The British General Elections – Why Did Labour Fail? Election Aftermath – Turning to the Future

Posted on 08. July 2015

by Ivan Stefanovski

ivan-stefanovskiDid it all start wrong with the inter-party election of Ed Miliband as President of the Labour in May 2010? Was that May 23rd an unlucky one for the Labour Party? After the electoral defeat in 2010, and the resignation of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party, many hoped that a new era for Labour was on the horizon. Although Miliband the older was a favourite in the inter-party election, younger brother Ed, standing on the shoulders of the trade unions, won the close tie by a small margin, achieving the support of 50,65% of the electoral college. In his early 40s, Ed was the youngest leader in Labour history, while also becoming a leader of the opposition in Parliament.

After five years of Tory ruling, and in the wake of the 7 March British elections, the average British citizen probably expected an offer that is fair, just and voter-friendly. Faced with the ruling of classical conservativism on the one hand and the so-called champagne socialism on the other, left-wing voters in Britain, probably expected a ‘full speed to the left’ approach. Miliband’s close ties to the trade unions promised a more working-class friendly line and the Labour Party seemed set to regain popularity among voters. Despite these elements, the Labour Party scored an even worse defeat at the recent 2015 UK General Elections. What happened?

The Manifesto

Labour’s Manifesto was an extensive summary of a modern leftist European party’s view on British society. Still, not taking into account the general austerity climate throughout Europe, the fiscal problems within the Eurozone and the economic policies of the biggest political parties in European countries, Labour failed to mobilise British voters using a clear and straightforward economic platform, which clearly differs from the current Tory offer. That is the reason why we reflect on these three points of the Manifesto: general economic policy, taxation and NHS.

When talking about the economic reforms, Labour pledged to “…reduce the deficit every year, to see debt falling as a share of GDP by the end of the Parliament, and to achieve a surplus as soon as possible. Labour…” and also promised to increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour by October 2019. Although both proposals are valid and based on genuine needs of British society, they still have two general shortcomings: First, they are very similar to the proposals mentioned in the 2010 Labour Manifesto – the one which removed Labour from power; second, some of the solutions, for example, eradicating the deficit by 2019 and raising the minimum wage by the end of this Parliament, can also be found in the Tory Manifesto. In other words, their general economic policies lacked an innovative cutting edge that would have made a clear difference between Labour and Tory solutions in the eyes of the electorate.

Taxation is one of the main arenas of every electoral battle. Labour promised to restore the 50p rate tax, to introduce the mansion tax and abolish the marriage tax allowance. The 50p tax rate means that all the earnings over 150.000 pounds will be taxed at a rate of 50%. Just before the elections however, Tory lowered the income tax to 45% for this category of citizens. They also planned to introduce a ‘mansion tax’, for homes worth more than £2 million, to restore the 10p tax rate and to abolish non-domiciled status. The restoration of the 10p tax rate meant that nearly 24 million people would have paid less taxes. Labour taxation policies were one of the most leftist measures proposed in the Manifesto. But still the Tory campaign managed to neutralise these measures by sending a warning signal to the middle class voters, telling them – “You will pay more taxes!” Because Labour failed to produce an efficient PR strategy, it was easy to twist its policies and draw the voters’ attention to issues where Tory had prepared a much better playing ground.

Speaking about NHS, Labour promised a £2,5 billion NHS Time to Care fund, paid for by the mansion tax and larger taxation of tobacco companies and hedge funds. This was planned to cover the salaries of 20,000 new nurses, 8000 new GPs, 5000 homecare workers and 3000 more midwives. Although these proposed measures promised a great improvement to the NHS, Tories made a move that check-mated the Labour propositions. Cameron promised £8 billion more for NHS, (a sum that Labour failed to match), seven-day NHS treatment and same-day GP appointments for people over 75. A real blast to Labour policies!

The Scottish Referendum and the SNP

Both Tories and Labour fiercely backed the ‘NO’ campaign for the Scottish independence referendum. Taking a look at the bigger picture and the general political context, it made perfect sense. Still, it seems that Labour forgot that elections are due in eight months’ time and that Scotland is a Labour stronghold. On the other hand, supporting Scotland’s independence would have been costly for Labour. It seems that this was a lose-lose situation for Miliband’s party. Furthermore, it seems like Labour forgot that Britain is still voting using the first-past-the-post system, meaning that a loss of support can cost you many, many constituencies. So it happened. The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) landslide put Labour in a very weak second place, deteriorating Labour’s hope of a very tight loss. At the end of E-day, it was all Tory! Conservatives gained 24 more seats than 5 years ago (331), and Labour suffered by losing 26 seats more than in the previous elections, bringing the tally to 232 seats.

Looking forward – a new leadership as a preparation for 2020

After the unplanned heavy loss and the immediate resignation of Ed Miliband, Labour must now elect a new leader, and develop a strategy for tackling Tory policies in Parliament. Harriet Harman – acting Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition since 2015 -has once again been asked to take the care-taking role in the party. But this time, will her ambitions only be “acting” like 5 years ago, or will she launch a campaign to become party president? We must wait and see. Still, taking into account Hillary Clinton’s campaign for 2016, and her day-to-day growing popularity, maybe a Labour Party led by a woman will manage to persuade British voters that Labour can offer a solution to the majority of British people’s problems. It can be expected that Harriet will ride on “Hillary’s Wave” of popularity in the US. If Hartman manages to win the inter-party elections, she can then wait for the epilogue of the US presidential elections and materialise depending on the final results. If Harriet Harman is a new solution, or just more of the “Champagne Left”, only time will tell.