Things are going to get messy for Labour in the coming weeks.
Much is already being pre-supposed by the media – in particular the narrative-ravenous Laura Kuenssberg who has already started writing a fairy tale of Blairite coups. The media spoon is already in and stirring hard.
The truth is that, putting Scotland (figuratively) aside, there are many angles at play.
Did Labour’s content put people off?
Did Ed Miliband put people off?
Did Ed Miliband’s style put people off?
Did Ed Miliband’s strategy of silence fail?
I believe that it was not the message but the messenger – or rather the messenger’s mutism.
As an economics obsessive, I often felt that the Miliband team genuinely had little grasp on economics. Mainstream macroeconomics supported Labour’s record, an anti-austerty agenda and upheld that austerity in the zero lower bound was counter-productive. Equally mainstream macroeconomics supported good old fashioned fiscal stimulus when even “unconventional” monetary policy options run out.
So what next?
Inevitably, we will see an attempt to regain the middle ground.
But what will this mean?
It could mean large number of Labour members being disenfranchised – being asked to change their spots, sell out, change their beliefs to buy an electoral victory.
But care is needed. It is no surprise that the Miliband campaign was powered by more individual donations and volunteer activity than ever before. Despite his quirks, Miliband rallied the troops behind a message of anti-Murdoch, anti-banker rhetoric.
So it is right to move to the right just to win an election?
After his resignation speech, Miliband was reproached by Kuenssberg for declaring that, despite losing, he would continue to defend the values he believes in. In Kuenssberg’s understanding this shows him to be a stubborn fool who cannot realise that he is “wrong”. Just because he didn’t convince voters, that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. It does mean that he failed to make a convincing argument – and in many areas, such as the economy, he failed to make an argument at all.
But the possible shift to the right suggests something more sinister than just “selling out” Labour values. It would imply that Labour cannot win unless they pay their dues to the Gods of the right wing press.
Even Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times and now BBC’s right wing political rottweiler, commented, “Tomorrow’s front pages show British press at partisan worst. All pretence of separation between news and opinion gone, even in ‘qualities.’”
For me, Miliband was simply not a strong enough personality. This, along with “the Scottish problem” was Labour’s downfall pure and simple.
What Labour needs is not a leader who is prepared to adopt a more centrist agenda. Rather they must elect an advocate who can think on their feet, spar with a sense of humour and appear “normal” to non-politicos. The leader will have to be able to be likeable and lethal – a jovial scrapper. And more than anything else, they will need to put the case for the state. (There is plenty of good literature around for them to use. Mazzucato, Hutton et al. are all pushing for strong leadership from the state to restore not just growth but our spirit.)
In other words, as many of my non-partisan friends have said, Labour needs someone who has natural authority.
There are few better examples of great advocates than Blair – which is why he was the core of the New Labour experiment. A new leader will need Blair’s adversarial skills, but not necessarily his policy brief.
Labour will do well to remember that there is a big difference between the two.