This post is dedicated to a friend of mine who was so appalled at Labour’s recent performance, that despite being a lifelong Labour supporter and still feeling the need to go to the ballot box, he deliberately spoilt his voting slip rather than vote for any of the parties that were on offer…
On the 2nd May 1997, Tony Blair’s ‘new’ Labour election victory was epitomised by the D:REAM hit, “Things Can Only Get Better”. The same soundtrack, may also have been used for Gordon Brown’s atrocious local elections defeat exactly ten years later on the 2nd May last week. Obviously it would have had to have been used in a more ironic way, but even then the irony might be stretching the point just a little too much still. That is, not if the Labour – ‘old’ or ‘new’ – continue to disconnect itself from an increasingly despairing and disparaging electorate.
Was it though any surprise to lifelong Labour voters like myself?
Of course not, the writing had been on the walls ever since Gordon Brown gifted David Cameron the upper hand last year when he dilly dallied over whether or not to take the country to the ballot boxes by calling for a General Election. Since then, Brown has gone into free-fall and with him, so too a party that is beginning to look increasingly like John Major’s Tories little more than a decade ago.
Since the Genral Election fiasco we’ve had the sharp downturn in the economy and the entirely unacceptable debacle around the abolition of the 10p tax threshold, a despicable policy that for many of Labour’s core voters was the final nail in the coffin. Opinion polls and radio phone-ins last week all suggested that traditional and lifelong Labour voters were prepared to: not bother voting; take the ‘easy’ option of voting ‘Lib Dem’, ‘Green’ or ‘Respect’; or most worryingly, break the habit of a lifetime and vote for the Conservatives. As the Guardian put it last Saturday, nobody seems to know what Labour stands for and when you have David Cameron and his Tory cohorts campaigning for lower tax rates for those on low incomes, you know that not only is that true but that something also just isn’t right.
Even more worrying is the fact that analysts are suggesting that in traditional Labour heartlands, voters are ditching the party in preference of the British National Party (BNP). In an article on the BBC website by Dominic Casciani, it states:
The BNP’s strategy has increasingly seen it focus…on a subtle blend of tensions relating to feelings of disregarded “entitlement” in communities that would have long been considered core Labour supporters…
…The key to understanding the BNP’s attraction is perhaps more easily found in places like Nuneaton, which Labour lost after three decades of control.
The BNP did not sweep to power – but it won two councillors. Up and down the country the party appears to make very small gains when traditional Labour voters stay at home.
For the core voters that abandoned the Labour party last week, many feel that the Party they have been loyal to have once and for all abandoned them. Central to the ‘new’ Labour mentality has been the pandering to the metropolitan middle classes and the tabloid gorging masses of Middle England in order to get their votes and by default, a majority in Parliament. The problem with this approach though is that the Party believed that its core voters would remain loyal no matter how much they were overlooked and quite irrespective of how badly they were treated.
Ministers now have no connections or roots with the people and communities they have come to represent, have no idea about how to re-engage with them and so aimlessly spout on about how a better ‘presentation’ of their policies will make everything right again before the next election. National policies, national decisions and national disasters have, and indeed are, continuing to take their toll.
Now is not a time for more spin, requiring much more than the suggestion by those such as Ed Balls (the children, schools and families secretary) that the Party needs to convince people “that we are on their side”. Now is the time finally lay to rest the terminally ill ‘new’ Labour body and replace it with a newly invigorated and undeniably progressive Party that is comfortable and proud of its traditional Labour values, genuinely reinterpreting and clearly articulating them for today’s – and tomorrow’s – 21st century Britain.