There is a debate of sorts about why Labour lost the election. Some Blame Miliband personally, others the fact that he had abandoned ‘Blairism’ (The Financial Times), or the centre ground (Patrick Diamond, Policy Network). Left Foot Forward blames ‘a lacklustre campaign devoid of vision’; the New Left Project ‘institutional inertia’ and lack of popular mobilisation. Some have moved on with barely a pause. CLASS went straight from planning the first 100 days of a progressive government to campaigning against the one we actually elected. Compass is properly depressed about the defeat but imagines that outside of Labour ‘progressive and radical politics is flourishing’ and will presumably be busy getting on with that There isn’t a lot of substance to it and it is difficult to know what some of it means.
The New Left Project advise that we should ‘restrategise the way that we do activism’. Left Futures offered a rambling reprint from the Morning Star that says labour must ‘get real’ And you can only wonder what ‘vision’ Left Foot Forward thinks is missing when theirs includes waffle about a ‘proactive and sustainable economic policy’ (preferable, I suppose, to one that is reactive and perishable). Patrick Wintour in the Guardian’s long read, ‘The Undoing of Ed Miliband’ dwelled at length on the small change of politics. If there was an explanation of the ‘undoing’ it was Labour’s reputation on the economy and worries about its dependence on the SNP scare but neither were explored in depth.
Nonetheless, Labour’s reputation on the economy is emerging centre stage as a fatal weakness, and it is linked to the party’s failure to defend the economic record of the last Labour government. Jonathan Friedland thinks Labour can’t move on till it confronts its past and properly explains why the crash occurred.But how should they do this? Every government takes refuge behind ‘events beyond our control’; it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a Labour government had been ‘blown off course’. It is not enough that Labour can point to the origins of the crash of 2008 in the financial sector rather than public spending, it has to have something significant to say about what happened and what should be done as a consequence and that is where the real problem lies. ‘It wasn’t me guv, it was the bankers’ won’t wash.
Miliband actually got closer than anyone to the heart of the matter when he attacked the ‘predators’ but he didn’t follow through, didn’t build the argument about the way the economy works. And when he was attacked in turn, he retreated. It is hardly possible in any case to combine a serious account of the origins and development of the financial crisis with conventional commitments to austerity as a way of dealing with it. But if his critics are going to blame Labour’s failure to confront its past, or its reputation for economic competence, they really need to dig a little deeper for explanation.