As the aftermath of the 2015 general election begins to subside I’m left with a gnawing sense of guilt. I can’t help but consider the notion that on some level I knew what was coming.. . I feel as though I’ve offered tacit consent to some dream-like state of mass self-delusion.
Allow me to be frank. I’m not and haven’t been, despite making some efforts, a huge fan of Ed. Milliband. I’ve found him to lack both gravitas and charisma. More frustratingly I’ve found myself on numerous occasions, over the course of this campaign, howling in frustration at various screens when from my perspective Ed’s failed, yet again, to craft a successful narrative with which to challenge the Tories. From my side of the sofa the obvious and effective narrative would have been to become advocate for the sense of righteous indignation that seems to remain locked like an underground spring deep within the majority of voters. This past parliament has presided over some astounding growths in inequality; after all this has been a parliament when the growth of food-banks has outstripped the growth of average earnings whilst an incumbent ruling elite feels able to label others as ‘plebs’.
My gut feeling is that the British people spent an awful lot of time waiting for someone to speak-up, to speak-up for fairness. To boldly dismiss talk of a wide-spread entitlement culture, to bring the worst excesses of capitalism to heel and to reassure voters that one’s ability to pay needn’t correlate directly with one’s access to health-care, education, internships or the ability to avoid the payment of one’s taxes. We waited for the calm, brave voices to remind us that Khan and Patel are the most common surnames for general practitioners in this country when the ever vexatious question of immigration wass raised. Seriously, a bedroom tax on the same page as a cut to inheritance tax and a Labour leadership rendered too impotent to recognise and successfully prosecute that inequity. We waited for someone to speak out against the knock-down, knock-off sale of Royal Mail at below market rates to the Tories friends in the city, the increasing marketisation of education and the laughable realities of the Free-School fetish. Worse still, when that voice was finally raised it sounded hollow and and it sounded resentful. The Labour party managed to convince no one that it recognised, let alone understood or matched their aspirations.
The timidity of the Labour party was also brought into focus by the somewhat obvious scare-mongering surrounding the Scottish Nationalists. Instead of having the conviction to assert that it has and always will seeks to build a broad, progressive consensus and will work constructively with any party to progress elements of a common agenda the Labour party was simply out-manoeuvred. Slickly outplayed yet again and put on the back-foot quicker than Vince Cable doing a Fox-Trot.
Another factor that simply can’t be ignored is Labour’s seeming inability to recognise the scepticism that people have for the political classes. By having a shadow-cabinet dominated by those that have trudged along the unimaginative path of a PPE degree followed by a few years as a special advisor before being anointed as a PPC the Labour party has robbed itself of two fundamentals. Firstly it denies itself the legitimate moral authority to challenge an incumbent Tory party unapologetic in its flaunting of the trappings of inherited power and wealth. Plebgate, the defence of its off-shore backers and the juxtaposition of the ‘Black and White Ball’ with austerity Britain show clearly the true allegiances of the Tories, despite the ‘In it together’ rhetoric. Secondly and just as worryingly the homogenisation of the Labour Party has denied it the ability for self-renewal that fresh ideas, diverse experience and genuine pluralism would afford it.
The threats to the Labour party are in danger of converging into a perfect storm. The shifting patterns of voting in the UK, the decline of tribal political loyalty, the perhaps permanent loss of the buttressing effects of Scottish seats, the redrawing of constituency boundaries, the danger of another sterile inward-looking leadership debate all conspire to confine the Labour party to the political wilderness for a worryingly long time. Unless a radical overhaul of its leadership occurs, skipping over an entire generation of professional politicians and their unattractive sense of entitlement, unless its prepared to admit that it has drifted far from the hopes and fears of most people I worry that the very future of the Labour party may be cast into doubt.