Exeter, May 7th 2015.
Some of you may have spotted the occasional hint of pro-Labour bias in this blog. From this, you might very well have concluded that I would have been more than slightly disappointed with this election’s result.
You would be right.
What is more, while you may, for all I know, be reading this at some point during Boris Johnson’s second term as Prime Minister in 2024, I am writing this in the same month the election actually happened. So be kind please: the wounds are still raw.
That said, I am at least fortunate not to be a Liberal Democrat. I was never keen on the idea of a Lab-Lib coalition bin 2010, not because I disliked what was then the third party but because I felt Labour had so clearly lost that it would look a bit desperate for Gordon Brown to attempt to cling onto power. It was a Rainbow Coalition, after all. And there can be no Brown in a rainbow.
I have mixed feelings about what followed. Nick Clegg proved both hopelessly naïve and horrendously cynical: naïve for not getting more out of the Tories when they needed him so much, cynical for ditching the pledge on tuition fees so shabbily.
They all suffered for it in the end anyway. It gave me no joy to see good anti-coalition types like Simon Hughes lose their seats in 2015. It couldn’t have been nice for Nicky’s old MP Paddy Ashdown (who I had briefly met a few years earlier in his old seat of Yeovil) to see his life’s work unravelling so fast before his closed eyes on election night either. Yeovil by now under the decent although essentially Tory Lib Dem David Laws went blue. Indeed everywhere except Exeter in the south west is now blue. 25% of the parliamentary party are now running against each other for leader. Neither contender looks even vaguely promising. Another 12.5% of the party is actually ex-leader Nick Clegg. It will take them decades to recover.
But Exeter had survived. I had been photographed with Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw two weeks before the election. I had just completed my postal vote and by chance was the first proven Labour voter to be found by the Exeter Labour doorknockers. Bradshaw is a hugely popular MP and thus managed to triple his majority in the city even as everywhere else swung to the Tories. He is now running for Deputy Leader. His local campaign was very well organised and Bradshaw is a hugely motivational figure.Had the swing in the UK been replicated in Exeter, it would now be a Tory seat.
My hometown of Peterborough had been less lucky. I had been slightly involved in the campaign of the excellent Labour candidate Lisa Forbes and we seemed in luck: Tory MP of ten years Stewart Jackson seemed intent on showing how unpleasant he could be. He began the campaign with a damaging gaffe in which he essentially insulted a homosexual constituent. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-32128877
Some people would defend him if he had punched a baby or announced his support for Hitler: “Fair play to Jackson for standing up to the tyranny of political correctness etc etc etc ad infinitum”. But in fair play to the constituents of Peterborough, most people didn’t like it and there was a marked swing against Jackson although sadly not enough for him to lose the seat. However, he then proved those who had supported him decisively wrong with the least gracious victory speech ever.
Of course, this was not a good night for Labour overall. Cameron despite a lacklustre start to his campaign dominated by his cowardly avoidance of a TV debate and his possibly accidental announcement that he was planning to stand down before 2020, seemed to revive half way through.
Ed Miliband meanwhile fought much better than anyone expected. But at the end of the day, the Tories won fair and square. The expected Labour-led Hung Parliament became a Tory majority of 12 (actually their smallest ever post-war majority, although still a majority, unlike in 2010, or indeed any election in 23 years, in the Tories’ case).
I was as surprised as anyone, as indeed, was Cameron. So what went wrong for Labour?
- Miliband: Ed Miliband fought a much better campaign than expected. But there was always an image problem there. I am not convinced by the “wrong Miliband” argument which seems to be mainly espoused by the Tory press. David Miliband (who I voted for as party member in 2010) seems too arrogant and is barely less geeky than Ed. I genuinely doubt he would have done any better. That said, image shouldn’t matter as much as it does. Would Lincoln and Attlee have won today? Perhaps not. But it does matter. And there was clearly an image problem with Ed. He never looked or sounded like a winner.
- Labour in government spent too much on hospitals and schools and this caused the global slump. Absolute nonsense of course but the Tories said it so often that everyone believed it. And worse: Labour never attempted to deny it.
- The economy does seem to be doing well even if most people don’t seem to be feeling it.
- The SNP breakthrough. Nicola Sturgeon is great and Labour wouldn’t have won even if they had won every Scottish seat. But it didn’t help.
- The press waged a vicious campaign on Labour and Miliband. To be expected, of course, but not helpful.
Now my story ends. Labour will return and we will face the future together once again.
I am 38, now, bearded and married. I show no signs yet of declining into Toryism in middle age.
Speak to you all again soon!