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UK Elections: Has Labour Lost The Plot For Good?

09/06/2015 12:23 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Britain's Labour Party leader Ed Miliband waves as he leaves after delivering his resignation at a press conference in Westminster, London, Friday, May 8, 2015. The Conservative Party surged to a seemingly commanding lead in Britain's parliamentary General Election, with Prime Minister David Cameron remaining in 10 Downing Street.(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

The results of the recent UK elections bring to light several interesting trends. Although there were many protagonists in this avidly watched electioneering theatre, most observers were riveted on the two traditional rivals -- the Labour and Conservative parties. The Tories won hands down with 330 seats, while Labour was reduced to 232 seats from 258.

The big loser of the game were the Liberal Democrats with only eight seats, Scotland Nationalist Party (SNP) won an impressive 56 seats out of 59. In the coming months, this party is expected to bargain hard about Scottish independence with the government of the day.

But now to return to the two primary adversaries at the heart of the tussle, in particular the crushing defeat of the Labour Party. Some observers say that Labour lost because of their leader, Ed Miliband, who perhaps leaned too far to the Left. Others go a step further and say that Left ideology has no room in today's electoral politics.

"Left-centric ideology has become less practical and thus less attractive in Western politics unless you come up with an idea like Tony Blair's 'Blairism'."

In this election, the Labour Party got routed from its traditional base land of Scotland. The SNP was the big winner there. Many say that Labour merely tried to emulate the Tories by stressing on policies such as austerity which did not go down well at all with their traditional voters in Scotland. The SNP promised new directions and the Tories under charismatic David Cameron offered economic salvation while Labour seemed to be stuck in an old rut.

When it was last in power under the prime-ministership of Gordon Brown, the Labour Party's failures in managing the economy came under scrutiny. The global economic meltdown played a part but there was some consensus that Brown mishandled the economy. David Cameron got plenty of leverage in 2010, when the Tories came to power, out of a letter written to his successor by the outgoing chief of secretary to the Treasury stating simply: "I'm afraid there's no money left."

Ed Miliband becoming the leader of the party by defeating his older brother, David Miliband, was big news in the British media in 2010. With a decidedly Left-leaning campaign, Ed won by a slim margin, bolstered by support from unions. There was a perception that Labour needed to be run by someone who could command the party along the ideology of the Left. Senior Labour leaders anticipated that in the next elections (in 2015) Britain would confront an alarming situation where the Conservative government led by Cameron would bring a wider gap between a handful of super rich and the larger chunk of middle-class people. Therefore, the Labour Party believed that supporting a man armed with a clear Left-centric agenda would hugely benefit them in the next battle for power. Ed looked like a good choice: he presented a striking contrast to Cameron but also had a combative edge over his relatively soft-spoken brother. Indeed, Ed generally performed well in verbal duels with Cameron but it's one thing to be good at parliamentary debates and another to actually win elections.

"It's myopic to say that the time is up for Left-centric ideology. The performance of the SNP is proof of that and indicates that people do have faith in a Left-leaning idea of society."

Things have changed in politics now. It's no more about who argues well in Parliament but about who can make roadmaps that give people the direction they seek. Ideology, in the traditional sense of the word, matters less than effective economic management.

Certain critics have posited that the failure of Ed's narrative hints at a deeper current in society. It tells us that pure Left-centric ideology has become less practical and thus less attractive in Western politics unless you come up with an idea like Tony Blair's "Blairism". Else, Left ideology seems irrelevant in the world of today.

Tony Blair reinvented the dying Labour Party in mid 1990s. That allowed them to rule the country for 13 long years. While people were dubious about Labour's chances of reaching 10 Downing Street before the 1997 elections, Blair played his cards well. He tapped into the widespread disenchantment created by the radical reforms of Thatcherism and later by the ineffective leadership of John Major. The new Labour took very good advantage of people's mood, and made people realise that though "Socialism" may have failed, a pro-business Neo-Socialism could work.

People often joke that Conservatives understand the economy better whereas Labour understand only politics. There's also a common perception that the Conservatives are more reliable when it comes to protecting jobs from foreign immigrants.

If we see the world through the prism of realism then both ideologies, Left or Right, have failed in solving the people's problems. Neither side can truly control the economy, which depends on a unified global financial system that cannot be properly manipulated by a traditional nation-state.

So, is there any room for Left ideology in today's Britain? There might be a decade from now. When a party, Right or Left, stays in power for any length of time it does give a particular direction to society. For example, when the Conservatives remain in office for more than one term it means there will be a widened gap between the super wealthy and working class through welfare cuts and less taxation for the rich. So, it all depends on how the next Labour leader communicates with the British people, especially with the working class, to win back hearts in the next elections.

It's myopic to say that the time is up for Left-centric ideology. The performance of the SNP is proof of that and indicates that people do have faith in a Left-leaning idea of society. Secondly, the battle between market and society will always continue. The Right wants to create a market-based society whereas the latter wants the market to be restricted to only economic affairs but not to dictate social affairs. Thus, the space for social democrats in electoral politics is in no danger of being taken over.

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