…writes David Mackie
The Labour battle lines are forming. On one side, Lord Mandelson and his Blairite crew are advocating a shunt back to the centre. Meanwhile, the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has today said that Labour weren’t radical enough in their election offering. “Radicalism would have meant taking railways back into public ownership, for example, or challenging the City’s grip on the economy.”
It’s sinking in: the Tories have won outright power again and, alongside their allies in the media, they did it very efficiently. As well as traducing Miliband in every aspect of his character, home and family, they ran a campaign based upon fear. Fear of Scotland, fear of Europe, fear of the poor, fear of Islam. They understand that fear, though ultimately less powerful than hope, is far more abundant and much easier to stoke. And they did it over a period of years, not months, which, as Alistair Campbell said on last week’s Question Time, is how elections are won.
Miliband seems like a very nice man; witty and self-deprecating, with his heart in the right place, but he played too fair. He played the ball, not the man. He didn’t stand a chance. Hard as it is to believe, most people don’t watch Question Time, or Newsnight, or BBC Parliament. Opinions are formed by a trickle-down effect and Miliband, subjected to a five year media flaying, just wasn’t seen as prime ministerial. He grew in confidence and stature in the few months before the election, but this transformation simply wasn’t seen by those who had already had their opinions formed.
According to Labour campaigners on the doorstep, this issue kept coming up: Miliband wasn’t a ‘leader’. Labour didn’t lose the election because their policies didn’t chime with the ‘aspiring middle’, as the Blairites are beginning to proclaim. They had some great ideas on things like private rental controls and energy market reform. They were nuanced ideas, and not painted in particularly broad strokes, but there was a strong sense of social justice at their core. The product was OK, but the packaging was wrong.
The issue for Labour now is who to pick to lead the fight against Boris Johnson in five years’ time. The man is as cuddly as a bear, as slippery as an eel, and as cold as a snake. Labour won’t win on issues. They have to start playing the Tories’ game. It’s time to go for the jugular. Johnson is a hardline rightwinger with a very colourful past. If Labour can eviscerate him, all sorts of things might come tumbling out.
Andy Burnham might be ok. Yvette Cooper and Chukka Umunna too, though she is an automaton and he a bit young. What Labour really need is a George Galloway. A bristling ball of caustic fury, a charismatic attack dog of the left. Heck, I hear the real George is looking for a job.
In reality, the optimal candidate to my mind would be none of these, but Caroline Flint, who has regrettably put herself forward for the deputy leader role against Tom Watson. She’s brilliant. Watching her debate Tories is to see them become little schoolboys again. She sneers at them, laughs in their faces, calls them ‘cute’. She’s experienced yet youthful, and also very popular, trebling her majority in her Don Valley seat last week.
Some on the left feel that this whole discussion is redundant. In an increasingly atomised, apathetic society where a third of people don’t bother voting anyway, they argue that support must be built from the ground up, through community engagement, tending to the grassroots. It might take years, even generations, but it’s the only way. They say that campaigns should be fought on positivity, not personality.
Surely 2015 is the year in which it was proved that that just isn’t how power is won. By all means politicians should campaign on a message of hope, but they should never be afraid to get their hands dirty. Play the men, not the balls. Better yet, take the men by the balls. It really doesn’t matter what you got into public service to achieve. If you lose, it was all for nothing.