After Labour’s unexpectedly drastic loss in last week’s general election, the party is now trundling into the first phases of the process that will decide who follows Ed Miliband as leader.
Its now-considerable right-of-centre contingent has quickly gathered behind the idea that the Tories won because Ed Miliband was too left-wing – sentiments expressed in vague, euphemistic language about ‘aspirational voters’ and ‘embracing business’.
With right-wing candidates unsurprisingly monopolising the leadership contest – since the early 1990s, being more right-wing than the bulk of Labour members and most of its voters has been a prerequisite for getting on the party’s frontbench, after all – it seems inevitable that the party will shift right under whoever wins.
In fact, party deputy chairman Jon Trickett has produced figures showing Labour won more votes from middle-class ‘aspirationals’ this time than it did in 2010. It was its working-class vote that declined, continuing a trend traceable back to 1997.
Polling company Ipsos MORI concurs, arguing (with typical metropolitan disdain for ordinary working people) that ‘Lazy Labour’ was to blame for the result – its term for traditional Labour supporters who didn’t turn out to vote.
Obviously, the outcome of something as bafflingly complex as a general election can never be attributed to a single phenomenon. The Lib Dem vote dropped massively, producing Conservative wins in dozens of rural Tory-Lib Dem marginal. The SNP annihilated Labour north of the border, the result of Labour alienating its Scottish support base. Disgruntled Labour voters turned to UKIP in the Midlands, helping Tories win there.
Then there’s the whopping impact had by the criminally impartial mainstream press – running a sustained five-year campaign of mockery, belittlement and general negative propaganda against Ed Miliband, scaremongering hysterically about the prospect of a Labour-SNP deal, and, over decades, instilling the population with a harsh, brutally individualistic neoliberal view of the world that automatically favours the Tories.
If Miliband-led Labour had been more right-wing economically, more focused on winning over the ‘aspirational’ middle-class and even less bothered about the wellbeing of its traditional support base, the Lib Dems still would’ve collapsed, UKIP might’ve sucked up even more ex- Labour voters, and the Scotland might’ve swung even more decisively to the SNP.
Would the press and the business community have given Labour a marginally easier ride? Possibly. Alternatively, they might’ve stuck with the Tories, who were already in power, and already delivering excellent results for our unscrupulous corporate power elite.
So why, in spite of all that, are senior Labourites insisting the party move right? Partly, it can be put down to the collective egomania that’s so classically New Labour – especially in the case of the Blairite old-guard that’s unhelpfully reappeared to try and impose its will on the party’s political direction.
You imagine that the likes of Peter Mandelson, David Miliband and Blair himself hate not being centrally important any more. They’ll take any opportunity they’re given to descend from upon high and tell the nation they were right all along.
For them, and for still-active Labour ultra-rightists like Simon Danzcuk, Rachel Reeves and Liz Kendall, advocating anything other than a shift rightwards would mean acknowledging their entire political outlook was wrong. If Ed Miliband had just lost four million votes to the Communist Party, they’d still be there saying Labour had to embrace part-privatisation of the NHS and cut taxes for the richest.
And then there’s the simple fact that for the current crop of leadership contenders, a sharp rightward tack is the easy option. It means doing what the modern Labour Party always does – shunning the gruelling, tedious business of refuting the opinion-shaping narratives of the corporate press, and just going along with them.
It’s why Liz Kendall has gone on TV and said Labour did spend too much in the Blair/Brown years. Because it’s easier than trying to explain why it didn’t. She clarified that she didn’t think New Labour’s spending was the cause of the financial crash – but funnily enough, that qualifying point didn’t make it into the Mail’s gleeful write-up.
It’s Labour’s willingness to repeatedly give in to and go along with battering, insistent Tory distortions of the truth that explains how we’ve ended up with a country obsessed with benefit fraudsters and immigrants stealing our jobs. On welfare, and on migration, just like on the economy, Labour has tried to give a slightly softer version of the Tory narrative, rather than explain why it’s hate-mongering, population-distracting, elite-serving bollocks.
If they weren’t semi-delusional megalomaniacs who want to win for the sake of winning at any cost, Labour’s leadership might realise another five years of that approach might well prove suicidal.