You are here:   Ed Miliband > Labour Doesn't Get Why The Tories Won
Disastrous: Ed Miliband with the much-derided “Edstone” (photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

I first saw Ed Miliband at the launch of a new book by Will Hutton. It was the autumn of 2010, and he had just become Labour’s leader. The party was full of leftish writers, who might be expected to help and support Miliband. But he didn’t want to charm them, or work the room and meet and greet. He just stood there awkward and alone. “Whatever his other qualities,” I thought, “this man isn’t a politician.”

It was the same every time I bumped into him.  At a Miliband meet-the-press drinks party in Westminster, I kept wondering what was wrong. I scanned the party, double-checked and realised that the only journalists present were left-wing journalists. Miliband was making no attempt to woo reporters who weren’t already onside, to persuade them that he might have a case, or argue them into thinking twice before attacking him. He would talk only to the already convinced, and ignore anyone outside Labour’s “core”. He was living in a cocoon. But then so was much of the British Left.

I don’t think you can overestimate the disaster that has befallen it. The numbers don’t tell the full story — but the numbers are bad enough.

Labour saw the Tories win 99 more seats and two million more votes. It lost everywhere except in London. It lost Southampton Itchen, Ed Balls’s Morley and Outwood, Bolton West, Telford and Derby North: seats that even Gordon Brown had held in 2010, when an exhausted party staggered to the polls after presiding over the worst financial crisis of our lifetime. In what were once the Labour heartlands of Scotland, only one Labour MP survived. In virtually every one of the 40 seats the SNP took from Labour, the nationalists now have a five-figure majority. My friends in the Scottish Labour party say Scotland has been caught in a nationalist spasm, and Labour will come back when the mania passes. Perhaps they are right, but I suspect they are comforting themselves: you don’t push a landslide back up the hill just like that.

In the north of England and on the east coast the myth that UKIP would split the Right, while allowing a united Left to triumph, took the hammering it deserved. UKIP came second in 44 Labour and 76 Tory seats. It is not just that UKIP stopped Labour taking seats it should have won. It replaced Labour as the opposition in seats where it ought to be in contention. In working-class constituencies in Essex and Kent, where the Left ought to offer hope to struggling voters, Labour is not even in the game. The new battles are between Conservatives and UKIP. As for Wales, the lazy assumption is that it is a Labour fortress. But as Luke Akehurst — a hardheaded activist in a Labour movement filled with wishful thinkers — pointed out, the Tories held all their Welsh marginal seats and took two from Labour. Natalie Bennett, meanwhile, was one of the most useless party leaders Britain has ever seen — a mumbling ill-informed embarrassment. Nevertheless, the Greens took one million votes that in other circumstances Labour might have collected.

In short, despite being led by a mediocre Conservative prime minister, who has no answer to and often exacerbates the great problems Britain faces, despite the worst fall in real incomes since the 1920s, Britain has shifted to the Right.

The comforting notion that it has a “progressive majority,” which one way or another will keep the Conservatives in their box, died on May 7. In 2015, the combined vote share of all right-wing political parties (Conservatives, UKIP and the Ulster Unionists) rose to 50.5 per cent of all votes cast. The left-leaning political parties (Labour, SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and SDLP) gained just 39.8 per cent. My colleague Michael Harris of the Little Atoms website says that if you include Liberal Democrats on the right-hand side of the ledger — and as they were happy to vote for a party that had been in alliance with the Tories, you probably should — you get an even worse result for the Left. In all, 58.4 per cent of the public voted for parties on the Right.

View Full Article
Jim McNeill
June 19th, 2015
7:06 PM
"The SNP swept Scotland by appealing to Scottish patriotism. Labour was a quisling party of foreigner-loving traitors, it said; “red Tories” who would sell out Scots to their English enemies." No they didn't say that at all Nick. They said that Labour sold out the working class, in England as well as Scotland. I do wish you would stop throwing these tiresome "Blood and Soil" jibes at the SNP, you're only parading your ignorance.

June 2nd, 2015
5:06 PM
I think the London bubble played a big part in Labour's downfall. The problem is London problems are not UK problems. A classic example of this is "the housing crisis" which left wing parts of the media love reporting on. The problem is in large parts of the UK house prices have if anything been rather flat. Russian billionaires aren't looking to pick up nice houses in Swindon or Humberside. Families living in such areas are often trapped by the low value of their homes and the inability to move to nicer areas. Indeed the house crisis is in large part a combination of left leaning young Londoners unable to live in the gentrified bits of central London and cuts to housing benefits (which again probably doesn't effect many families trapped in cheaper neighbourhoods). Indeed I suspect to many people living in average market towns listening to Londoners and people in trendy cities like Cambridge and Brighton complaining about house prices was probably reason enough to vote Tory. I love London and enjoyed my time there but sometimes When you live outside London it can feel a bit like a party you haven't been invited to. Add in a bit of resentment about a international set buying into areas you cannot afford and poor people getting housing benefits to live in areas you cannot live in and you quickly see why people opted for populists nationalist parties (e.g. SNP and UKIP). Trying to out nationalist the nationalist would backfire and would be counterproductive. But having a message that reaches out to people in parts of the UK that are not London and gives them hope would probably achieve a lot to undo the damage done by Miliband.

John Knowles
June 2nd, 2015
4:06 PM
Nick Cohen and the right wing gang do not understand why the SNP won in Scotland and the Tories got not a sniff there . They do not understand why UKIP have become the unlikely voice of working people . If you just spout right wing mantras and are out of touch with the public you will always lose .Unless you sort out your local activist Mafias who keep shutting out and driving away new members . If you do not tell your regional organisers to enforce party rules to protect talented members from being bullied out of the party then Labour will always lose .The party needs to get its head from up its own back side . And I love the Labour Party but only as it is meant to be.

June 2nd, 2015
10:06 AM
Nick Cohen writes passionately when throwing bricks at the left. That's the easy part. But what exactly would he have done differently that would meant a different outcome at the election? Where is his program?

June 1st, 2015
11:06 PM
It's actually much simpler than that. Labour, for years, have been too self congratulatory, too arrogant, and too patronising. Ordinary people have been telling Labour for years, who refused to listen and mocked their pleas as "uneducated" and "racist". Labour engineered a multi-cultural society without any mandate to do so. We were fed up of the political correctness that gagged its citizens, the writing was on the wall. None of us want the NHS to fall, and support many equalilty and fairness in society, but the arrogance of "what was right for the country" instead of listening to the rumblings was too much to bear. The Labour party got what it deserved.

Michael Walker
June 1st, 2015
9:06 PM
Another London centric, media centric analysis that manages to sneak in a pro-Israeli comment at the end...there is a serious need for some proper self reflection in the wider socialist movement but this surely isn't it... Let start with the words on the back of our membership card - the Labour Party is a democratic socialist party - what does this mean for all of Britain today and how do we put into effect what we claim to be? I'm sick of media types telling us what is wrong with the Labour party without ever having canvassed a doorstep in their lives or having the first idea why the Labour Party arose and what we are meant to represent. The last Labour Government didn't "preside" over the worst financial crisis in living memory - Gordon Brown was pre-eminent in saving the world's economies from a 1920's style crisis. Don't take my word for it - read Martin Wolf's book - and he is (or rather was), a head banging monetarist.. Ed fought an honourable campaign and we were slaughtered because a) the Labour Party doesn't stand for anything in the eyes of most of the electorate at the moment...b) our own timidity in arguing our case about the economy c) the right wing media conspiracy that has destroyed every Labour Leader apart from Wilson and Blair. The former was a consummate politician; the latter was just fortunate to be around at the end of 17 years of Tory rule. John Smith would never have fawned on Murdoch like Blair... It's been a struggle for 120 years and it probably will be for another 120 years but all true socialists don't turn on their own Leaders at the time of defeat...we unite!

Julian Bray
June 1st, 2015
5:06 PM
Be very afraid Peterborough Tory MP Stewart Jackson has retweeted this piece : I said earlier that Cameron was an inadequate prime minister unfit to meet the challenges of our time. Nowhere in my view is his mediocrity more evident than in his willingness to risk the union by setting up an arms race between Scottish and English nationalism. But why should he care? In the short term, which is the only term that matters to him, who can deny that his tactics worked, and that Labour could not cope with them?" Stewart Jackson MP retweeted 3d NickCohen4's avatar Nick Cohen @NickCohen4 "Left wing journalists weren't hard enough on Miliband" Me in @StandpointMag on our role in The Labour catastrophe

May 31st, 2015
6:05 PM
I wonder if Nick Cohen understands why the Tories won. This piece reads like the analysis of a failed military campaign with the British electorate and their political views seen as an enemy which must be defeated. I don't believe that the English left PRETENDS that if cannot abide its country. They do truly despise us. The Left's reaction of contempt for the voters who put in a Tory majority makes this attitude plainly visible. The hard truth is that some of us would prefer this country to be run by the Tories than to have to endure rule by an occupying army of left-wingers who, Trojan Horse style, pretend to be the party of the people but actually want to re-shape us into kind of people they think we should be.

May 31st, 2015
8:05 AM
I'm sorry - you are wrong about Scotland. The SNP have become the only vocal proponents of left-wing policies. This was not rabid nationalism but plain old socialism. Like others, I only gave up on Labour when it chased power and dropped principles. Developing a Scottish Labour Party affiliated to the English Labour party is the only way back to a red map of Scotland. Any more blue tinge to Labour manifesto consigns Labour to continued Scottish oblivion.

May 29th, 2015
8:05 PM
"Immigration and the extortionate cost of housing is pushing its population leftwards..." Do Lefties like the idea of having more people than beds to sleep in? Do they revel in the fact that houses built for Victorian railway porters are now unaffordable? No wonder every sane voter is giving up on them.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.