Eastleigh was a disaster for Labour – much worse than Galloway’s victory in West Bradford.
The Eastleigh failure
Last night was one of those nights that I ended up screaming at the TV.
Labour were DREADFUL in every way.
After everything the Tories have done, the Labour vote in Eastleigh flatlined.
9.6% in 2010; 9.8% in 2013 – and that, mind you, with a celebrity as our candidate.
There was a HUGE protest vote, but none of it went to Labour. It all went to UKIP. As Andrew Sparrow comments in the Guardian: ‘They have established themselves as the protest party of choice’.
If Labour had secured that protest vote – the UKIP vote went up from 1,933 votes in 2010 to 11,571 in 2013 – John O’Farrell would have won the election by 384 votes.
The UKIP woman was quite open about why Labour failed to secure that protest vote. On the doorstep, she told us, Labour people had been frustrated because the Labour Party had no policies.
If you are active in Labour Party campaigning, you will know that she was bang on correct. Time after time I am meeting people who are genuinely left-wing in their views, and furious with the government, but who cannot find in the statements of the shadow cabinet a single reason to vote Labour, which simply refuses to commit itself to anything that they want.
A set of parrots
The result was disappointing enough, but it was it the statements of the Labour Party leaders that reduced me to total despair .
The ‘story’ about Labour’s failure to secure a single additional vote in Eastleigh (the Labour vote actually fell by about a thousand) – and it was repeated ad nauseam – was that this was Labour’s 258th seat-to-win, and we never expected to win, so the result was nothing to worry about.
This was quite clearly the Party line on the matter.
I suppose it is inevitable that Party spokesmen are briefed on how they must respond to expected questions but PLEASE, if you are going to do so, practice different and personal versions of the Party line, instead of simply and lazily reciting the learned script. Why not develop a ‘well personally I think… but for the moment the Party response has to be....’ approach?
And wouldn’t it be refreshing if, every now and again, a Labour shadow minister actually answered the question?
No chance in our lifetime, of course. When asked to comment on immigration numbers, both John Denham and Chukka Umunna parroted the same line. The people of Eastleigh were not really worried by immigration per se, opined Denham – they were worried about the economic effects of immigration (the loss of jobs, the undercutting of wages etc.). What was needed was not to cut numbers, but properly to enforce these issues … that was where the government was failing.
Chukka Umunna, of course, thus found himself confronted by the obvious question: would the Labour Party reduce the numbers of EU immigrants? Now everybody knows the answer to this – we cannot refuse EU entrants unless we leave the EU. But it was painful watching Umunna trying not to say so. The people of Eastleigh, he offered at least twice, were not really worried by immigration etc. per se – they were worried about the economic effects of immigration (the loss of jobs, the undercutting of wages etc.). What was needed was not to cut numbers, but properly to enforce these issues. Only when he was completely backed into a corner did Andrew Neil eventually force the undeniable truth out of him.
Earlier, on Question Time, Angela Eagle – who was DREADFUL throughout, by the way – got herself caught in a similar kind of knot. The question was a simple yes-or-no: does Labour support the EU cap on banking. Her answer – for better or worse – was quite clearly no we don’t. But would she say so – not a chance. At least three times she explained laboriously that the real problem was the failure of the government to deal with ‘the bonus culture’ and ‘casino’ banking. And she was promptly slaughtered by the Tory woman who pointed out – absolutely truthfully and to applause – that the Labour government had presided over the loosest regime of banking regulation ever, with the 2008 crash as its consequence.
What was crazy about the whole debacle was that – if Ms Eagle had actually answered the question either way, Labour would have gained. If she had said no, she didn’t support the cap, which would damage the British financial services, she would have secured the agreement of everybody who opposes the EU, and all those who argue for financial pragmatism. If she had said yes, she did support the cap, she would have gained the support of thousands of people who want the bankers bashing.
But as it was, she just looked evasive and irresolute… which of course she was.
A hopeless leadership with a spineless strategy
Our leaders are absolutely hopeless. They seem in thrall to the polls, which they take to mean they are winning, just as long as they don’t upset anybody or take a moral stand on anything. They seem to believe that, to get elected, all they need to be is a Tory government in Labour’s clothing, and that they can triangulate the opposition to death.
The utter disaster with this policy is that it just doesn’t cut it with the electors, who see right through it for the cynical sham that it is. Lost left-wing voters won’t wear it because they can’t see any point in voting for a government which will merely continue Tory policies. And the Lib-Dems and Tories can’t see any point in going back to what they regard as a discredited New Labour administration … no matter how many spineless apologies the shadow cabinet offer them.
And the proof for this? EASTLEIGH! Where a generally right-of-centre electorate – that southern electorate whom we are told time and again we have to win over if we are to win the next election – utterly failed to cast a single extra vote for Labour. Angry as they were with the government, those right-of-centre protest voters did NOT come over to Labour … and yet it is on such people, and winning them over, that the shadow cabinet is pinning its whole election strategy.
A much worse disaster than West Bradford
Disaster. A much worse disaster than West Bradford. The voters of West Bradford, it could be argued, had actually moved left, and had just been fooled by a charlatan whose statements about Iraq appealed to a chunk of the Labour turnout. Subsequent by-elections have proved that Respect could not sustain that initial success.
Eastleigh is different, and much worse. Eastleigh proved that the shadow cabinet’s policy – of ignoring and resisting at all costs calls from its rank-and-file to protest the cuts, and instead seeking by a policy of continuous hedging to court the right-of-centre southerners – has comprehensively failed. There WAS a protest vote but it went (surprise, surprise) to the Party which has been protesting. The terrifying truth was that that protest vote moved right, not left, to express its anger, and that has to be a worry in absolute terms, never mind for the Labour Party.
It seems to be the general comment, today, that it is the Tory Party who are in ‘crisis’ after the election. I don’t see it. The only Party which has a realistic chance of unseating the Tories in a general election is Labour. And the Eastleigh by-election demonstrated that, down south, no matter how angry people are with the government, the current Labour Party strategy is failing completely to win ANYBODY over.
Today, it is the Labour Party who come out of the Eastleigh by-election in ‘crisis’.
So what is your answer, Mr Miliband … more of the same?