Archive for June, 2015
Thanks to our absurd voting system the Labour party now faces the largest electoral mountain faced by an opposition party since the Blair years. According to Michael Meacher, the swing required to win the next general election is larger than the one secured in 1997. A coalition government is therefore the Labour’s party’s best hope of installing a Prime Minister in Downing Street in 2020.
The Scottish Labour Party presents the Labour Party with it’s biggest barrier to forming a coalition government, let alone a majority one. The prospect of Nicola Sturgeon holding the balance of power, was a gift to the Murdoch Empire. In a matter of years the Labour Party have gone to being the natural party of Scotland to being pariahs.
In 2007 Alex Salmond became the First Minister of Scotland. His minority government increased to a majority one in 2011. By all accounts Sturgeon (his successor and former deputy) will increase that. If the pollsters are correct, Sturgeon will secure the biggest landslide in the Scottish parliaments 17 year history. The rise of the SNP was at the expense of the Labour party – the other parties have made much of an impression – relying on proportional seats to garner seats in the Scottish parliament. In the local elections of 2012 the SNP narrowly won.
That brings me to the small matter of the last general election. The SNP won an historical 56/59 seats. This can partly be blamed on the first-past-the-post voting system. The question has to be asked, what caused the Labour party to lose 40 out of 41 seats?
Siding with Tories in the Referendum or just Siding with Tory Austerity?
It could be argued the Labour brand was tarnished in Scotland prior to the referendum. After all in the Bradford West by-election of 2012, Labour lost heavily to George Galloway. However, this trend was not reflected in the Scottish Parliament with successful Labour by elections in 2013 and 2014.
In the by-election held in January 2014, Labour won on a 11.25% swing from the SNP. Within two months of the referendum on Scottish Independence the Labour party started haemorrhaging in the polls. Micheal Dugher MP later criticised the Labour Party’s strategy in the referendum arguing that the SNP set a “massive elephant trap” for the Labour Party.
I personally think the Labour Party are not only a tarnished brand, but the SNP offered a clear positive alternative.
The SNP stood in 59 constituencies in 2015. They promised further opportunities for young people, by creating jobs, making education affordable and increasing the minimum wage.
Their manifesto also promised electoral reform, more equality, better jobs – and a fair more equal society. Result? They won 56/59 seats – an historical result. It’s clear that Sturgeon’s appealed to voters across the border – after the debate, various voters based in England tried to find out if they could support her. In comparison no-one in Scotland (or indeed England) was that enthusiastic about voting for the Labour Party (Jack Monroe cannot be the only labour member who defected to the Greens).
The message is clear; people are fed up with a society in which you have to work all hours, just to survive, whilst the rich grow richer, they are fed up with money being taken away from disabled people, whilst bankers collect bonuses. The Labour Party offered (at best) a watered down version of the status quo.
If Labour had matched the SNPs manifesto pledges, SNP supporters may have held their noses and voted for Labour. The SNP offered prosperity – the Labour Party offered Austerity-lite.
The Labour Party needs to divorce itself from the Scottish Labour Party. A merger of Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrats could help provide an opposition to the SNP. There is nothing to prevent the SNP from dominating for decades, regardless of whether or not they remain in the United Kingdom (I personally hope they remain, but that is another issue).
Charles Kennedy was Right – time for a Scottish Unionist Party
One of Charles Kennedy’s last wishes was to form a progressive, left of centre unionist party in Scotland. His argument it seems was the Liberal Democrats and Labour are ‘knackered‘ in Scotland. He is absolutely right. The two parties were all but wiped out in Scotland.
I support the concept of a federalised United Kingdom, with decentralised legislatures and executives. I believe also that Scotland should remain in the UK. The referendum in 2014, was won by the ‘no thanks’ vote, but nevertheless we cannot ignore the overall result. A vote of 55-45 is hardly a convincing margin, coupled with the historic volume of SNP MPs, it is clear that alot of people are unhappy with the status quo. Therefore reform is needed – both sides need to be listened to.
At the moment in Scotland there are two options for the voters – right-wing unionism (labour, lib dem, conservative) or left-wing independence. For the left-wing unionists, there is no representation (nor is there a voice for pro-independence people who favour a right-wing agenda – although there is little evidence to suggest such people exist in Scotland).
55% of the Scottish voted to remain in the UK and yet the SNP won by a landslide – so clearly the case is strong for a centre-left Scottish Unionist Party(SUP). Kennedy texted this idea to Alistair Campbell – I hope he messaged other people as well and that other people can continue his vision – I can’t imagine Northern Ireland surviving all these years if the voters had been given a choice between the NI Labour/Conservative/Lib dem party or Sinn Fein.
Being called the Scottish Labour Party or Scottish Conservatives, is a bit of an inferior brand name after all – the parties are led from Westminster not Scotland.
Kennedy’s legacy should have been a revived Liberal Democrat Party (under his leadership they won the most seats since the 1920s). Nick Clegg’s decision to form a coalition (against Kennedy’s better judgement) destroyed that. Let’s hope we can at least let his name live on with the SUP (or whatever name the new party opts for.
There are of course other options – introducing proportional representation for instance – however such a move cannot be enforced in opposition.
The Liberal Democrat Party is currently in its weakest position in decades. The party has its fewest seats since the 1970s and performed even worse than in 1979 (the year former leader Jeremy Thorpe was appearing in court, charged with conspiracy to murder). Losing 7/8th of their parliamentary seats has to be some sort of record. In addition the party lost all but 1 of its 12 seats in the European parliament and suffered heavily losses in local elections. Under Charles Kennedy the Liberal Democrats established a Shadow Cabinet, which lasted until 2010; with only 8 MPs they can shadow just over a third of the government.
The party achieved other dubious honours whilst in office: shortest ministerial career (17 days), first Cabinet Minister to be charged with a criminal offence, only the fifth Privy Councillor to resign in history and the lowest votes recorded in a by-election by a governing party.
Then we come onto the small matter of ideology. Prior to 2010 it was clear what the Liberal Democrats stood for: a proportional voting system for the House of Commons, a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU and no university tuition fees. However once in government the party supported a non-proportional voting system for the House of Commons, no referendum on the EU and £9,000 Uni fees.
The party has lost all identity and purpose. In the 2011 local election over 1000 wards did not have a Liberal Democrat candidate, reportedly because local activists said they didn’t feel they could represent the party, when they no longer knew what it stood for. I myself am struggling to define it.
Under the leadership of Asquith the Liberal Party introduced the People’s Budget – which taxed the rich and increased social security. Under the leadership of Clegg, the Liberal Democrats (the Liberal Party’s legal successors), voted for the Welfare Reform Bill – arguably the worst welfare act since the introduction of the workhouse in 1388. At the same time the only taxes they increased where the bedroom tax and the raising of VAT from 17.5% to 20%.
The brand of Liberal Democrats simply cannot survive – it is far too toxic. People who agree with what the government is doing: cutting disability benefits to ‘protect the vulnerable’, slashing housing benefit (‘to make work pay’) and granting tax cuts (‘to cut down on tax avoidance’); will vote for the Conservative Party. People who oppose it will not vote Liberal Democrat.
Under the coalition government of 2015, the economy ‘recovery’ was entirely at the expense of people who have to work for a living, or are currently unable to do so, due to circumstances beyond their control. People, misled into thinking it was the economically responsible thing to do, voted Conservative. People, unimpressed by the Liberal Democrats record, voted for Green, Labour (and in some cases UKIP).
History does seem to have a nasty habit of repeating itself. In 1918, at a time of national crisis, the Liberal Party and Conservative party, opted to form a coalition. The country had a hefty national debt. A honours scandal was to follow. At the following General Election, the National Liberal Party lost 74 seats. The Conservatives themselves were able to form a single-party government with a small majority. Over the next decade the Liberal Party continued to decline, by 1935 they had only 21 seats.
Tim Farron, the former party President, is widely expected to become the Leader. If that is the case, he will lead the smallest number of Liberal/Liberal Democrat MPs since Jo Grimmond in 1964.
The rump party of 8 MPs have 3 options; continue as if nothing has happened, go their separate ways or re-brand.
Option 1: Carry on as normal
I support the concept of multi-party politics. A party with only a few MPs can achieve something – the Liberal Party held the balance of power during the Callaghan administration, and David Steel managed to legalise abortion via a Private Members Bill. If however the Party makes further losses at future elections (only 3 of their seats are safe*) their collective clout would be further eroded. It’s hard to imagine the party coming back from this – they have lost their unique selling point in general elections – gone are the days when they were a positive alternative – untainted by the realities of holding government office.
Option 2: Pastures new
When the Liberal Party collapsed in the 1920s, Winston Churchill rejoined the Conservative Party and later became Prime Minister. William Gladstone himself went the other way – serving as a Tory Chancellor and later a Liberal Prime Minister. But these men are the exception, not the norm. It’s hard to imagine a biopic of Shaun Woodward, who defected from Conservative to Labour in 2001.
Option 3: Re-brand
This is by far their best option. Re-branding any product, particularly a political party, is a good way of washing your sins away. The classic example is New Labour – a simple rename and the party went from 18 years in opposition, to winning the greatest election triumph in their history.
What will the new party be named? It can’t be named Liberal Party or Social Democrat Party (those two parties already exist). What will it stand for? Harsh public spending cuts, increased food bank usage, less opportunities for young people and carving up the NHS? Given Farron’s voting record (he was one of the Coalition Government’s most rebellious MPs) it seems likely the party will return, to its rejected roots.
Whatever it’s name and it’s policies, for thing is for sure – it would have a far better chance of recovery than the Liberal Democrats.
*Safe seats are defined as seats that can only be lost on a swing greater than 8%