I’ve been writing this blog in pieces since the election. Structuring this has been extremely difficult because there are so many strands. The following is a mishmash of thoughts that I have tried in vain to give an effective structure to.
The following graphs represent the votes in the last election and the regional variation. Overall the Conservatives gained 608k votes, Labour gained 738k votes and the Lib Dems lost 4,421k votes. The hit that Labour took in Scotland losing 328k votes and all but one of their seats made this election result more devastating than it otherwise would have been. The Conservatives gaining so many votes was, for me, the real surprise of the election.
The collapse of the Lib Dem vote has changed politics in this country, perhaps forever. This collapse made a significant change to the political landscape in Scotland where I believe the vote transferred to the SNP giving the SNP a platform to control the Scottish Parliament. This control enabled the SNP to improve their popularity through the referendum. This gave the Tories a key campaigning piece that worked better than they could have hoped. In the UK, the votes split off a number of ways enabling Tories and Labour to take many of their seats. This collapse is what gave the Tories their majority in parliament.
Many comments I have read have argued the collapse of the Lib Dem vote is due to them being blamed for the Coalition’s less popular policies. This is not what I encountered talking to their previous supporters on the door. From all of the people I have spoken to, it seems that the Lib Dems failed to appreciate how much they relied on three key issues: tactical voting in Tory seats, how many people who had voted for them were doing so as a protest against Labour and the Tories and finally that their supporters were not at all supportive of Tory policies. As soon as they joined with the Tories in government, the tactical voters and protest voters stopped voting for them and many of their voters were dismayed by what they supported in government leaving them significantly short in votes.
The Popular View:
There are many popular theories as to why Labour failed to increase their vote sufficiently. I have picked out three that I was not convinced were overwhelming but which will have had an influence.
“You picked the wrong Milliband.”
This is something many people have said to me. However, this has overwhelming been from lifelong Tories. I only met a couple of Labour voter on the doorstep who were influenced by this and one unsure voter who said they could not warm to Ed. Whilst this undoubtedly had an impact I do not believe this was the overwhelming factor the media wanted it to be.
“Labour were too left/right wing.”
Not once did I speak to a voter on the doorstep who felt that Labour were too left wing. I did meet a few people that had stopped voting Labour under Blair as they felt he was too right wing who had not come back. However, I think the old definitions of left and right wing are no longer things that the majority of people understand.
The Tory papers are losing some of their influence, however, they are still the Tories Ace card and it did have an influence. The papers headlines are often read out on the news and radio in the morning. It means that no matter how much money Labour spend on campaigning, they will always have an uphill battle fighting this. That is why the Tories are so desperate to get rid of the BBC. Whilst the BBC has a lot of Tory supporters in key positions, they do make an effort at neutrality that no other media source does.
The Party Campaigns
The Tory Campaign
I heard Neil Kinnock speak several months ago. He said something about the Tories; “Poor at governing, superb at campaigning”. The Tories messages were defined and they concentrated on three things; The Economy, SNP and Leadership. From a marketing point of view the power of three is something that is talked about. This messaging was clear and it was effective.
Beware the SNP! Beware the economy! Beware jobs! Beware overspending! Beware higher taxes! Be afraid, be very, very afraid. The Tories do negative campaigning better than anyone. People say they hate negative campaigning, but this has worked for the Tories for the last fifty years. There is no doubt that it was effective. On the day at the polling station undecided voters were swayed by this. Labour only had one negative line, the NHS.
The Tories threw money at their Social Media campaign. I do not know if it was effective or not. No-one I spoke to said they were convinced by it. However, it is clear that this enabled them to target demographics in a way Labour simply do not have the money to.
The Labour Campaign
Labour’s campaign had only one message, the NHS. The NHS message was effective, but to be electable, Labour needed more. All of the other Labour policies came out far too late and were not clear. If I as a Labour supporter could not define them, what chance would an undecided voter stand. Labour completely failed to distinguish a separate vision to the Conservatives on public spending, education, business and the economy. They were against zero hours contracts, but failed to show how they would make people’s lives better and businesses prosper.
Leaflets and more leaflets! The Labour campaign spammed voters. It was ridiculous the amount that went out. Many people just lobbed them all straight in the bin. I feel that leafletting is only an effective method of campaigning when sending a few pieces with clear messages. Sometimes two pieces were delivered on a single day which was overkill.
Canvassing and more canvassing! Labour’s volunteers spent a huge amount of time over the last four years asking people how they were going to vote. This time could have been better spent talking to undecided voters about Labour policies. Labour’s sole advantage is the feet on the ground and they did not use them as well as they could have.
There was one piece of effective social media campaigning from Labour, it was the NHS birth number. This got people talking and was positive. It reminded people that Labour created the NHS and that it is important to us all. The rest of the campaigning on Social Media, asking people to share/retweet statuses just made people alienate their friends. In my view the Tories were guilty of exactly the same thing. I just ended up blocking Tory friends on social media who shared their campaigning material, and I think Tory supporters will have done the same. The sole difference was that the Tories had money to spend targeting people with adverts to bypass the need for relying on individuals sharing statuses.
The Deciding Factors?
The following two points are what I consider to be the deciding factors in the election. As I have said, I believe the above points were influencers, but these two following issues were the reason Labour failed to gain more votes. I have heard these issues discussed often in the last couple of weeks and as a Labour support, my hope and expectation is that regardless of which candidate becomes the next Labour leader, these issues will not be influencers in five year’s time.
The Big Lie
In the 12 months following the last election the Tories, and their friends in the media, pinned the blame for the global financial crash on the Labour Party and overspending. It genuinely astounds me that this was successful. Anyone who knows their history is aware that Margaret Thatcher deregulated the banks and it is this deregulation that left the UK so vulnerable to the financial crash. Yes Labour did not reverse this deregulation, but given the UK’s reliance on these institutions it would have been economic suicide to do so. Also, if overspending was the cause, then it is worth noting that until 2008, Labour spent a lower amount (as a % vs GDP) than the preceding Tory governments and George Osbourne had publically promised to match Labour’s spending plans.
The Labour Party leadership completely failed to deal with this lie. It had five years to do so yet inexplicably they avoided the argument. Ed Balls losing his seat was an almost symbolic representation of this failure.
Europe and UKIP
More previous Labour voters voted UKIP than previous Tory voters. I would put this at about 2 or 3 to 1. Before the election I thought Labour should have offered voters a referendum on Europe. I only told one person of this thinking it was controversial, and that no one else would agree with me. It is interesting that since the election a number of Labour MP’s have said this publically. Offering the referendum would have neutralised the UKIP vote but also enabled Labour to talk positively about its record on immigration which has been attacked.
To be clear, I do not think the UK should leave Europe, but the issue needs to be taken seriously. There are voters who are concerned that infrastructure and jobs are not going to be there for their children due to immigration. These people are not racists and bigots, simply ignorant of the facts about immigration. This ignorance is mainly caused by the media, but has been perpetuated by UKIP. Right wing papers look for stories to make people angry about immigrants misusing the benefits system in this country. An honest debate is needed to educate the public on the true costs and values of immigration so an informed decision can be made and a referendum is a good way to do this.