11 May 2015

Where now?

I went to see a David Hare play called 'The Absence of War', a play that I found thought provoking and remarkably relevant given the events of 7th & 8th May. The play is David Hare's imagining of the 1992 Election where, in reality, the Kinnock led Labour party went into the election expecting to gain a majority only to be beaten by John Major's conservatives.

The central theme of Hare's play was his Labour Leader's efforts to make Labour 'electable', something that, at that time, was clearly not the case and, in the light of our most recent election, Labour need to consider the same issue today.

What differentiates Labour from Conservatives today, in a world where Labour's original and traditional constituency, the 'working class', has all but disappeared? Obviously, most people still belong to the 'working class' because they still work but, in the post-Thatcher world, the idea of an oppressed 'working class' is no longer relevant. Working people have been encouraged to believe that they work not for some exploitative employer but for themselves. Their work is therefore seen as an aspirational effort on their own behalf rather than an exploited effort on behalf of others.

So Labour need to find a connection with the electorate which reflects the new realities of a post-industrial society (where consumerism is now the opium of the masses). In this new reality, if people are unhappy they are free to spend their way out of unhappiness. They don't see that their unhappiness is a function of oppression and therefore they don't have any motivation to move against their oppressors. (As opposed to the Scottish electorate who clearly decided to vote against the oppression of a Westminster administration.)

The Conservatives scored a surprise victory because they proposed that Labour/SNP presented a real threat to the 'haves' in society. As expressed in this election campaign, conservatism is about greed, venality and fear - fear of loss (of personal wealth), fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of anything or anyone which can be characterised as a threat. The conservatives' hiring of Lynton Crosby, was done with the specific intention of making the 'haves' afraid, and it seems to have been hugely successful.

Quoting Lynton Crosby, "At its absolute simplest, a campaign is simply finding out who will decide the outcome……… where they are, what matters to them, and how do you reach them?" Have a look at Lynton Crosby's ideas here. Crosby (and Rove before him) ignores those sectors of the electorate who have already made up their minds and focuses instead on undecided or swing voters with the intention of energising them with fear.

Lynton Crosby took the basics of Carl Rove's playbook, recognising and exploiting 'wedge issues', and applied them to the UK Election with devastating results. In comparison, Labour floundered about trying, and failing, to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives. Labour failed to recognise that they operate in an entirely new political and social environment  where, rather than dealing with 'top-down' issues, they need to operate from the bottom, upwards. Where the Conservatives exploit fear, Labour needs to exploit decency. Where the Conservatives exploit greed, Labour needs to exploit fairness. Where Conservatism speaks to the worst in people, Labour needs to speak to the best and Ed Milliband wasn't up to the job.

The election result was a surprise because, at root, the swing voters who were influenced by Lynton Crosby's strategy are fundamentally ashamed of voting conservative and therefore don't and won't admit it, certainly not to pollsters. They know that conservatism has become synonymous with greed and self-interest and they are so ashamed that they embrace such values so easily that they can only admit it in the privacy of the voting booth.

If Labour is to find a relevance in this changed world, they need to give expression to society's need for decency and fairness and give ordinary people the chance to see that expressed in practice. 'Be Afraid' clearly trumped a 'Better Plan for a Better Future'.