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May 12, 2015


Luis Enrique

I am quite taken aback by how much people rely on their intuitions in these matters.

for example, those who blame a lack of vision or soul do not seem to have tested the alternative hypothesis that, say, voters simply believed media macro or the SNP bogey man story. Does anybody actually do things like talk to voters - in large sample, with proper survey design - to ask them why they voted as they did?

secondly, can the Labour party figure out a way of answering questions about what it should do now via experimentation?

I can see at least 3 options.

1. Become the party Guardian columnists fantasise about - socialism plus green plus pro immigration plus help for benefits claimants etc.
2. Move further left, but with greater appeal to working class voters - so less of the stuff I appended above (green, immigration etc.)
3. move to centre.

(I realise these three don't say much about the issues you raise in this post, which could perhaps be incorporated into any of these)

is there any way of finding out which of these three would be more likely to win an election? Could the party split, look at which version of itself polls better in which constituencies, and then agree not to stand against each other and form a coalition afterwards? I don't know, I just worry that everybody is merely going to do what Flying Rodent observes is using defeat to vindicate what they always believed, and then what we will get is whoever wins a power struggle, not what is most likely to succeed.

gastro george

Re (3). Moving to the centre moves them towards the space occupied by the Lib Dems, and their election didn't exactly go too well.

Re (1). Most of the political columnists of the Guardian and Observer are a nest of Blairites, so that's more a repetition of (3).

The problem with the Blairites is that they are fighting the battles of previous decades. As Chris notes, this is no longer a battle over who will be the best managers of the economy. As might have been expected, when given an option of three different kinds of managers, in the end people will generally opt for those that really believe in the policy.


The Labour party is almost guaranteed to never form a majority government again. The demographics we currently see across the country simply wouldn't allow it. Scotland is gone, perhaps for a couple of decades if not for good, Wales might decide to copy Scotland and ditch Labour for Plaid and the north is primed for a takeover by UKIP - they came second in the majority of the northern constituencies. Add to this the fact that the level of apathy was highest in Labour heartlands and you are looking straight at what people these days call Pasokification.

This is the first thing the leadership and the rank and file need to understand, accept and analyse the implications. And if they do, they would realise that they cannot be all things to all people any more and have to accept that their only chance of ruling ever again rests with forming broad coalitions of the left, which necessitates electoral reform.

Do I think there's substantial chance of this happening? No.

It is looking very much certain that somebody of Chuka Umunna tendency will be the next leader and will possibly lead the Labour party to utter destruction.


"Governments need therefore to think more about how to promote growth."

Wasn't Blair explicitly doing that with his "Education, Education, Education" rhetoric? Targeting the young to develop a higher skilled, more productive workforce in the future seems as relevant now as it did 15 years ago, don't you think? I'm ignoring whether or not Labour were successful in this policy, but it was their policy.

Luis Enrique

gg - lib dems did not lose because they are centrist. also, pick those guardian columnists that are not Blairites, those are they ones I have in mind for 1.

Luis Enrique

"As Chris notes, this is no longer a battle over who will be the best managers of the economy. "

well maybe, maybe not. you and Chris may think that, but my point is would be desirable to test your theories with voters as opposed to somebody winning the argument about Labour's future and then seeing how it goes in 2020.

I do not just mean test with focus groups, I was wondering if something much more radical possible. All different possible Labours to develop, see how they fare.


This is a really interesting piece and probably the best thing I have read in the post election analysis.

One question: will the media allow a new economic narrative to develop. As with mediamacro, current analyses serve the interests of the 1%.


One, two, many Labour Parties!

I actually like Luis's idea a lot, but I think it's got about as much chance of happening as (say) a UBI supported by LVT. Both the main party leaders fought the election on a platform of resolute one-party leadership with no deals with anyone ever, and the voters seemed to like it; certainly they didn't flock to the party that was actually advocating coalition government. One way of reading the Great Mystery Tory Swing of 2015 would be to say that some voters voted tactically *for one-party government*. Having a party actually form on the basis of not having all the answers would seem positively un-British these days - it would be going in for a talent contest and saying you were probably one of the best 20 or so undiscovered singers in the country. (I do wonder what effect those weekly lessons in selecting Only! One! Winner! have had on the wider culture over the last fifteen years.)

gastro george

@Luis I'd be interested to know why you think the Lib Dems did lose (that's a serious question, not rhetorical). OK, being the lightning rod for grievances against the coalition didn't help, nor did the U-turns, but their campaign was very much centrist, while still supporting me-too neo-liberalism, and sunk like a stone.

Re "managers of the economy", I should have been clearer. I didn't mean it generically, therefore implying that economic competence was less important, but "managers of a neo-liberal economic policy", implying the importance of a change of direction.

Dave Timoney

@Ehsan, re " the north is primed for a takeover by UKIP - they came second in the majority of the northern constituencies". UKIP did indeed come 2nd in many northern constituencies, but Labour typically increased their vote in those same constituencies, so "apathy was highest in Labour heartlands" isn't right.

In net vote terms, UKIP's rise was largely at the expense of the LibDems (with a little bit of erosion of the already low Tory vote in the North). This could mask lots of Labour voters heading to UKIP being backfilled by incoming LibDem refugees, but that in itself is not a portent of doom for Labour unless you think both that the LibDems are going to bounce back in 2020 and that the EU referendum will not have happened (i.e. keeping UKIP going).

Dave Timoney

@Luis, re "Guardian columnists that are not Blairites". Do you mean Matthew D'Ancona, Simon Jenkins, Ian Birrell, Melissa Kite et al?

Dave Timoney

@Phil, re the "Great Mystery Tory Swing of 2015". There really is no mystery about this. The Tories increased their vote share by 0.8% nationally (1.5% in England), whereas Labour increased by 1.5% nationally (3.5% in England). The "swing" was from the LibDems to (in descending order of the quantum of votes shifted) UKIP, Labour and the Tories.

The reason this translated into a Tory majority was because they picked up lots of LibDem seats in the South and South-West, whereas Labour's improvement was too weak to pick up enough of their target marginals. The election was won and lost in Torbay and Twickenham. It is possible their inhabitants are particularly keen on one-party government, but a more likely explanation is that they were just Yellow Tories all along.


@pablopatito "Targeting the young to develop a higher skilled, more productive workforce in the future seems as relevant now as it did 15 years ago, don't you think?"

Whilst yes, this is limited. The skills needed today are not the ones needed even 10 years ago, we certainly cannot rely on the skills the young learn to be relevant for 50 years. Instead we need a model where we train the young to learn, and train all in skills needed.

Ironically, due to point 4, many businesses cut back on training to meet short term targets. (The knowledge based company that sells my knowledge at high hourly rates has just cancelled paid training for the year, again, only 6 weeks into their financial year - I haven't had a training course I haven't paid for myself in a decade)

Vote NO to Chuka!

Chuka Umunna, the kind of oily slimeball who goes on The Apprentice and gets fired on the first episode.

The very last person Labour needs.

Dave Timoney

@Luis, re "Does anybody actually do things like talk to voters ... to ask them why they voted as they did?" This will be going on now. The earliest feedback I've seen is from the Tories' favourite pollster, Michael Ashcroft.



The "reasons" and "issues" questions are an obvious case of selection bias, but the data on vote-shifts (pg 14 of the 2nd doc) is interesting, mainly because it gives the lie to a few of the immediately popular interpretations.

The War Criminal Blair should be Hung

Labour needs a new Tony Blair...Like Germany needs a new Fuhrer.


«If "aspiration" has a sensible meaning, it means a set of policies to raise productivity and hence wages.»

And a pony for every little girl! :-)

Politics is not about sensible meanings, least of all for "aspiration", as slow, meager increases in wages driven by productivity growth.

Basing a political argument on giving "aspiration" a sensible meaning seems rather delusionary to me.

Anyhow in the recent past even when there has been some productivity growh that has resulted in higher profits and rents, as swing voters demand policies to push median wages down, because they know well that wages are a live cost to the mass-rentier economy in "core" England.

Conversely property prices in the South East and London have been doubling every 10 years.

That gives a far higher boost to the after-tax incomes of the mass-rentiers who are also wage earners (and many are pure rentiers) than any conceivable increase in productivity even if resulted in higher wages.

Rentiers who got rich buying a property in the 1980s and 1990s or earlier don't have any "aspiration" to slightly higher wages or slightly higher pensions or slightly higher benefits, quite the contrary; and they have paid for their holidays in Tuscany instead of Torquay, for new conservatories now instead of later, for San Pellegrino instead of tap water, for their dinners at Carluccio's, with much bigger much easier property profits. That's their "aspiration".

Tony Blair for all his faults only talked the talk of greater efficiency via managerialism; he rather walked the walk of bigger property profits to replace "southern discomfort" with fulfilment of their "aspiration" for 150% yearly returns on investment in property deposits.


No need for Labour to change? They sure know better?


Let them do what they do best: every time they lose (and, boy, they have been losing a lot lately), they use the Snagglepuss strategy and do the “Exit stage, right”.

Keep at it, Labour! That has been a real winner with the voters!


@ FATE, I can't attach a picture but I'm sitting in front of my computer, looking at a graph which clearly shows voter turnout to be lower than the national average in almost 80% of Labour constituencies. If that is not an indication of apathy in Labour heartlands then I don't know what is.


«The reason this translated into a Tory majority was»

First-past-the-post semi-random majorities in the presence of somewhat-uniform, somewhat-concentrated self-gerrymandering of voters.


Anti-managerial profundities from the spectator (rightists)? Or a plea for
Volunteer management / Zero Hour NHS management / CWP pressganged management for the NHS?
Can it only get better?
I am tired, and thankfully, old.

Dave Timoney

@Ehsan, so you're equating voter turnout at a constituencey level with apathy as it pertains to a specific party? Presumably this apathy is contagious, otherwise highly-motivated Tories could have won Manchester Central etc.

Labour seats usually have a lower turnout than the national average. This is because of two correlations: labour seats tend to be more working class (and thus urban); and working class people tend to turnout less than the middle class. There is nothing new in this, so you cannot interpret the 2015 result as indicating an increase in apathy among potential Labour supporters.

You can find a turnout breakdown by constituency for earlier elections at http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm


Ask the voters - that may work deciding the colour of a soap powder but did the Iphone get designed that way - no. Why did Lab and Lib do so badly - to be blunt they were fronted by Wimpy Kids. For many the only protest was UKIP whatever their non-policies.

So which is the right way round - choose a credible policy then choose a front person? But which credible policy will survive in the real world and how many credible persons are available. Rather few of either I suggest. Even Blair had to lie to the unions in order to get started and did fairly well until he got suckered into playing with the big boys. In a capitalist world the Tory's policy decisions fit easily, Labour will have a hard job to fit in and to present a good front.

Luis Enrique

Fate. No, I had in mind Owen Jones, Seamus Milne, Suzanne Moore, George Monbiot, Gary younge, aditya chakraborty and generally the passionate radical wing of the paper

Luis knows Shit

"Move further left, but with greater appeal to working class voters - so less of the stuff I appended above (green, immigration etc.)"

Luis, why do you assume working class people are not interested in the environment?

Luis Enrique

well, you charming individual, whilst I know a fair few people who would define themselves both as environmentalists and working class, my impression is that as across the whole distribution of whatever meets you definition of working class, environmental concerns are lower down the list of priorities of voters. Compare, say, what will motivate voters in Sunderland with the metropolitan elite in fashionable London post codes. But I could be wrong. That's rather my point. I am arguing that experimentation and discovery, rather than reliance on assumptions / intuitions, would be helpful. If some means of doing it can be figured out.

Luis Enrique

I did a bit a googling. Turns out there are differences across classes (wealthier more likely to recycle, for example) but not regarding "what people thought were most important for Government to be dealing with" from here
so thank you for drawing my attention to a mistaken assumption.
I am going to maintain my assumption that when it come to *how* environmental arguments are presented, there will be some differences across classes - I feel that preaching self-righteous Guardian columns are not the best approach outside of Guardian-land. They might not even be the best approach within Guardian-land.

gastro george

@Luis - I'd agree about some Guardian columnists. For example Seamus Milne - while I might agree with a lot of what he says, I don't think he'd ever get an award for communication - he's far too assertive and makes too many presumptions about the reader.

But I don't think that applies to most of the others you mention - although maybe you might say that says more about me.

But I take your point. "The Left" (whatever that is) needs to find effective ways of talking to ordinary people, that don't have the presumptions (or even information) that most posters here would have.

Part of Blairite cleverness was to take words that are meaningful to ordinary people (progressive, aspiration, etc.) and make a link between those words and their policies. The fact that a lot of this was empty is irrelevant. "The Left" has to re-forge that link.


@ gastro george
“A link between those words and their policies” true but I think (indeed I know) the law of diminishing returns features here; words that indicate new economic analysis, a real plan and real inclusion might swing it. So for me it’s back to waiting for a real hero.


William K. Black has a good column today discussing Blair's regime and impacts.


Luis And Gastro know Shit

"my impression is that as across the whole distribution of whatever meets you definition of working class, environmental concerns are lower down the list of priorities of voters"

Your impression! We know from the recent election that the Middle Classes tend to say one thing and do exactly another, concern for the environment being another good example.

"Part of Blairite cleverness was to take words that are meaningful to ordinary people (progressive, aspiration, etc.) and make a link between those words and their policies"

It sounds very much like dog training.

gastro george

@LAGKS - I'd be the first to put Blair up against a wall, but I won't deny that, in order to govern, you need to communicate. I might sound like my father, but otherwise you're just posturing.



"If 'aspiration' has a sensible meaning, it means a set of policies to raise productivity and hence wages."

You know better than to conflate increasing productivity with increasing wages. Increasing productivity only creates an additional excedent per hour of work. How that excedent is distributed is another. matter.

The U.S. historical experience is that wage growth has not followed productivity growth, and it goes a long into explaining inequality growth: capitalists hogged all the excedent.


A way to bias that distribution a little more towards workers is through government services. You know that, too.

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