So here’s my analysis of what happened the last couple of days:
First of all, there’s no point blaming the people who didn’t vote (and by extension, blaming the demographic of young people who didn’t vote) for the Tories winning. as with anything where the decisions are made by the people who bother to turn up to decide, elections are won by the people who bother to turn up to vote. Nobody has any idea how the people who didn’t vote would have voted had they voted – that’s the point of them not voting, they didn’t vote because there was nobody they wanted to vote for. One can’t assume they’d have all voted Labour, just as you can’t assume they’d instead have all voted Tory, Libdem, Green, UKIP, or Christian Peoples’ Alliance (Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship). They could have voted to entrench a Tory majority even further as likely as they could have voted to bring about a Labour government.
There’s also no point blaming the Tory newspapers – whilst its true that newspapers form an essential part in forming opinion, ultimately newspapers are in the sales business; they know that if they present opinion which veers too far away from the opinion of their customer base, their customers will leave for an alternative product. The other reason why there’s no point blaming the Tory newspapers is people don’t read newspapers at anything like the level they used to – and of course, us in the social media advocacy world have spent the last five years banging on about how social media is now more important than traditional media. We can’t have it both ways. The third reason there’s no point in blaming the Tory newspapers is that’s actually a very dangerous proposition, philosophically speaking – if one is claiming that The Voters are so stupid and feeble-minded they are so easily brainwashed in to voting the way their newspapers tell them to vote, then you’re essentially claiming that Voters are too stupid to be trusted with the vote, and that electoral democracy needs to be suspended.
I think it’s incorrect to say the voters have blamed the Libdems for going into coalition. If that was the case, all their voters from 2010 would have switched back to Labour and delivered a Labour victory; Jon Bounds has written speculating that they’ve basically returned to where they were before the SDP. I think the Libdems have been punished, but they’ve been punished simply for being pointless – the former Labour voters, the Dems, realised they did nothing of consequence to reign in the previous Toryness so went back to Labour, and the former Liberal voters, the Libs, just realised that if they want Toryness they might as well vote Tory instead. It would be interesting to know how many of the eight survivors predate the 1987(?) formal merger of the party and which wings they all came from.
I think it’s pointless of bruised Labour activists and supporters to go into a round trying to say they lost because they were either too left wing or too right wing. Ultimately, it’s pretty clear that the Tories won because the mood of the country has moved in the direction of Toryness. Had Labour been more left wing, that wouldn’t have countered the mood of the country, and had Labour been more right wing, well they may have been in the same boat as right-leaning Libdems, and even if people had have voted for a right wing Labour, that would hardly have been of value to those of us who wished for a leftist programme.
I’ll modify that statement, though – Labour lost because the country moved to the right, *because leftists failed to make a convincing case for leftism*; what I think Labour needs to do is indeed move to the left, but as well as that the left needs to drop the rhetoric of just hating rich people, and hating ‘capitalism’, as if ‘capitalism’ is a thing. A left-leaning Labour needs to remind voters that we have healthcare and welfare because any of us can find ourselves needing it at any time; it needs to persuade voters that as well as Britain succeeding when working people are succeeding, that Britain also succeeds when it looks after people who are temporarily unfortunate, because those people will be ultimately more productive given proper time to find a proper job; it needs to persuade voters that Britain succeeds when we look after the sick, the disabled, and the unemploy[ed|able] *because doing so makes us better people*, and better people are always more successful people; it needs to persuade voters that capitalism is the row of shops on the high street and the buildings full of offices in the central business district buying things to sell to people who want to buy them and employing people to handle the buying and the selling, and it needs to persuade the owners of those shops and offices that it can work in their interests to help them work in everybody’s interests.
Which brings me to Ed Miliband. Ultimately, as the figurehead of Labour, as the person representing Labour to the voters, it’s almost entirely his fault the country moved in the direction of the Tories. I’ve never been able to get out of my head the image of him being like William Pitt the Younger calling on the Leader of the Opposition to test him on his Latin vocab in Blackadder the Third. Us educated liberals like to claim politics isn’t about personality, but the fact is, it is. It’s about leaders with the personality and charisma to persuade people to follow them, and frankly Ed Miliband has never had that; he’s never been inspiring, all the way through his career as leader he’s never had a credible counter-proposal to any Tory policy that’s relevant to most people – when he’s opposed, he’s only ever opposed in sound-bites, incapable of backing up any initially-stated opposition with any credible alternative (just saying ‘I can’t promise anything now until I get into government’). He’s allowed the Tories to own the narrative of the final Labour years in government without doing anything to counter it. On the Channel Four interview with Jeremy Paxman and questions from the audience he generally dismissed the awkward questions with ‘I don’t care’ – well sorry, it’s your job to care. He allowed the Tories to own the narrative of a possible Labour government kept together by the SNP by rather than saying ‘yes, that will be what democracy will be all about’ instead saying he’d never be in a government kept together by the SNP – the moment he did that, he sealed his fate and sealed the fate of Labour in Scotland. And sealed the state of the UK for the next five years, and probably beyond.