They were neck and neck until the very night of the elections. The polls had us all convinced that there would be no majority government, and yet here we are. The 56th Parliament of the United Kingdom has 1 UKIP MP, 1 Green MP, 1 independent MP, 2 UUP MPs, 3 SDLP MPs, 3 Plaid Cymru MPs, 4 Sinn Féin MPs, 8 Liberal Democrat MPs, 8 DUP MPs, 56 SNP MPs, 232 Labour MPs, and majority of 330 Conservative MPs (as well as the speaker, who officially has no ties to any party). Parties such as the Greens and UKIP were defeated by the electoral system, media biases, and the current party funding setup. But the real surprises were for the Liberal Democrats to go from 57 seats to 8, the SNP to go from 6 seats to 56, and Labour to go from 258 seats to 232. Based on the fact that in 1997 Labour held 419 seats, and in 2005 they still retained 356 seats, it has been a great shock to many political commentators to see their vote fall even further. Why did it happen?
The thinking that caused Labour to lose in 2015 is the same thinking that characterizes the current leadership contest: one size fits all. The dominant opinion post election has been that Labour needs to move right, and re-occupy the centre ground. The Telegraph says that Ed Miliband was the wrong leader, who didn’t place enough emphasis on deficit reduction, and sat too far to the left. The Independent argued that Labour moved too far to the left. The BBC’s focus is also on business policies and the economy. Peter Mandelson in the NY Times, argued that more practicalities were called for, and that people viewed Labour’s message as a kind of ideological vendetta, which not only sought to turn inequalities into class war, but also conflicted with the ‘one nation’ sound-bite. Even the Guardian pulls it down to the twin factors of leadership and economic management. Indeed, the idea that Labour’s loss stemmed from fiscal laxity is supported by the fact that Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls lost his seat in the election.
There are some disagreements to this analysis. Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the trade union Unite, and one of Labour’s biggest financial donors, says that Labour’s message was simply too incoherent and confusing. However, Labour’s biggest losses were a) from the SNP, further to the left, b) from UKIP, way to the right, and c) from the Greens, to the left. One thing ties these parties together, and it’s nothing to do with left or right wing politics! Indeed, many of those who pursued economic voting in 2015 (voting for the party most likely to guarantee economic stability) in fact voted Labour in 2010 for exactly the same reason.
It’s the feeling that politicians care about them first and foremost (or rather the lack of that feeling) which really lost Labour the election. Indeed, it is the very same reason that trust in politics is completely shot.
Perceptions about standards of conduct in UK public institutions from 2004 to 2010 have fallen greatly.
Public trust in politicians is at such a low level, that more than three quarters of Britons don’t trust them to tell the truth.
According to research conducted by Democracy Index and Democratic Audit, voter-representative relationships are in a terrible state:
“Less than one fifth of west Europeans trust political parties and only about one third trust their governments and parliaments […] If there is a breakdown of trust, we should expect this to be at the national level.” (Democracy Index 2013, p17-19)
“Public faith in democratic institutions is decaying, and reforms aimed at restoring public confidence in democratic arrangements have tended to prove, at best, ineffectual and, in several cases, counter-productive” (Democratic Audit, p9)
Of course these points are all true for the Conservatives as well. So it would be easy to put everything down to the populist messages of the Conservatives on immigration, the EU, and on jobs, combined with the constant scaremongering that defined the election. But if Labour learns this message, it will not win a mandate for fundamental change, because Britons are not all the same, and one size does not fit all. The truth is that politics is first and foremost about relationships. It’s localized, and winning messages are based more on market research than ideological starting positions. Scottish Labour feels like a member of Labour. The perception was that when Scots voted for devolution, they simply wanted Scottish Labour to work more closely with Labour in Westminster. They didn’t. They wanted someone to put them first. The SNP feels like the party of Scotland, and so voters feel like politicians are coming to them, actively forging strong relationships, and then standing up for those relationships, and the concerns that are brought to their attention through those relationships, in Westminster.
Inclusive democracy was at the very heart of this election, and yet almost no-one seems to realize it. If Labour transitions from a majoritarian system of democracy, whereby it targets certain demographics, to an inclusive model of democracy based on the principle that relationships should be forged with all people, and all people should have the right, through such powerful messages as grassroots democracy, digital democracy and economic democracy, then Labour will win. If they stick with majoritarian democracy, Labour is doomed.