Has the electorate moved to the right?
Great post from Sunny here, asking whether or not it is the Centrists in the Labour Party who have become dogmatic. It’s a compelling case for those who’ve never really thought about it, now more than ever. Though it has been my opinion for quite some time. I’ve often enjoyed pointing out the hypocrisy of people, who’s greatest supposed achievement is vanquishing the dogmatic, uncompromising hard left, developing their own creed (a counter-creed if you will), to which they have clung to righteously ever since. And upon closer examination of the positions of the Labour centrists, it is clear that a dogmatic approach to politics is quite common.
I don’t like the idea of defining the center ground, and I like the definition less, especially when delivered to me by its proponents. Too many people who tell us the center ground is the only way, often forget that the development of centrist politics was born out of a recognition that the publics beliefs and expectations, are not static, but evolutionary. And instead they give us a list of things that aren’t acceptable, positions we can’t afford to abandon, policies we can’t risk to support… the counter creed.
The problem is obvious, if this creed remains dominant, then we will fail to realise what needs to be done to regain our lost support. Weather that means abandoning the center, or reinterpreting what it means in practice, under the ideological guidance of those that refuse to budge on certain issues, particular (potentially succesful) policy ideas will simply be ignored. Left out of the process of consideration altogether, based on the premise that even contemplating certain reforms will lead to defeat. This completely ignores the idea mentioned above, that what may have been considered off-limits in 1997 is not necessarily off-limits in 2010.
Since the election I’ve heard some people suggest that the results showed us the country has moved to the right, and that Labour either strayed too far from the center ground (which I think is laughable), or failed to reinterpret the center ground whilst taking into account this supposed move to the right by the electorate. These voices of pessimism warn me that any contemplation of a “move to the left” by the Labour Party (whatever that means), will leave us exiled by an electorate humming a more right-wing tune.
Frankly I think this is nonsense. For one there was only a swing of around 3.7 to the Tories, the failure of David Cameron to secure his party an all out majority. Second, the Lib Dems clearly positioned themselves as a left of center party, and together with the Labour Party took a larger share of the vote than the Conservatives did, who only managed to increase their share of the vote by just under 4% of the vote. Hardly the sign of a mass right-wing realignment.
The voters the Labour Party lost havent flooded to the Tories in search of something a little more right-wing, they just haven’t come out to vote. This isn’t a new problem, its been going on for some time. Those who claim Labour needs to stick with the “triangulation” with Tory voters, that defined New Labours political strategy, fail to acknowledge that 4 of the 5 million lost voters left whilst Blair was leader. Almost as soon as the coalition of ’97 was put together, it was beginning to fall apart again. Jon Trickett wrote a good piece on this not too long ago.
I agree with Sunny, the financial crisis had a massive impact on people’s political attitudes, especially on issues such as corporate power, and the very nature of our economic arrangement. If the next Labour leader neglects this shift, they shall do so at their own peril.
But at the same time we shouldnt ignore the fact that on certain issues, the country may feel it is to the right of us. On those issues, the Labour Party really needs to consider a strategy for selling ideas to the electorate. Winning elections alone isn’t good enough, after all, politics is more a battle of ideas than a battle of the ballots. At least it should be.
So here’s to hoping the creed fades into insignificance where it belongs, and people will ask the right questions. Has the nation turned to the right? Or has the left of center failed to properly motivate parts of its base? I would have to say it is the latter.