Comment: Labour didn’t lose the election because of Scotland

Miliband ditched New Labour but, beyond a basket of populist gimmicks he struggled to find anything with which to replace it


Labour leader Ed Miliband didn’t ultimately confound expectations; instead he appears to have confirmed the worst fears of his harshest critics. The psephology of the past four weeks, predicting neck and neck polls and a hung parliament, turned out to be wildly inaccurate; in the secrecy of the polling booth, pencil in hand, millions of so-called ‘shy Tories’ braced themselves and put a cross next to a Conservative candidate.

Pundits have been waiting for weeks for the Tory surge in the polls, the surge which supposedly comes with incumbency and familiarity. And it did come, but not until the day of the election once the entire Westminster village had already bet the house on a hung parliament and prepared for weeks of arduous coalition negotiations.

The Conservatives have thumped Labour and David Cameron will return to office with a mandate to push through policies far more extreme than anything seen in the past five years. That’s not to say we weren’t warned. According to a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, George Osborne’s austerity programme for the next parliament will see Britain endure a tighter tax and spending squeeze than any other major economy. £12 billion in welfare cuts will hit the most vulnerable members of society.

Such has been the electoral massacre of Liberal Democrat MPs that the party’s involvement in future coalitions of any sort are in doubt. Vince Cable was deposed by the voters of west London, former leader Charles Kennedy is gone, as are Danny Alexander, David Laws and Simon Hughes. Nick Clegg clung on – just – though the scale of his party’s collapse means he will almost certainly step down in the coming days.

The nearest historical precedent for Labour’s dismal performance is 1992, when Conservative Prime Minister John Major thrashed Neil Kinnock despite Labour holding a narrow poll lead right up until the election. Much like then, the apparent closeness of the race in the lead up to the vote appears to have played into Tory hands, alerting hostile sections of the electorate to the fact that Labour could actually win.

Kinnock, though, never had to deal with a thriving Scottish National Party. Whereas Scotland was once solid Labour territory, today the party looks set to be wiped out. Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is gone, and this election’s Portillo moment came when Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary and Election Coordinator Douglas Alexander lost his seat to a fresh-faced 20 year-old from the Scottish National Party.

And yet it would be a mistake to claim the election was lost in Scotland. Labour has performed disastrously right across the UK due to a lacklustre campaign that was big on financial bean counting but devoid of vision. Miliband ditched New Labour but, beyond a basket of populist gimmicks he struggled to find anything with which to replace it. He paid lip service to inequality but convinced few people that he had the mettle to challenge it. He zigzagged on immigration in an attempt to please everyone and predictably pleased no-one. As for foreign policy – well, did anybody even know?

Faced with a resurgent Conservative party that will now believe it has carte blanche to hack away at what’s left of the welfare state, the General Election isn’t just a calamity for the Labour party; it’s a disaster for the country. Think more food banks, bourgeoning inequality and a further deterioration of the NHS. Nick Clegg may have been the left-wing bogeyman of the last five years, but we may look back on the recent coalition as a period of civility and restraint when compared to what’s about to follow.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

101 Responses to “Comment: Labour didn’t lose the election because of Scotland”

  1. Keith M

    Tories are lower than vermin. Pity there are so many selfish people in this country who don’t give a shit.

  2. Ringstone

    Until Labour are trusted to balance the books, and that’s a project of years not just a last minute conversion on the way to the polls, they are unelectable. Before they can spend on the laudable aims they profess, as well as the priming of special interest groups of which they are widely accused, someone has to generate that wealth. No Government has ever added a penny worth to GDP, they get money by taxing wealth generators.
    Labour should, while cutting down on blatant tax evasion, etc, be wedded to facilitating these wealth creators and letting them keep a healthy slice of what they’ve produced – so they produce more. Does anyone think the current Labour offer fits that bill? The electorate clearly didn’t.

  3. Gerschwin


  4. Kryten2k35

    We had superb growth from 2008-2010. What happened in 2010?

  5. robertcp

    This result might not be that different to what has happened in the United States. Labour and the Republican were in power at the time of the financial crisis, while the Conservatives and the Democrats have won both elections since the crisis.

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