Friday, December 13, 2019

The Morning After the Election Before

I ended up watching Holiday Inn on Film Four this afternoon.  I needed some escapism to wash away the bad taste of that election result.  These days probably isn't as well remembered as the late White Christmas, which also starred Bing Crosby and involved an inn in New England, but Holiday Inn is significant for being the film where the song 'White Christmas' was first heard, (twice, in fact).  It's all reassuringly familiar: Bing Crosby loses one girl to best pal Fred Astaire meets another and nearly loses her to Fred as well, but woos her back through a combination of laid back pipe smoking and crooning.  Everybody ends up happy and all is well with the world.  If only real life could be like a Hollywood musical, eh?  But sadly, it isn't.  All too often, we don't get the happy endings we desire.  Obviously, I'm disappointed (to put it mildly) with the general election result, but not really surprised.  I briefly allowed myself to hope that we might see a repeat of the miracle of 2017, when Labour came from behind to deny the Tories an outright majority, but it was all in vain.  Over the next few days and weeks we're all going to be subjected to all manner of analyses, post-mortems and recriminations over what went wrong for Labour.  On top of that we'll be bombarded with every columnist and commentator telling us what Labour should do next. 

As always in such situations (and I've experienced a few in my time) I'm drawn back to the final moments of the film version of The Quatermass Experiment.  As Brian Donlevy's Quatermass strides away from Westminster Abbey, where he has just fried his former colleague turned monster to death, his assistant calls after him, asking what he's going to do now - without looking back, Quatermass just growls 'Start again'.  The film's final image is of his new rocket launching skywards.  Because that's all we can do: get back up, reassess the situation and find a new line of attack.  Which doesn't mean ditching your principles or core policies, just finding a better way to present and implement them.  Like it or not, in today's media obsessed world, presentation matters.  Most of all, you have to persuade people who are not committed to your cause that your policies will benefit them.  Labour has spent far too much time over the past few years preaching to the converted.  With the Tories lurching to the right, Labour has an opportunity to try and reclaim the centre ground of British politics.  I don't mean that they should become a 'new' New Labour, but there are ways to make their policies more palatable to this middle ground without compromising them completely.

Most of all, the multitude of online Labour chatterers have to accept that they aren't representative of the traditional working class Labour voter. The latter are, in general, socially conservative and not 'progressive' in the way that the 'Twitterati' like to think they are.  The must also now accept that a large part of Labour's problem lay with its leadership.  Nobody is saying that Jeremy Corbyn isn't a decent human being.  Clearly he is, but he is no leader.  His lack of decisiveness has proven fatal to Labour's electoral chances.  Why should the electorate trust someone who can't even seem to be able to take decisive action over allegations of anti-Semitism in his own party.  His sitting on the fence over Brexit was symptomatic of the problem.  All too often, it seemed that his strategy was to try and hope that difficult situations would resolve themselves without him having to take a decision, because making a decision might alienate someone.  But that's the nature of politics - you are always going alienate someone, but that shouldn't prevent you from being decisive.  His unpopularity with large swathes of the electorate, particularly among traditional Labour supporters, was also a huge handicap.  It's no good saying that it shouldn't matter, that politics shouldn't be a popularity contest, because that's exactly what elections are.  And don't get me started on all that nonsense from his camp about a 'gentler, kinder politics' - that went well in the face of a Tory campaign of lies and smears, didn't it?  Politics is brutal and you have to be prepared to fight fire with fire.  By which I don't mean that you have to lie yourselves, but that you have to be prepared to exploit any weakness in your opponents.  If they throw a handful shit, you have to respond with two handfuls.

Anyway, it isn't my intention to conduct an in depth post-mortem on yesterday's debacle for Labour.  God knows there's already enough of that going on in social media.  I've already seen the 'Twitterati' start turning on the Labour Remainers blaming them, because if only they'd let Jeremy 'honour' the Brexit referendum result he wouldn't have lost those Labour leavers in the North.  Yeah, it's everybodys but their fault, or even worse, Corbyn's fault.  We really need to avoid this game of trying to avoid culpability.  It is also over-simplistic to try and pin it all one single cause.  It wasn't entirely down to Brexit, or to Corbyn or any other individual factor, it is far more complex than that.  The fact is that in the 1990s and 2000s Labour redefined first itself, then British politics,  It did so by modernising itself and finding a way of bringing its message into line with the aspirations of a majority of voters.  Which sounds obvious, but it is something that Labour has subsequently failed to do since losing power in 2010.  They lost then because they were too closely identified with the financial crash, had a an indecisive leader and, frankly, were out of ideas and losing touch.  They lost again in 2015 because the then party establishment thought they needed to 'out Tory' the Tories rather than following Ed Milliband's instinct to present a proper alternative to austerity.  They did better in 2017 because they rode the wave of anti-Brexit feeling, but ultimately failed to understand that.  This time, they lost because their leadership seemed incapable of convincing the electorate that they could deliver on their policies.  So, like I said, we need to 'star again' - new leader, new approach.

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