I had a lot to say on election night. Like many others I was so taken aback when witnessing the results of the initial exit poll that a descent into intoxication was a ready answer. I had at least expected the Conservative Party to lose ground from their triumphant result in 2010. The Labour Party, likewise, I thought would carry the day, if not decisively, but through clear gains and some hard-fought deal with a third party.
It was not to be. Yet perhaps not for the reasons some might think. For one, certain “old labour” stalwarts performed remarkably well, making the right-wing bleed in abortive battles for several constituencies that left both the Tories and UKIP reeling. Jeremy Corbyn, an undeniably leftist labour MP, snatched an impressive sixty percent of the vote in Islington North, leaving Conservative Alex Burghart in the dust with just seventeen percent. John McDonnell, another dissident labour MP not operating under the delusion that “socialism” is a dirty word, likewise racked up almost sixty percent of voters for Hayes & Harlington. Stalwart Dennis Skinner, a former miner and unashamed republican, won the support of over twenty two thousand citizens at Bolsover, leaving Tory challenger Peter Bedford flailing with less half of that figure.
It may seem insufficient to base any kind of expansive argument on the results of these three contests. But such small victories stand out in what was otherwise an unexpected rout for the left. Yet there seems to be a strong case for asserting that voters are not necessarily hostile to labour’s politics or perpetually in love with our disgrace of a Prime Minister. Some may simply respond to strong leadership and the espousing of clear ideological lines rather than the haphazard “something for everyone” PR spin that marred much of Miliband’s hit-and-miss campaign.
For one, the Better Together initiative during the Scottish referendum had little to say on how to make anything better, together or otherwise. Whilst I don’t doubt that Scottish LP members had good intentions and ideas of their own, the prose emanating from the leadership seemed remarkably similar to that being espoused by their enemies to the right: that an independent Scotland would be a total wreck and that Edinburgh would get no help with “sterlingisation”, a hand shake with the ECB, or much else. Job losses, the deliberate relocation of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and an uncertain future begging for membership in the Euro zone were all dangled as intimidating titbits to an electorate that, for various reasons, were seriously considering the question of separating themselves from a state they did not elect nor endorse.
If fear didn’t cause everyone to immediately abandon the cause of independence, it certainly hurt Labour’s prospects in Scotland. Ed Miliband’s resulting rhetoric about “our country breaking up” – as if there was something almost needlessly vindictive at the heart of the “Yes” campaign – didn’t help matters. His subsequent macho posturing on the absolute impossibility of a deal with the Scottish National Party made things worse. To some, it looked like he was ready to permit a Tory victory due to a petty dislike of Scottish nationalism. To others the move looked like an attempt to cosy up to English unionists still outraged that the Scots should ever do anything but know their place. His sudden about-turn on the matter didn’t help either, giving an impression of indecisiveness that perhaps led to disappointment south of the border whilst further emboldening an antagonised Edinburgh.
But the SNP did not hand victory to Conservatism. Even if Scottish Labour had enjoyed marked success, it’s plausible we’d still be enduring David Cameron at Downing Street, albeit it without so much of the suffocating smugness now emanating from Tory HQ. It was the sea of blue in the south of England that handed power back to the Eton Crew with the backing of over eleven million English citizens small-minded enough to endorse hateful, anti-human politics.
This is not an overstatement. Anyone witnessing the spree of state-endorsed vindictiveness over the past five years and giving consent to a continuation of such practices cannot be considered a kind or rational person, no matter the alleged paucity of decent alternatives. If you dislike legislation such as the European Convention on Human Rights because you think it’s appropriate to deport foreign individuals to be persecuted – possibly tortured/executed – then you are cold-blooded and merciless. If you think the primary drain on state coffers are those in receipt of welfare benefits as opposed to the losses incurred by corporate tax evasion, you are a bully whose victims of choice are the ostracised and vulnerable rather than the business tycoons you, in your petty, pathetic dreams, hope to emulate.
If you think the cost of foreign aid is unacceptable but the expense of some aging submarines – specifically designed to annihilate men, women and children in nuclear fire and radioactive fallout – is worth it, you are simply frightening. If you think the trade unions need to stay on their knees because at some undetermined point they nearly “wrecked the country” you are a fool. If you think successful economies have historically not been able to function without operating alongside large degrees of debt then you have not been paying attention since the end of WWII. Ultimately if you voted Conservative you are, at best, misinformed. At worst you are an objectionable and malicious individual.
Yet this outcome ties into questions that, whilst unpopular to some, need answering. Imperialism, the creation of a material basis for a widespread labour aristocracy, and the actual conversion of segments of the population into effective supporters of inequality at home and misery abroad all warrant serious examination. It is not a uniform or sweeping process, given the sterling performances by McDonnell, Corbyn, Skinner etc and the evident popularity of leftist ideas in their locales. But it does raise issues that have been long neglected.
In any case, Ed Miliband’s brand of New-Labour-Lite has to be dispensed with. If the above victories at Islington, Bolsover, Harlington etc are anything to go by, it’s that left politics are certainly not anathema to everyone in modern Britain. These three triumphant politicians, whilst obviously not perfect, have never been shy about what they stand for, nor been willing to disguise their politics in abstract appeals to “ordinary people at home” seeking a “fairer Britain” or the myriad other patronising buzz-phrases so adored by Miliband. It’s my opinion that this needs to be taken into consideration.
Daniel Read is a UK based journalist. He has a BA in journalism and an MA in human rights, and is currently finishing an MSc in global politics at the University of Southampton. Follow him at his blog uncommonsense.me and on Twitter at @DanielTRead