So, the dust is beginning to settle on the shock Election outcome, and the Westminster/media village has gone into introspective mode as to firstly, what went wrong (for Labour and the pollsters), secondly, how long it will be before the Tories shoot themselves in the foot, and thirdly, how the Labour party re-invents itself.
In respect of the latter, the inevitable left-right debate has begun. The ghost of Blair has walked across the threshold of Brewers Green, and there are as many people advocating a reinvention of New Labour as those disowning it. How does a party appeal to both an affluent metropolitan middle class and the working class northern voters that were the bedrock of the party? How does it appeal to Scottish voters without alienating entrepreneurs and business leaders in the South?
I’m glad I only have to reflect on this as a member of the voting electorate, but it does strike me that those closest to the coal face are often the last to feel the heat of the fire. Surely what united the country in the lead up to Blair’s landslide victory of 1997 and the march of the SNP in Scotland since 2010 (and culminating in Friday’s decisive victory north of the border) was a positive vision for the future rather than tribal party politics or the carefully crafted profiling of its candidates. The Election was always going to be for the Tories to lose and others to win, which is why they can feel vindicated in investing in the mantra of Linton Crosby that the only message that mattered was the economy, but for everyone else, there needed to be a positive alternative. The SNP did that with aplomb, putting fire in the bellies of Edinburgh bankers and Highland farmers to boot, convincing the masses that Scotland could stand confidently in a modern world, that it had a long term plan for the Country, and that it could be progressive rather than reactive. Labour didn’t do that. It painted those that have achieved as somehow villainous, rather than encouraging others to match them. It boiled down the Country’s challenges as being little more than a one-issue focus on the NHS. It made a mansion tax a greater priority than properly dissecting how to build greater levels of family housing and to get house price inflation under control. It poured scorn on High Speed 2 without explaining how it would re-position the rest of the Country to see London as complementary to it, rather than a dominant, benevolent, distant relative that could offer a financial hand out. And fundamentally, it said what was broken with the country without ever really telling us what could be great about it – and how it would achieve this.
Election results in my adult life suggest that we British are a pretty malleable lot, who will listen, and form a view on what is presented to them at the time, rather than putting the same ‘x’ in the ballot box every four or five years. We’re inherently centre ground, passive, secular, apolitical, and whilst we’re cynical, we’d rather believe that we can stand as a proud, inclusive nation, than one that is broken and worth giving up on (which would help to explain why the SNP lost a referendum but ‘won’ an Election). America didn’t vote for Barrack Obama because he is black, any more than we voted for Margaret Thatcher because she was a woman; it was because they stood for progress and change, and people believed they could muster it. Labour are deluding themselves if they think the country will vote for Dan Jarvis because he’s an ex-soldier with an interesting back-story or Liz Kendall because she represents Leicester West rather than Hampstead & Kilburn. Londoners, Scots, Welsh, Northerners, Irish and Westerners voted for Labour under Blair in their droves, because they believed he would make Britain better. If 2015 has a whiff of 1992 about it, politicians of all parties must surely consider what followed in 1997. That in itself will hopefully keep the Government facing forward, and for Labour to properly reflect on what it needs to focus on before launching into another leadership campaign.