I spent a good chunk of this week and last campaigning for Comrades in Haverstock Ward, Camden, who were fighting a council by-election. For a start, I was very surprised to see such a large amount of Lib Dem activists openly identifying themselves. New Labour has had many wrong-headed (and sometimes catastrophic) policies. But New Labour never went in with the Tories, or started massive organised programmes of job losses. Liberals were using the same arguments on a national basis that they had used for their sorry local alliance with the Tories previously – ‘Labour didn’t want a deal with us’.
Good politicians are not political harlots. A situation of accepting the uglier bedfellow simply because of the strength of the urge is no defence. Maintain chastity. Nobody ever has to enter coalition with anyone else. That is a simple fact, and a convenient one to abandon if you are power-hungry and utterly unprincipled.
That is not to say that all coalitions are unprincipled. More that for any party left of Ghengis Khan, or even any party rooted in a local community, all coalitions with Tories are unprincipled.
The Lib Dems narrowly beat us, and I was honestly gutted. But it does confirm that in many places, the Lib Dem vote is simply a middle class anti-Labour vote, not based on policy or which direction the country will take, but because of a ‘progressive’ disdain for the poor and their annoying habit of crudely organising to defend themselves.
Why did we lose? Well, turnout was 34%, despite everyone being knocked up multiple times. Any cross section of the registered electorate is always more Labour than that which turns out on the day. Our supporters are the type of people who are more likely to do hard physical work, long hours, or simply not to know what is going on with any certainty.
This has implications for the core vs marginal debate that Labour often indulges in. People call this silly, which is very nice, but objectively it still matters.
No matter how marginal a place is, you still need a core to make up a majority of the vote you do get. What we need more than anything is to be widely perceived as a party which inspires these people. Even with the Con-Dem government in place, we still need a positive vision, image, articulation and accompanying organisation which can do this. A lot of it is there. The PR job that will need to be performed by the next leader is therefore crucial.
In short, we need a leader who looks like a break from the last 13 years, and provides vision over triangulation.