jargon of political pundits, Labour needs a ‘narrative’. The Tories had one about the supposed success of their economic plan and how this would be put at risk by an alliance of Miliband and Sturgeon. Labour’s weak response was to say it had a ‘better plan’. They were framing the Labour message in the light of the Tory one.

3.      IT’S IMPORTANT TO ACCEPT PEOPLE AS THEY ARE

Alan Johnson has been talking about how Blair understood people’s aspirations. Nick Cohen has made the interesting – and allied point – that too many Labour people tend to look down its nose at the English, resenting their prejudices and ignorance. It doesn’t play well. In politics, you need to work with people rather than against them.

4.      LISTEN TO THE FOCUS GROUPS

The pink bus and stone plinth would never have survived any kind of consumer testing. There can only be two conclusions: no one bothered to ask a selection of voters what they thought of the ideas, or – worse still – the voters were asked, but Labour ignored what they said.

5.      YOU CAN’T TELL PEOPLE THEY’RE WRONG

Some people point to the moment in the debates when Ed Miliband told the audience that Labour hadn’t spent too much in their previous administration. It was a claim met with derision. If you want to challenge people’s perceptions and convert them to an objective truth, the process takes years. You can’t change their minds in the heat of a campaign or simply tell them they don’t understand.






Friday, 8 May 2015

Shed no tears for the Liberal Democrats

Yesterday, a rather desperate canvasser came knocking on my door in the outskirts of London. My Labour poster had obviously not done enough to deter this beleaguered emissary of the former Business Secretary, Vince Cable. In fact, it seems that showing my colours may actually have acted as something of a magnet to the Lib Dems. Just a day or two before, I’d had a leaflet spinning the rather unlikely story that The Daily Mirror was advising me to vote for Cable. I’d also had a letter from the Cabinet Minister telling me how much he understood my desire to get rid of the Tories.

Today, Labour and Green supporters in this leafy suburban constituency may be wondering if they did the right thing. They’ll see that Dr Tania Matthias – a GP in the NHS, who must surely need treatment for the cognitive dissonance associated with supporting the Conservatives – has swept Dr Cable aside.

As we pick up the pieces the morning after the night before, it’s quite natural to ask whether we perhaps should have voted tactically and saved Cable’s skin. My answer is a categorical no.

I’ve always been impressed with my dealings with the guy at a personal level. He is incredibly bright and has a razor-sharp memory for detail. On a couple of occasions, he stepped in to help with quite difficult issues and made representations on our behalf. I couldn’t fault his work as a constituency MP.

At the 2010 election, however, he told Labour voters to support him to keep the Tories out in Twickenham – a call echoed by his colleagues in other local seats such as Kingston & Surbiton and Sutton & Cheam. Many natural Labour supporters gritted their teeth and did what they were told. Cable then jumped into the bed with the very Tories he had denounced.

Five years go by. Five years in which the use of food banks has increased hugely, while the public has been fed a dubious diet of austerity. And then Cable has the nerve – the barefaced and unashamed cheek – to come back to me and say I should vote for him because he’s the only man who can beat the Tories.

I may be desperate, but I’m not signing up to join the cast of the Muppets. Cable is a bright man, but he insults the intelligence of his constituents with his opportunism and lack of principle. The Liberal Democrats have been utterly decimated in the 2015 general election, but they have only themselves to blame.