It's always risky to take clear messages from election results.There's a danger of seeing what we want to see in what is in fact the outcome of a complex emergent process: as Scott Sumner says in a different context, there's no such thing as public opinion.
Nevertheless, I suspect that Paul Mason has a point when he says that this election has been a victory for those with a confident story. The SNP and Tories have done well whilst "Labour no longer knows what it is for, nor how to win power". The collapse of the Lib Dems fits this pattern. It had no message other than "umm, err we're not the nasty big boys" and won pretty much no support.
What Paul's saying is much like what I said yesterday - that parties must offer more than a shopping list for the median voter but also a cause worth identifying with - “the vision thing” or a narrative.
Put it this way. The SNP's actual fiscal proposals were much like Labour's. And yet it beat Labour massively. One reason for this, I suspect, is that it offered a strong anti-austerity message whereas Labour merely equivocated*.
This poses two questions. One is: what should Labour's vision be?
I agree with Paul Cotterill that it shouldn't be a "retail politics" in which managerialists "listen" to voters. As he says, doing so usually means listening to reactionary urges such as a clampdown on immigration and benefit claimants rather than to leftist ones such as the demand for more public ownership. And I agree that, on intellectual grounds, there is a strong case for "a new politics of organisation and production."
But there's a second question here: is it possible to combine both popularity and intellectual coherence?
One thing makes me hopeful - that this election was not a victory for austerity. The two main austerity parties - Tories and LibDems - saw their share of the vote fall by 14.4 percentage points whilst the two clearest anti-austerity parties (SNP and Greens) gained a combined 5.9 percentage points.
On the other hand, though, I'm pessimistic. Ukip's success* shows that there is also public support for anti-market policies: Ukippers (and indeed many other voters) favour (pdf) controls on prices and rents as well as on immigration. And whilst a slogan "we'll put you in control" should in theory be a popular and coherent way of promoting worker democracy, I see very little public demand for it.
It might, therefore, be very difficult for Labour to repeat its feat in the 1990s of finding a vision that's both intellectually credible and popular.
There is, though, another thing stopping it doing so. The party has so bought into managerialism that it seems not to have the intellectual resources to reinvent itself: a rehash of the Brownites vs Blairites "debate" is just irrelevant. As Paul M says:
Labour today is waking up to something much worse than failure to win. It has failed to account for its defeat in 2010, failed to recognise the deep sources of its failure in Scotland, and failed to produce any kind of intellectual diversity and resilience from which answers might arise.
* 12.7% of the vote is, sadly, some success: its lack of MPs owes more to the FPTP system than to its unpopularity.