Why isn’t Labour working? Or more specifically, why did Ed Miliband so utterly and completely fail to make any inroads against what was at best a minimally popular coalition government and Conservative Party after five years of austerity policies?
Everyone seems to have woken up brandishing their own explanation in the wake of David Cameron’s remarkable victory. Unlike this blog, many of these captains of hindsight could typically found cheering Ed Miliband and eagerly anticipating his victory in the preceding months and years – but some of their arguments are still worth considering.
Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, comes late to the party in his realisation that Ed Miliband’s messianic view of himself as a transformative future leader of Britain masked a gaping chasm where his vision for Britain should have been:
He lost the election and the argument. If Labour doesn’t understand this, and adapt accordingly, it is in deeper trouble than even I believed.
Driven by a kind of messianic self-belief, Miliband was Labour’s most unashamedly Left-wing leader since Michael Foot, whose 1983 election defeat condemned the party to a long, painful period in the wilderness as Margaret Thatcher accelerated her transformation of Britain.
On the occasions when we met, he told me again and again that the financial crisis and the consequent Great Recession had created what he called a moment of great opportunity for the Left.
Absorbed by the work of Left-wing economists and philosophers, Miliband was convinced that the British people yearned for a more egalitarian society and a return to socialism.
Perhaps they did in Scotland, but certainly not in the seats in the Midlands, Home Counties and southern England that Labour must win if it is ever to return to power.
‘Under Miliband, we had nothing to say to the faraway towns of England,’ one senior Labour figure told me.
By which he meant, Miliband’s cerebral socialism might have been popular among metropolitan liberals but it emphatically did not resonate with the skilled working and lower middle classes in small towns in places such as Essex, Bedfordshire, Kent, Hertfordshire …
This is all true. There was a degree of intellectual superiority surround Ed Miliband’s rarefied vision of a post financial crisis Britain. And multiple journalists who have interviewed Miliband attest to this singleness of purpose and vision – albeit a purpose he never successfully explained to the British people.
But it is the misplaced stench of moral superiority, not intellectual superiority, which stands out as the most offensive of Labour’s characteristics as they fought the 2015 general election campaign.