A return to May the 7th (and everything that's happened since).
(Hello readers! This is rather long, as in 3,000 words long, but after two weeks of feeling sorry for myself you're hopefully ready to be bored stupid once again, right?)
Shall we, if we dare, return to May the 7th? Now, of course, we know that Labour's campaign was a disaster, Ed Miliband had spent 5 years making the party unelectable and that not a single member of the shadow cabinet believed in so much as a solitary policy in the manifesto. All these are now Facts, and cannot be disagreed with unless you are in Denial and clearly not on the side of the Modernisers blazing a trail towards a majority government in just another 5 short years.
Still, let's forget all that for a second while I relate two personal anecdotes that should have tipped me off that Labour was about to get fucked harder than a dead duck by a deranged and randy mallard. First, where I work the polling station is next door. When I got in someone had taken it upon themselves to stick up a laminated A4 sheet on the fence next to the building that said something along the lines of "All the main political parties have conspired to cover up child abuse in their ranks. Are you really going to vote for people who have connived in the rape of children?" Believer in free speech that I am, I swiftly binned it. Second, previously the polling station had been in the community centre opposite rather than in the sports club slightly up the road, confusing plenty of people. Thinking one young couple, the bloke expensively tatted up, were similarly perplexed, I advised them where the station was. "Oh, we're not voting", he scoffed, as though the idea was only slightly less ridiculous than if I'd suggested they perform a Manumission-style sex show right there in the street.
Except I put such bad omens out of my mind. If there was hope, it lay in the polls. How could they possibly be wrong? "It couldn't be closer" was the Graun's front page. "All the final polls so far seem to be showing a shift towards Labour", tweeted new king of psephology Lord Ashcroft, whose constituency polls implied Labour should romp home in the Tory marginals. Why, even Finchley and Golders Green looked possible for Labour. Everyone was preparing not for the unthinkable, a Tory majority, but the kind of result that could take weeks to unpick. Clearly it was serious if not just the Mail and Sun were descending into paroxysms of fear at how a Labour minority government might abolish non-dom status and tax mansions, but the editor of the Telegraph no less was making impassioned pleas in the middle of the night to readers signed up to receive marketing emails. The Tories were poised to declare Miliband illegitimate, Cameron was going to stay ensconced in Downing Street if the result was even remotely questionable, and saving Nick Clegg was deemed more important than some Tory target seats. More than anything I was cautiously optimistic. I'm never optimistic. Something was horrifically, spectacularly, cataclysmically wrong, and yet I failed to see the signs.
The clocks struck ten, David Dimbleby revealed the exit poll projection and Big Ben rang out death knells. Contrary to much that has been written since, the polls were only fantastically wrong on a single score. The 37% Tory share was just about within the 3% margin of error of most of them. They got the Lib Dem, UKIP and SNP shares more or less on the nose too. Only on Labour's dismal, catastrophic 31% (or 30.4%, if we're being precise) did they not manage to get close to just how short Ed Miliband's party was going to fall. Everything had been predicated on the polls being right; the parties since have claimed they either had an inkling or knew the Labour vote was being hideously overstated, but if that's really true they didn't share their insight with anyone, not least the same journalists they spend much of their time leaking to. The failure was pretty much total, even if at their most pessimistic/optimistic the leaders had imagined just such a scenario.
How were the polls so wrong? At this stage, you can still take your pick. Probably the best indication so far nonetheless is the breakdown by ICM of their final poll for the Graun, which shows that rather than it being down to a late swing or "shy" Tories, both two of the most immediately popular explanations, including from myself, it's more likely the problem is the sampling. The raw data for the poll, before the weighting was applied designed to counteract the shy Tory phenomenon blamed for 92's debacle, had Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 35%. Indeed, it was the demographic weighting that did the most damage, boosting Labour up to 38% and the Tories down to 32%, before the subsequent weighting for past vote, turnout and adjustment for those who refuse to say who they're going to vote for now but will say who they did last time brought the figures back to 35% for Labour and 34% for the Tories.
In other words, the best explanation we have thus far is polling, whether on the internet or by telephone, isn't able to reach the people necessary to produce a representative sample, and that unrepresentative sample is then made even worse by weighting that either needs fundamentally reconfiguring or ripping up and starting again. This doesn't mean there wasn't something of a late swing, or still some shy Tories, as the exit poll also underestimated the number of seats the Tories would win, but neither can plausibly explain just how massively out of whack the Tory and Labour share of the votes were.
We must then return to my personal anecdotes, as frankly we have little else. First, there's an awful lot of people out there who aren't apathetic so much as apoplectic at a political elite that doesn't in fact exist. Yes, it probably was just a lone nutbar who stuck that sign up, and yet that person spoke for a lot of others who believe the absolute worst of what they read in the papers. There has yet to be the slightest evidence presented there was anything like a cover-up of child abuse at Westminster, as opposed to the possibility there was a lot of looking in the opposite direction, as we've seen in places like Rotherham for varying reasons, and already people are convinced of the depravity of those in high places.
Second, and much more fundamentally, is the failure of Labour and the left in general to get out the youth vote. Estimates vary as to how many 18-24 year-olds did turn out: a poll with a 9,000 strong sample for Ipsos-Mori suggests it could have been as low as 43%, which sounds far more realistic than the British Election Society's estimate of 60%, which was still below YouGov's "certain to vote" 69%. When less than half of those with arguably the most at stake couldn't be motivated enough to do something that only needs doing once every 5 years, there encapsulated is why we now have the Conservatives with a majority. Yes, you can blame wannabe messiahs, the vacuous stupidity of youth culture, if not the young themselves, the failure to counteract the they're all the same fatuity, which among the older saw the UKIP vote skyrocket, the fatheaded selfishness of a distinct minority and all the rest of it, but if you can't convince 18-24-year-olds to vote for something better than the whitest, most middle class bloke on the face of the planet, then frankly you deserve what you get.
Finally, and interconnectedly, we have the Tory everything we do must be for the retiring boomers philosophy. So much of the talk since the election has been about how the Tories won because of how they were on the side of the aspirational, weren't going to tar and feather entrepreneurs in town centres or tax the rabbit hutches of children in central London, most of which has been from the Labour leadership challengers and other assorted "modernisers". Bullshit. The Tories won because they dedicated so much time and energy to keeping their core vote on side, with every ploy and bung going. Hate inheritance tax? We're abolishing it. Want to be certain we won't do anything to your benefits, although we certainly will to those of the low-paid and in-work? Triple locked. Want to blow your pension all in one go if you so wish, or buy a flat or two and then rent them out to the brats you spawned to replace yourselves? Already done. Want to generally fuck over everyone younger than you, which is funny because you don't know them? Hey, that was the entire point of our manifesto. Welcome aboard. We, or at least I said this is going to be no country for young men, and lo, so it did come to pass.
Labour did not lose on the basis of the manifesto. The manifesto lacked passion, anger and failed to radiate strength, but it didn't want for policies which were popular, or at least the polls at the time said they were. Labour lost because of the above, and a few other distinct reasons. Ed Miliband, much as I came to love the rubber faced goon as only another sad, lonely weirdo can, just wasn't seen as prime ministerial. He faced a mountain and only began to scale it when it was too late to reach the summit. I thought the Paxman interview, when he replied with his defiant and yet sympathetic "who cares?" to how he was presented in the media, along with his refusal to play the referendum game in the Question Time debate were the kind of answers that won people over, not necessarily because they liked or agreed with what he said but because they could respect him for doing so. Almost certainly more damaging and what everyone else saw was the battering he received on the same show for "overspending", even if those assailing him were Tory stooges, as at least two were. Labour lost because it wasn't trusted on the economy. The party that brought the economy back from the brink, only for George Osborne to push it over the edge with his austerity programme, took the blame over and over for something it didn't do.
By the same token, the Conservatives did not win on the basis of their dismal, hate-filled manifesto. They won because David Cameron, as essentially David Cameron was the Conservative campaign, was seen as more plausible. He spent one half of it going through the motions and then the second half trying to convince everyone just how "up 4 it" he was, talking to empty cowsheds and specially chosen farmers about where milk comes from, and yet it was enough. George Osborne meanwhile was kept as far away from voters as possible, doing work experience at various businesses presumably as part of community payback for stalling the recovery, while all the other favourites who have since returned to our screens and newspapers like Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and Theresa May were locked away entirely lest they scare the horses.
And you know why else? Because let's face it, there are a substantial minority of people in this country who aren't just ignorant cunts, they are proud and positively revel in being horrible, ignorant cunts. I don't mean in the oh, people who don't vote Labour are ignorant sense, as that itself is completely ignorant. What is ignorant is the increasing tendency on the part of very intelligent people to do themselves down on the basis that they don't talk what the common people do like. Oh, they're not like us, they don't talk like us goes the wail from people who are in fact mostly very well represented, they don't understand the life of the everyday man, when they very much do and most politicians spend far too much time if anything trying to understand exactly what Mr and Mrs Average Voter want at any precise moment in time.
We seem to have reached a point where it's increasingly seen as snobbish to use words longer than three syllables, or indeed any word that your average 8-year-old doesn't use everyday, as ordinary people don't talk like that any more. No, perhaps they don't. Then again, to a lot of ordinary people it's perfectly normal to use a variation on fuck in every sentence, and excuse me if I'd rather our politicians didn't emulate that trait. This ignorance doesn't always but often does go hand in hand with the they're all the same cuntery, and rather than fight against this bigotry of low expectations, low aspirations (yes, because that's what this is) and low everything, we in fact have everyone wanting a bit of it.
Something else some otherwise very intelligent people took from the election results was, well, at least the BNP got about ten votes. Why was that? It couldn't be down to how we now have a party that says yes, it's perfectly OK to be ignorant, insular and proud of it, could it? The fascist vote collapsed precisely because in UKIP there's a home for them where they don't quite feel the same level of self-hatred, nor is the media as visceral in its distaste; if anything, quite the opposite, such is the hard-on they've had for Nigel Farage if not his party as a whole. Not every UKIP voter fits this depiction, of course; many of those who voted UKIP in Labour's heartlands in the north for instance did so as a protest, out of a sense of being ignored and abandoned. All the same, many of those who did vote UKIP are hateful pricks, and if anything considering just how much of popular culture is currently dedicated to uncovering "the other" and then wiping their faces in their own vomit, it's a surprise "only" 4 million joined the Farage bandwagon.
Lastly, *gasp*, we have to consider the sheer horror that has been the Labour leadership contest thus far. Within 24 hours the manifesto had been abandoned, disowned, insulted, shat upon, as had Ed. Looking at Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and all the other wastes of flesh that frankly don't deserve to be referred to by name, I cannot see a single thing that I should care about or ever want to believe in. Who knows exactly what it was that caused Chuka Umunna to drop out before the contest had even begun, whether it really was he wasn't ready for his friends and relatives to be dropped into the media maelstrom, or if he was about to be exposed as a dog botherer, as it doesn't really matter which. That he couldn't face up to it just shows what a bottler party Labour now is, and the lack of empathy it has for those who do take on the worst that can be thrown at them.
Ed Miliband spent 5 years having every little bit of shit that could be found directed straight back into his face. The surprise if anything was that by the election campaign, everything had been used already. There was nothing left. Ed's reward for having chosen to do things the difficult way? For his entire leadership to be treated as something that couldn't be repudiated fast enough. I know it's not just about his electoral failure but also how his leadership was long viewed within the party, with no one prepared to stand against him for fear it would make things worse, and yet he still deserved, deserves far better. Indeed, I challenge anyone to seriously tell me how any of the current line up will be a better leader, or any more capable of winning the next election. Rather than take a good hard look at where Labour has gone wrong across the UK, from Scotland where it certainly didn't lose because it was too left-wing, as John Curtice among many others have argued, to the north where the threat to the party is not the Conservatives but UKIP, to the cities were the problem the party faces is defectors to the left, the party is still, still, obsessed with how the right-wing media depicts it rather than how real people in the marginals weren't convinced.
Labour is haunted by the spectre of Tony Blair, despite the bastard being very much alive. The party doesn't seem to have realised we aren't in the 90s/early 00s any longer, where triangulation worked so long as the media was kept (somewhat) on side and the economy grew. We're in the 2010s, wages are still barely growing, only the luckiest among the young can afford to "aspire", and the previously dominant centre-left parties of Europe are in crisis. And yet all we're being offered is reheated, regurgitated, reconstituted processed mechanical bullshit of the most shameful quality from meatheads who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. John Harris said it best: most of the Labour elite simply don't have the wit or humility to involve themselves in the debates that are necessary at the margins, that are outside of the comfort zone of consoling themselves with it's all down to how the party wasn't on the side of hard-working people and hard-working families and hard-working wealth creators and hard-working businesses.
It wasn't just despair over the election result and other things that led me to take a two-week break, and I apologise sincerely if anyone was truly worried for my wellbeing. I was for a while too, but the worst has passed, thankfully. It was despair over where I, we go from here: I've never been a Labour party member and I very much doubt I ever will be. And yet Ed Miliband's Labour had convinced me we were getting somewhere; yes, it was barely anywhere, but for once Polly Toynbee has it right in how different a Labour Queen's speech tomorrow would have been to the Tory one we'll get. Labour at this moment in time looks finished, and Labour in the UK is the only leftish party that has ever won, may ever win power. How do we begin to build a movement that can replace it, that can have that wide-ranging appeal, that can offer the despondent hope and the hopeful a better alternative? How can I change anything when I can't even change myself?
I see the parts but not the whole / I study saints and scholars both / No perfect plan unfurls