TRIGGER WARNING: This article is a polemic. If you are a Labour supporter who likes accusing the Tories of cruelty and moral deficiency but can’t take criticism in return; if you ostentatiously signal your own virtue by policing the public discourse for “unacceptable” words and ideas while turning a blind eye to appalling real-world actions; if you think that welfare reform is “divisive” but railing against “the bankers” (meaning anyone who works to earn a good salary) is A-OK; if you think Ed Miliband was a visionary leader, ahead of his time and ultimately just too good for this unworthy country – then read on at your own risk.
PRINCIPAL TRIGGERS: Unapologetic conservatism; belief in a higher power other than the state; schadenfreude; gloating; mockery; sarcasm; deliberate overstatement; forceful language; general failure to provide a safe and non-judgmental space for processing the 2015 general election result and the scale of Labour’s defeat.
And so, not with a bang but a self-righteous whimper, Labour is collapsing from within, the party of Kier Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald publicly reducing itself to a smouldering heap of dark recrimination, bitter contempt for the electorate and tiresome more-compassionate-than-thou moral posturing.
This slow-motion, socialist car crash is utterly transfixing, especially because the man who led Labour to ruin, Ed Miliband – and many others – seriously believed he would now be prime minister of the United Kingdom, right up to the moment the exit polls dealt a deadly dose of reality. Now, it is not even certain that the party will survive to fight the 2020 election without having first splintered into warring People’s Front of Judea / Judean People’s Front factions.
It would be sad watching this once great party tear itself apart, if only it were not so very richly deserved. But Labour has spent the past five years insisting that all Tories are evil, and that those who supports conservative policies are not only acting out of narrow self-interest but are also complicit in a genocide of the poor, the sick and the disabled.
Labour’s campaign rhetoric has been consistently shrill and offensive, to the extent that one wonders how they ever planned to win an election by insulting half of the electorate. And so the Labour Party deserves to be consigned to political oblivion, for political incompetence alone. And that’s before we even get to the fact that Labour’s anti-austerity hysteria was the political equivalent of crying “wolf!”
As numerous publications and commentators have been pointing out, the pragmatic Conservative desire to gain and wield power has seen the Tories move to the left on a whole host of issues, in order to capture and hold the political centre ground. Any pretence that these were unwanted compromises forced on the Cameron government by the necessities of coalition have now been blown out of the water, with the new majority Conservative government enacting new range of policies (like international development spending targets and the national living wage) right out of the Labour playbook.
This may have been politically astute, particularly if you like your politics dull and technocratic, but it is immensely frustrating to others with greater vision and purpose, this blog included, to see conservative principle and policies blunted or swept aside time and again for the sake of political expediency. One might have thought that Labour would have taken some comfort from forcing all of these concessions out of a nominally conservative government. And yet under Ed Miliband, the Labour Party made the decision to campaign against the fairly mild-mannered Tory/LibDem coalition – and now David Cameron’s majority government – as though it were the Nazi party reborn.
On being ejected from power in May 2010, the Labour Party made a fatal decision, one which may now have existential consequences. Rather than taking stock and asking why the New Labour formula had delivered them an unprecedented thirteen years of power – and why this historical run came to an end – Labour decided that ‘business as usual’ would be enough to see off David Cameron and the Tories, bringing Labour back to power in 2015 without doing any of the hard work required to properly analyse and respond to an election defeat.
By adopting this unrepentant approach, Labour somehow managed to be appear introspective and abrasive at the same time. Rather than examine any fault of their own in government, Labour blamed their defeat squarely on the Great Recession and refused to consider that running consistent budget deficits while cranking up the size of the state so that more than half the British population were net recipients of government benefits might actually end up harming the very disadvantaged people they so ostentatiously claim to care about. The result was that every time Ed Miliband stood up to drone on about inequality, it only served to remind people that Labour had not yet acknowledged or atoned for their past mistakes.
Ed Miliband was a truly terrible leader, someone who should never have been let within five miles of Westminster politics. At a time when Labour was focusing on equality above all else, here was the idiot son of a fledgling political dynasty, full of messianic self-belief and the charisma of a bookish sixth-former, leading them to battle, wearing his total disconnection from the lives of ordinary British people like a badge of pride.
Read any of Ed Miliband’s speeches, even the rare few which won praise from political pundits, and you are struck by the total lack of intellectual coherence or burning sense of purpose behind the words. Predators vs producers was not a governing philosophy, it was a glib catchphrase. The mansion tax was not a bold attempt at redrawing fiscal policy, it was an envious club with which to bash London and the south-east of England. Droning on about “inequality” was pointless, because Miliband never defined the word. Protesting against “tax cuts for millionaires” (but really anyone on a six-figure income) only served to highlight the fact that Labour is totally incapable of distinguishing between non-dom billionaires and high-performing headteachers and doctors who work hard for every penny of their salary.
But Ed Miliband’s mismanagement of the Labour Party is nothing compared to the carnival of incompetence that the contest to replace him has become. The Labour leadership contest has suffered from Day 1 from its lack of heavyweight candidates – the fact that people now look back with nostalgia on Chuka Umunna’s short-lived candidacy shows the extent to which the heavyweight bar has already been lowered. But putting aside the fact that the four candidates are no more charismatic than their former boss, in ideological terms there is virtually nothing to distinguish the two people supposed to be front-runners.
Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper are virtually identical, Liz Kendall at least understands the scale of Labour’s challenge but has little experience and is hated by the activist base, and Jeremy Corbyn – for all the much needed variety he brings to the race – feels he has more in common with Gerry Adams and Hamas than your average British Tory voter.
Two bland non-entities, a political pariah and a communist – those are essentially the choices on offer when Labour Party supporters pick their next leader. None of these people will cross the threshold of Number 10 Downing Street in May 2020 as the next prime minister of the United Kingdom – deep down, we all know that much.
Things might be different if Liz Kendall was not the only candidate with the desire to lead, rather than follow, her party. Were Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper only brave enough to join Kendall in telling some hard truths to the party faithful, this could yet be an interesting contest. But her rivals see more potential in sitting back and allowing Liz Kendall to be destroyed by a party base in denial, hoping to pick up her voters’ second preference selections. And this leads to the question: if Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper behave with such cowardice while seeking the leadership of their party, what kind of leadership are they capable of providing the country?
Labour’s current infighting over the government’s Welfare Bill is therefore only a taste of what is yet to come if the Labour Party continues pandering to the hysterical Left while also seeking to be a mature party of opposition and credible future government. Look how Andy Burnham twisted himself in knots, first making a big public show of his opposition to Harriet Harman’s decision to abstain during the vote, before ultimately going on to abstain himself, simultaneously losing credibility from the centre and supporters from the Left.
But this is a crisis entirely of Labour’s own making. They spent the past five years telling their supporters that they were right to feel rage against the Evil Tories, that conservatives do not simply have a different vision for achieving a just and prosperous society, but rather that they actively delight in persecuting the weak and the poor. Labour politicians, from Ed Miliband on downwards, helped to create the very beast – hysterical, reactionary, anti-austerity rage – which now threatens to devour the party from within.
I return to the words of one angry young Labour supporter, who lashed out violently against the British people in the aftermath of Ed Miliband’s crushing defeat:
I am angry. So angry. And I will take that anger to the streets when I can. I promise this. Because I’ll be mostly okay under a Tory government; I have a job, a home and a wonderful network of family and friends around as support. But I didn’t vote for me. I voted for society. Tory voters did not. Tory voters could not give a shit about anyone but themselves and their wallets. And I hate each and every one of you for this.
Such bitter invective might be natural among disappointed activists who gave everything to an election campaign and came up short. But in general, British conservatives do not see the world in such black and white, good vs evil terms. Since British conservatives are accustomed to operating in a hostile environment, they understand that political opponents may disagree with them for honest reasons, for motivations other than pure malice or hatred of the people. But even if conservative activists did feel and say such intemperate things, it would still never be picked up and reflected in the tone of the parliamentary party the way that glib anti-Tory hatred is so common in the Labour party.
So irrational and reflexive has this Tory-hatred become that the Labour Party and their left-wing allies are coming to resemble the American Tea Party, with furious and bitter activists pushing their elected representatives toward ever-crazier policies and statements which question the very morality of those who disagree with them. In America, the Tea Party tried to claim the very Constitution for itself, declaring that those who opposed them were somehow unpatriotic or disloyal to America. The Republican Party tried to ride this wave of Tea Party fervour back to the White House. And then President Obama handily won a second term.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has spent the past five years loudly and repeatedly telling every British conservative voter that they are morally deficient, callous and evil, that they were motivated solely by greedy economic self interest, and that they are essentially the scum of the earth. Meanwhile, they painted themselves as compassionate and virtuous warriors, fighting on behalf of the weak and the dispossessed. And now David Cameron has the first outright Conservative majority government since 1997.
It’s time to wake up.
But Labour does not want to wake up, or acknowledge these hard truths. Something residing deep within the heart of every Jeremy Corbyn or Andy Burnham supporter whispers to them that if only they insult the British people a little bit more, if only they continue to paint moderate centre-right policies as a deliberate holocaust of the sick and the poor, that we will all suddenly see the error of our ways and rally around the Red Flag. But it’s not going to happen.
Labour now has three options: they can try to move Britain’s centre of political gravity further to the left (tip: intellectually coherent arguments rather than insults will be required for this Herculean task), they can sink deeper and deeper into their emotional comfort blanket of blind rage and blanket opposition (the status quo), or they can actually choose to deal with Britain as it is, rather than how they would like it to be.
Personally, I couldn’t care less which path they take. After having been told for five years that my political views are callous and selfish – mostly by smug, middle-class career politicians who wouldn’t know real hunger, sickness or poverty if it smacked them around their smug, boastful faces – I am happy to grab my popcorn and sit back while the disaster movie unfolds. As far as I am concerned, they can all suffer and roar.
But for the avoidance of living in a one-party state, it might be nice if the Labour Party could at some point come back to its senses. This doesn’t mean abandoning long-cherished ideas or necessarily voting for the candidate closest to the current Tory positions. But it does mean accepting that building a socialist New Jersusalem in Britain will be the work of decades, not months. And even if the Labour Party commits itself to this task, and is willing to lose another two or three elections in the process, it is highly likely that they will be supplanted by a new party of centre-left pragmatists before achieving their goal.
Britain has just elected the first majority Conservative government since 1997. If Labour really wants to win back power in 2020, it will require meeting the country more than half way in terms of the gulf which now exists between the party’s moralising activists and the ordinary British people.
And if they are serious about this 2020 comeback, the incessant bitching and infighting will need to stop almost as soon as the new leader is chosen, so that they can get on with the hard business of atoning for years of past Labour failings in government before carefully picking their battles with David Cameron and George Osborne.
On the other hand, if Labour truly believe that their unimpeachable ethics and moral virtue cannot be sullied by accepting any of the policies demanded by the 15 million people who voted Conservative or UKIP in 2015, if they would prefer to sit out the next fifteen years in the political wilderness waiting for the British people to realise the error of their ways, then by all means they should continue behaving exactly as they are.
They will not be missed.