Paying the price

First published in Progress magazine

Never again should Labour play fast and loose with working people’s lives

The Labour party is full of idealists; it is one of the things I like about it most. But its ability to wish the situation to be better than it is sometimes has no bounds. Ed Miliband’s Labour party had this in abundance. Central to all this was one assumption: that the economic crash had moved the centre-ground to the left; that, because markets had failed, people’s trust in an all-powerful state had been restored. There was almost no grounding for this theory, other than wishing it so. The very reason Labour was in opposition was because the voters, following the crash, had replaced Labour with David Cameron’s pro-austerity Conservative party. No incumbent centre-left party in office since the crash has been re-elected across Europe, yet the centre-right in Germany and elsewhere has been. France was the only place the left was winning, but that has hardly gone to plan or been a model for British social democracy.

Time and again, I and others would say to Miliband’s team: build a strategy to win assuming the centre-ground has not moved. If it has, you will win a landslide; if it has not, you will be in government regardless. ‘Disloyal, naysayer, bitterite’, was normally the reply.

To dissuade those of us who feared Labour might fall short, the then leader’s office sought to reassure that all was in hand. Pollsters and those passionate about Miliband’s project were wheeled out to explain the thinking: everyone who voted for us in 2010 will do so again (29 per cent), then all Labour needed was one-quarter to one-third of the 2010 Liberal Democrat vote (six per cent), and that losing is a ‘statistical impossibility’. This became known as the ‘35 per cent strategy’. It seemed to reassure no one and in turn leadership loyalists were sent out to deny its existence. It turns out the latter were proved right, because, as Spencer Livermore explains opposite, there was ‘not a strategy … but an ideological project’. A project for which working people are paying the price. Never again should Labour play fast and loose with working people’s lives and set its ambitions so low.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress

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Read too:

Spencer Livermore: Mistakes on repeat

Victoria Groulef: Out of the mouths of babes

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