This pattern replicated itself throughout the UK, except in the traditional Labour heartlands of the North East, and to some extent the North West, of England. There was a definite trend to the right in many of the more moderately minded areas. There are two potential inferences that could be drawn from this. Both of which start from the premise that the United Kingdom is undeniably populated by naturally conservative-minded peoples.
However, that is not to say that they are natural Conservatives!
The first possibility is that the UK dislikes change. We have seen a massive increase in income and wealth disparity throughout my lifetime (I was born mere months after the 1979 election which swept Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives into power). Many of us would be content if our lot were seen to be improving – even if the gap between the ultra-wealthy elite and the rest of the population continues to grow. The illusion of greater personal wealth over-rides the fact that the super-wealthy elites can inflate prices in any marketplace, simply by becoming a participant within it. This is just not factored in.
The second possibility is that the majority of people in the UK are motivated by the fear of those who are perceived to be different. Concentrating on England, Wales and Scotland, there were profoundly nationalist undertones to the recent election. Although these were framed in the ‘Left:Right’ paradigm, there was a lot more than that involved in the subconscious of the electorate. The failed Scottish Referendum vote may have made waves in Scotland, invigorating a new generation of Scottish nationals. It has also done the same in England, in particular, by raising the West Lothian question once more. Throw in to the mix the demagogic brand of nationalism peddled by UKIP, we have a deeply distasteful image of a country comprised of sub-conscious xenophobes.
The truth is that the country is one which values stability. A predictable future is necessary for existing businesses to invest, and new businesses to set up in the UK. Andy Burnham has recently gone on record as saying that entrepreneurs should be valued as highly as doctors and nurses are. He is right to make this statement. Entrepreneurs perform a vital role in ensuring that a country continues to grow, but does so in the right areas and for the right reasons. At risk of echoing the much pilloried ‘predators and producers’ concept espoused by Ed Miliband in 2011, those entrepreneurs who identify and successfully address a social need are entitled to reap the harvest of their invested seed capital.
Labour’s challenge now is to capture the soul of capitalism. It is too simple to continue to perpetuate the myth that the UK can be a socialist utopia. Would that it could be, but communist countries are liberalising their markets in order to respond to e-globalisation. Countries such as Russia, Cuba and China have fallen prey to the irresistible lure of personal betterment. Of aspiration. Of acquisition of material wealth as a means of improving one’s lot.
It is this slack-wire that Ed Miliband was attempting to navigate over. This was not a straightforward position for any Labour Party leader to take. Especially when a large proportion of the mainstream print media are more interested in the subliminal messaging relating to his ‘wonk’-yness, and UKIP were making concerted overtures to the disaffected people who felt that the Labour Party stood no more for them.
So where next for the country – and for the party that I hold so close to my heart? For the UK, a five year programme of government cuts for a country which is still only in nascent recovery. For Labour, a further period of un-necessary internecine feuds between the People’s Front of Judea, and the Judean People’s Front. Labour needs that one stand-out candidate for leader who can command the party’s traditional base whilst appealing to the necessary additional ‘Middle England’ support required to put them back into power. They may well have them within the ranks of their elected members.
For any leader to pander to popular opinion is wrong. Leaders do not follow – they are opinion formers, not opinion reflectors. Therefore Labour did not deserve to win the 2015 election as they failed to set the agenda. If the default position of the UK is conservative, then any other party needs to have a strong, singular vision to capture public opinion. Labour captured this in 1945. They did again in 1997. Between those two was probably the leader with the best political judgment in twentieth century British politics, Harold Wilson. The Labour Party needs to set itself to win the hearts of the people, as it did in 1945, as Wilson did in 1964, and as Blair did in 1997.
The Conservatives are in power for the next five years. However, what were the policies that won them the election? A referendum on membership of the EU. An extra £8bn spent on the NHS each year. And….erm…oh yes, lower taxes! This was an election more about polls than policies, which played in to their hands. Because neither did Labour have a magnetically attractive leader, nor a single coherent vision for the future.
I wonder what will happen to the #Edstone, by the way. Perhaps it will be uncovered, centuries from now. Archaeologists will muse the platitudinal content, and muse to themselves “Who was this mighty Miliband?”.
I AM EDDYMANDIAS, KING OF KINGS. LOOK ON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR!