The polls are all over the place and have been ever since the ‘Cleggmania’ explosion of the first live televised Leader’s Debate in British electoral history but two things are becoming clear with less than a week to go – the Tories lead (by a large or small margin over the Liberal Democrats depending on which company you trust). The second fact is Labour are languishing in third place with some of the lowest voting intention figures since Michael Foot’s oft-lambasted campaign of 1983, the year the party’s manifesto was immortalised as “the longest suicide note in history”.
Admittedly the party who had never scored three back-to-back election victories before Blair in 2005, was always going to be stretching itself to win a fourth after Iraq got worse, Afghanistan continued to roll and the economy hit rock bottom all under the stewardship of an unexciting Prime Minister. That said, as I wrote in my last entry, the Tories’ lead was narrowing before the debates, there was both cause for optimism and a real opportunity for Labour launch a radical, confident and positive campaign to win a majority. The problem lies three-fold in that last sentence.
The manifesto was positive, it had strong points too – an elected House of Lords, turning the Post Office into a People’s Bank in the heart of every small community, a dramatic rise in the minimum wage and the first stepping stones towards a National Care Service. That said, it didn’t go far enough in many areas – a pledge for a Robin Hood Tax could have undercut the Tories and Lib Dems and real electoral reform in the shape of a form of Proportional Representation would have somewhat neutered the Lib Dems (it certainly would have kept The Guardian’s support!). Nonetheless it was a strong manifesto, full of progressive ideas that was ready to sell to the disillusioned public.
The real problem emerged in the lack of confidence and positive attitude in the campaign. We all know Labour were broke, no billboards for them but their MP’s would have all had the opportunity to send out material to their electorate, reaching out to their core support with the message of a People’s Bank and significant rises in the minimum wage should have been priority with attacking the Tories for their real ‘for the rich’ policy foibles such as the inheritance tax cut or the discount for students who can afford to pay their loans back early. Instead residents received disturbing lies about the Torie’s pledge to cut benefits for the elderly and in the leader’s debates Brown focused on both the Tory and Liberal plans to cut Child Tax Credits for the poor – this is clearly not the case, they pledge to cut only the higher earners, deep within the middle class who receive these benefits. Labour went into this campaign saying they had learned from Obama’s campaign in America – social networking meets on-the-doorstep campaigning. The trouble for Labour was their failure not to motivate dedicated volunteers to speak on their behalf across the nation – it was their betrayal of those activists by sending them out without the ‘hope’ that underpinned Obama’s victory nearly two years ago.
Labour hasn’t just lost this election, they have capitulated, betraying both the dedication of their supporters and the talent of their ministers and a future generation of MPs. Andy Burham’s plans for a National Care Service, Ed Miliband’s manifesto and Alistair Darling’s publicly recognised economic wisdom have been let down by a deadly sense of scaremongering over hope.