As I write this, the election hasn’t – quite – been called, but it’s apparent that the Tories have won.
And already the Left is tearing itself apart trying to find a reason for this. Blaming the Greens, for splitting the Left vote. Blaming Labour, for not being Left wing enough. Blaming the SNP, for taking Scotland.
But none of these arguments are based on the election data; they’re just repeats of the arguments we had before the election – rows based on preconceptions & assumptions, rather than facts.
So: how did Labour – and the Left in general – lose this election?
It wasn’t the SNP
The SNP took Scotland. The words ‘historical’ and ‘earthquake’ are overused in politics – but the SNP’s success in this election genuinely merits such rhetoric; they had a phenomenal night.
But, in terms of influencing the overall election result: this success didn’t do anything. The seats the SNP took were largely Labour seats (with the occasional LibDem seat thrown in). The SNP haven’t ‘taken’ seats from Labour, nor have they ‘given’ power to the Tories. These remain anti-Tory, left-wing seats.
They need an English left-wing majority to meaningfully affect the UK government; they aren’t enabling the Tories in any way, shape or form.
It wasn’t the Greens
Since the SDP many on the Left have worried about splitting the Left-wing vote. The Greens certainly couldhave done so this time – but the evidence shows that they did not.
None of Labour’s failed target seats could have been gained if every Green voter had voted Labour instead – with the exception of Brighton Pavilion, which the Greens won (and which therefore remains an anti-Tory seat).
The occasional Labour seat loss (most notably that of Ed Balls) could have been salvaged if Green voters had voted Labour instead – but those seats are razor-edge close for another reason:
It’s not Labour “not being Left wing enough”
In every one of Labour’s failed target seats, the left-wing vote (Labour + Green + others) was smaller than the right wing vote (Tory + UKIP) – usually quite significantly so.
That’s not the electorate telling us that they wish Labour were more left-wing, no matter how much we may wish it to be so. That’s the electorate voting for parties & policies which are actively and openly right-winginstead.
The problem now, therefore, is what do we do?
There will be some who look at this and say that Labour should of course move to the right – as that’s where the votes are.
Part of the problem with this is that they’ve done that before & failed – the electorate rejected it as recently as 2010.
But the biggest problem with that is that even if Labour move rightward (“one step to the left of the Tories”) and hoover up enough votes to get elected… what’s the point? If the party has to adopt UKIP’s immigration policy and the Tory NHS & Welfare policies to get elected… then we may as well just leave things as they are.
(I certainly don’t want a Labour Party that exists in name only; I want a Labour Party that delivers left-wing policies & moves us in a leftward direction)
And on the flip-side, Labour moving ever more leftward will certainly lose them votes – can we really tolerate an eternal opposition? Is it enough to have some representation in the Parliament of a nation which, it becomes increasingly apparent, is moving ever-more to the Right? Isn’t that just a different kind of futility?
I’m writing this in a particularly gloomy mood, having just watched a government I detest regain power – so there may be a silver lining that I’m not seeing.
But at the moment, for me, things seem to be very no-win for the Left in England.