Ok. First off, the famous exit poll did not come as a shock. Least of all did I promise to eat my hat if it was right. I think I can make a claim to being the least surprised person in the country at the result of the recent General Election. Not the least of my many regrets is not popping down to William Hill to make the easiest money ever available with a substantial bet on a Tory majority. As I told you on March 28th and February 14th, the Tories would win because they had persuaded people that their opponents were unfit to be entrusted with the national budget, and austerity was the way forward. This was tosh when they said it, and was tosh each time they repeated it, and hearing the latest Nobel Laureate say it is tosh is little consolation.
Which is not to say that Labour’s incompetence didn’t help. Not the economic performance 2008-10, which you can argue was actually quite good: the UK was growing faster in the quarter before the 2010 election than it was before the 2015 election. No, it was the electoral performance. It was clear years before the election that the party’s leader was not up to it. In personal terms, Ed Miliband seems a pleasant man, and he coped as well as most with the hail of personal abuse from the billionaire owned media. But he was never comfortable in the role, never able to front up to the Conservative PR machine. The fact that much of the attack was unfair should not blind one to the way that much of it was accurate: he was never felt by the public to be the match of the oily faced spiv in Downing Street. The Labour Party is a sentimental old group, and they are never as quick as the Tories in giving the bullet to losers. Think Foot. Think Brown, if you will, for he was plainly a liability from 2008 onwards. You may say that it would only have made a few percentage points of difference, but that is all it needs.
The economy was the battle ground, and that is why it mattered that his economic side-kick, Ed Balls, was even more appalling. I think I knew all was lost when I attended a Labour Party function at which he was the lead attraction; deeply unimpressive. His economic ‘plans’ consisted of raiding this small pot here to pay for this small project there. The Tories may have had the economics of the handbag, Balls went for the economics of the piggy bank. No wonder he lost his seat. There was never a counter-attack on the “Labour ruined the economy” lie. Andrew Marr puts it better than I can in the New Statesman:
The ever more glazed and convoluted attempts by the two Eds to avoid saying that they had overspent while in office is a good example.
There was a perfectly rational way of dealing with this. They could have said: “Look, the overspending was relatively minor in historic terms and was supported by almost everybody at the time. And be very careful of describing the building of new hospitals, schools and nurseries as ‘profligate’ or ‘waste’: our alleged overspending has given Britain places where children are currently learning and their grandparents are having heart operations. It’s not like blowing too much money on your credit card in B&Q.
“At the time, none of us knew – not you, not the government, not David Cameron or George Osborne – that an obscure housing crisis in Middle America was going to bring down the entire banking system.”
They could have said that. They didn’t.
Another example. My last post is about the man who challenged Miliband by saying the Treasury was like his household budget. This is not a rare belief, and it should not have come as unexpected. Miliband could have riposted with any of the points that I made. But he didn’t.
If we put it in football terms – why was our team relegated – things can be compartmentalized. At the back, the defence against the accusations of spendthrift policies was poor. Up front, we got no goals from the guy we selected to be our main striker (Miliband). But the main problem was the lack of a creative midfield. Where were the penetrating ideas that could have unlocked the election ? I don’t buy the idea that Labour was anti-business: name one policy that would have worked to the disadvantage of business (as opposed to rich people). The allegation that Labour deterred ‘aspirational’ people seems curious. Nurses aspiring to a new fridge, or office workers aspiring to an affordable rail fare might have seen much to like in the Labour offer. For what it’s worth, such information as we have (who trusts polls any more ?) suggests that more working people voted Labour than Tory:
What is more, some polls said that voters – even those who switched to Tory – felt Labour was if anything too weak on business. Nevertheless, the idea that Labour, if not hostile to wealth creation, had nothing to say about it, was widely held. It’s reported in the Andrew Marr article above. There was no sense of generating economic growth through an imaginative national effort. People could have been turned away from the idiocy of austerity with a cogent argument that we can’t rebuild and re-energise the country as long as we are worrying about penny pieces. They may well have agreed when told that more skills and competitiveness demands easier entry to college and university, not less. Someone could have reminded them that this was the government that slashed adult training to pay for cuts in beer and whisky tax. They would have nodded if reminded that Osborne had missed almost all of his economic targets: this was, after all, the man who claims to have a long-term economic plan and promised to have a balanced budget by 2015. Yet it was Osborne who was the one to mention the importance of northern regeneration in the election. Bloody Osborne !
An example of this presentational amateurism can this week when it was announced that inflation has dropped to zero. Labour’s response was “that’s all very well, but many are still struggling to make ends meet”, a slightly whining tone that makes economic events sound like weather – predictable but unavoidable. A response along the lines of “this government has missed its target for six months running – and their incompetence is making it more difficult than ever to small business to find profitable opportunities to expand” would have put down two markers – we care about growth, and the current lot are not delivering it.
I’ll come back to all this when I have the time and when the blog.com software deigns to let me access my space. There are bits I understand well – why ‘shy Tory’ people might feel ashamed to admit to pollsters why they are voting for Cameron – and much that I do not understand at all – where does Scottish Nationalism come from, for heaven’s sake ? But my main moral, that the election was lost on the economy, and the currency of mistaken ideas that our problems were caused by (and would be made worse by) Labour’s economic policies, remains, and that was due to the two Ed’s inability to contest this nonsense consistently, and strongly.