Like many people, I woke up on Friday extremely disappointed and quite angry. There are a few ways of dealing with this – scrawling obscenities on war memorials, for example – but the prospective leaders of the Labour party are at a fork in the road.
In my opinion, Labour suffered in the Election because their plan wasn’t really cohesive. “It’s a choice between the Tories’ failing plan, and our better plan” was their cry, and it failed to convince enough people. Below this uninspiring headline was a set of policies that, viewed with 20/20 post-election hindsight, didn’t quite match up.
The mansion tax, while a noble idea in principle, didn’t win them many friends in London. While campaigning, I spoke to a man whose semi-detached house in Chiswick was set for a new tax, despite not exactly being luxurious. Perhaps it could be reformed to somehow take into account a house’s value relative to its location.
Meanwhile, their stance on immigration, surely aimed at placating those considering a vote for UKIP, was simultaneously weak from a right-wing perspective (no fixed limit) and harsh from a left-wing perspective (no benefits for 2 years). While making ambitious promises about the NHS (a GP appointment within 48 hours), the overall £2.5bn funding pledge fell some way short of the Lib Dems, instead being comparable with the £2bn pledged by the Conservatives.
So, Labour have a choice to make. They can creep further towards the centre, in an attempt to win voters from the Conservatives directly (although they've already suffered criticism for being "Tory-lite"), or they can swing to the left, to provide a real alternative to the Tories and Lib Dems.
I believe that going hard left is the best chance Labour have to win in 2020.
The main reason for this is that there’s a huge part of the electorate out there that hasn’t been sufficiently convinced to vote by either “Tory lite” Labour or the Greens (or any other party, for that matter). A charismatic, left-leaning leader could bring them out of the woodwork.
The disparity between opinion polls and the election result can be explained by “lazy socialists” not voting. The turnout in England and Wales was a paltry 65%, compared to 71% in Scotland, where the SNP, promising an end to austerity and a true alternative to the big three, achieved a landslide victory. If Labour take a leaf out of the SNP’s anti-austerity book, they can galvanise the electorate and win the next election.
The SNP were carried on a wave of Scottish nationalism following the independence referendum; while Labour obviously won’t have this opportunity, they can instead rely on statistics. Austerity has been shown not to work. By promoting this message with the graphs to back it up, they can do two things that they utterly failed to do this time around: expose the Tory plans as ideological, and weaken the right-wing media’s case against them.
Questions will be asked about where the government’s spending money will come from without austerity. These can be fielded by being honest and up-front about figures; perhaps a “fully costed” plan will help Labour here.
Of course, should the Conservatives succeed in their ideological dismantling of the welfare state, the landscape could be different in 2020 to the point where people aren’t talking about austerity. In that case, Labour can propose something which the Tories would never be trusted to do: restore our public services, and bring back the NHS.