Philip Whiteley's Blog

December 13, 2019

Why Labour failed

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 3:26 pm

Some observations on why Labour failed. Plus some ideas on what they should have done instead.

Failure of analysis – Austerity was caused by taxpayers taking on the cost of the banking collapses. It wasn’t caused by ‘Tory cuts’. This is like blaming the broken glass and mangled metal for the car crash.

Failure of policy-making – Because Labour either failed to analyse properly the cause of austerity, or deliberately misled the public about it (I’ve no idea which of these it was), it was unable to develop a coherent policy response. Instead it kept making a list of spending commitments. Pledging to increase government borrowing during a debt crisis was deeply unconvincing. Working class folk without a college degree could see this, sophisticated progressives could not. Now, there’s an irony.

Absence of strategy – Successful political leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have a strategy for all aspects of the economy and society. I wasn’t a huge fan of either of theirs, and they were certainly too deferential to the financial services industry, but at least they had a vision and plan. Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn did not. They just had a list of public sector spending commitments. It’s. Not. The. Same.

Banging on about the NHS in a mawkish and dishonest manner – At every general election since 1951 Labour has warned the public that the NHS is not safe in Tory hands. I vividly recall Michael Meacher in 1987 turning to look at the TV camera and make this warning. Five years later Neil Kinnock offered us the embarrassingly mawkish tale of Jennifer’s Ear. Five years after that, after 18 continuous years of Conservative government, we still had the NHS. In 2019 Labour leaflets made the same warning. One of these elections it may actually be true, but clearly when the teacher told the tale of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, future Labour activists were not paying attention.

Refusing to accept the referendum result – In this, the Liberal Democrats were more to blame and at least Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Lavery and Caroline Flint tried to warn their colleagues against condescension towards working class voters who voted Leave, but they were overruled. Just think: if Labour had voted through Theresa May’s deal a year ago, Boris Johnson would not have become Prime Minister, and the Conservatives would not have a big majority. Massive fail. (I voted Remain, by the way, but you can’t pick and choose which elections to respect. Our side won in 1975).

Failure of tone – Many of the tweets by left-leaning commentators have been nasty and accusing towards anyone who voted Conservative, or Leave; the gist being they loved seeing children go hungry or without health care and that they’re all racist. The tone was often venomous and threatening. If the Tories really were all evil, and if Labour’s policies really would have ended austerity, this would almost have been excusable. But they’re not and they wouldn’t. See above.

What should Labour have done instead? – Acknowledged that austerity was caused by banking failures. This should have been easy because it was, after all, the Thatcherite deregulated financial system that partially failed. Labour should have proposed a financial services transaction tax to reimburse taxpayers who bailed out the banks, encouraged long-term capital investment, and promised restraint in public sector spending while rebalancing the economy. If necessary, minor additional tax increases on the wealthiest could have shielded those most vulnerable from the impact of austerity, without scaring away business.

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