Can the party now get serious
Labour needs to get serious. Thursdayâ€™s results suggest that Labour is competitive again, but it will be hard to kick Cameron out of Downing Street. The Tories are rampant; they have renewed confidence and the No2Av campaign showed they take no prisoners. The weakness of the Lib Dems looks like bad news for Labour. And while Ed Miliband deserves credit for his positioning and for making Labour more voter friendly, the party urgently needs more active members and a hard hitting narrative.
Cameron and Osborne have developed into formidable opponents. They have learnt the lessons of their anaemic 2010 campaign. Their use of No2AV to motivate the Tory vote was clever. The No campaign gave the Tories the means to damage their coalition partners with impunity. It helpfully fostered conservative mood music and engaged Conservative voters.
And above all, by creating high profile headline grabbing spats, the AV campaign deflected media attention away from cuts. Impressive stuff. To defeat the Tories, Labour will have fight at the top of its game and marshal all its talent.
After the Lib Dem humiliation, it is tempting to gloat. But a split anti-Tory vote does Labour no favours. If a general election had been held yesterday, many LD seats would have turned blue. Cameron could have won his majority. By design or by accident, Cameronâ€™s coalition has successfully neutered the Lib Dems as an anti Tory force.
This is so convenient for the Tory cause; one wonders whether this was Cameronâ€™s primary reason to establish the Coalition all along. The organised tactical votes that kept the Tories out of power post 1992 are now history.
A key problem is that Labour it may not have the resources to turn out the anti Tory vote. Mike raised the problem of Labourâ€™s limited activist base back in April. I found at first hand that Mike has a point working deep behind enemy lines in a safe LD seat. Out campaigning we found that the Lib Dems had left the door wide open to Labour, but we had too few people to capitalise. Labour urgently needs to recruit more members to campaign and raise money. The partyâ€™s 800 new councillors must be put to work.
Paul Mason pointed out a second problem for Labour; a hard-hitting narrative. In England, Labourâ€™s â€œyour voice in tough timesâ€ message was along the right lines, but too easily drowned out by headlines of coalition fights. As Mason points out, the simple clarity of the SNP defeated a more nuanced Labour position. Next time around, Labour will be mauled if it doesnâ€™t create a simple, resilient, hard-hitting message that gets people voting and campaigning for Labour. Being nice will not cut it. Being against the cuts is not enough. The party has made good progress in twelve months, but with the Tory challenge laid bare, it is time for Labour to get serious.
Jonathan writes a regular piece on PB