Why Keziah didn’t vote Labour

Dear Liz, Andy, Yvette and Jeremy,

It’s exactly one month to the day that I stood in the West Lindsey Leisure Centre to hear my result in the 2015 General Election.

Whilst I was hardly expecting a landslide in a safe Tory seat, I had hoped that Labour would make some in roads.

The local party had been moribund for some time, I was only selected in December so I thought I’d give it a good go.

I promised a ‘Fresh Start’ for Gainsborough, to help small businesses, defend the NHS, sort out a social housing repair backlog, cut tuition fees and scrap the bedroom tax.

I even managed to get Network Rail to rethink removing a crossing that would have stopped the disabled and families with buggies using the local station.

I thought it was a good mixture of local and national policies.

I did a video, using Facebook’s tools to specifically target just the 17,000 people on the social network site. It was watched by more than 10,000 of them!

We also did our fair share of those five million conversations on the doorsteps and in the sixth forms.

I took way too many campaign selfies!



I’d even pop round and personally hammer in my boards!


  
And to an extent we did well on Election Day.

We went from third to second, increased Labour’s vote by more than 36% and I managed to get the only swing from Tory to Labour in Lincolnshire (1.15% for those of you who like stats!)

We also managed to get three great council candidates elected.

Of course I still got stuffed, Sir Edward Leigh’s majority increased by nearly 5,000 to 15,000 and the 2010 Lib Dem vote (they went from second to fourth) seemed to split equally to UKIP, Labour and the Tories.

And although I was happy to get 10,500 votes (up from 7,701) a little bit of me was still a bit surprised we didn’t get more, especially in the town of Gainsborough.

Two of its wards are in the top 10% of the most deprived wards in England. I fact a recent study found the boys born there today can only expect to live healthily for 52 years.

This morning, I received this email from a woman called Keziah which went some way to answering my question.

I print it in full here in the hope that you see what she has to say and hopefully provide an answer.

Dear David,

A month ago you stood as a candidate in my constituency of Gainsborough.

I didn’t vote for you.

Why would you be interested in this? Because I should have voted Labour. I am from a background that would traditionally vote Labour.

Working-class, left-wing, of a generation that grew up under the Tories and understood how destructive that was.

Like much of the country, I woke up on the 8th of May disbelieving, angry and scared. But I didn’t vote for my Labour candidate. Why not?

My concerns about the current government (and the previous one, in coalition with the Lib-Dems) were about their callous treatment of the ordinary people of Britain, and their blatant disregard for human life.

Coupled with this has been a rhetorical and media campaign designed to dehumanise and demonise vast swathes of society – amongst whom benefit claimants and migrants. And a bunch of lies about the economic situation.

I read the Labour party manifesto. Did it challenge the lies? The myth of the deficit and that the only way to clear it would be to make cuts – to the NHS, to the welfare state, to the ordinary services of the people of Britain? No it did not.

I see that Labour is still failing to challenge these lies, lies which are disproved repeatedly by top economists. Instead it is jumping on the Tory bandwagon and talking about benefit ‘scroungers’ and the like. Why?

I’m concerned, in the aftermath of the election, as Labour licks its wounds and candidates consider why they didn’t get votes, that you may have been listening too much to the right-wing media campaigns, the ones that say you lost because you were too left-wing. That’s not true. You lost because you were too far to the right.

With your meek and watery acceptance of Tory lies and rhetoric you lost your left-wing voters. But you didn’t gain the right-wingers, who will always prefer Tory. In one group of which I am a member, a poll showed that 96% of people thought that Labour are too right-wing.

Voters don’t trust you because you don’t challenge the Tory propaganda. Why is this? Do you think that we have spaghetti for brains and believe all that stuff? Or are you actually morally on a par with the Tories? Neither of those stances will get you votes.

I would urge you and your fellow Labour party members to take this into account, as you regroup and choose your leader.

This is what lost you votes which, when I was growing up, would have safely belonged to Labour.

You’re not an effective opposition because you’re not opposing. Please do see this email as constructive feedback – yes, there is some criticism, but only because I’m seriously concerned that the Labour party has been out of touch with the electorate.

With very best wishes,

Keziah

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20 comments

  1. Marianne Edwards

    She’s right. Next time, hire Keziah.

    The wholesale contempt for the electorate as being hypnotised by the media is profoundly misplaced. If you’re so worried about heuristics, how about more publicity on anchoring and priming to help the electorate defend their poor vulnerable impressionability!

    How about visibly standing up for the poor and immigrants instead of a bunch of smug selfies. Sorry mate – but the self mocking selfie thing just makes me feel angry at how you are also trivialising the suffering of the very people you’re supposed to represent.

    • davidprescott

      Fair point Mariannne. I used it as a way of engagement and it worked with some young people. But listening to them was more important and I did a lot of that too. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Robert Fenner

    I agree with Keziah when she says Labour didn’t do enough to counter Conservative and media accusations about economic legacy and about benefits claimants and the like. But I’m not sure I agree when she says the party is too right-wing. Labour is a broad church, and always has been. Also, although Keziah may not like to be reminded of this, the only time Labour won three successive terms was when it occupied the centre ground.

  3. Robert Fenner

    I clicked ‘send’ too soon! Meant also to say this is a great piece about a debate worth having – and the photos are great, too. Good to see you hammering home your point in people’s gardens, David 🙂

  4. Sara Catahans

    I really hope this message reached the ears of those who can instigate real change in this failing Labour Party.

    I too was turned off to the point of not voting Labour for the first time ever after feeling Labour would continue/run with with many of the Tory’s most damaging initiatives and policies. This was cemented when I opened Labours manifesto to see the ‘working people’ retoric. What happened to a Labour Party that is for ‘the people’…period. Why alienate and demonise sections of society that most need your support.

    The stream of potential leadership candidates has been worrying to say the least…many of them Blairites, most of them to the right of the party.

    We need a Labour Party we can vote for again….please….please!

  5. kedae

    I also agree wholeheartedly with Keziah, I sincerely hope you and your fellow Labour party MPs take her (any many likeminded others) advice , and that your candidates act accordingly in the future. I must also say I am very heartened by your response. Well done and I wish you luck in the future.

  6. Jane Wragg

    Adapting strategy or policy in response to one person would be ridiculous. Yes a move to the left would attract more left leaning voters but would deter others who may then vote Tory. I supported Michael Foot in the early 80s and would love to live in a country that wanted socialist values, but it doesn’t. I haven’t yet decided who to vote for in leadership election. It’s complicated but I shall support whoever I believe has the best chance of winning in 2015 (communicating best).

  7. Rebecca Fox

    Hi David,
    Congratulations on this very honest and interesting post. Have you had any responses from the leadership candidates to your post or Keziah’s letter?
    I think she’s right. I’m a despairing ex-Labour voter too.

  8. alisonleggatt

    Keziah is right. I think many of us felt desolation on the 8th of May. Few of us felt represented by those we so wanted to stand behind. As the tories took so few of the votes nationally (but enough to scrape through with a majority) I suspect there may quite a few votes that could be won through more effective, left-centre campaigning, and most definitely through challenging the right wing media biase.

    There does feel, in light of the results, that there is a positive way forward. As the lefts and centres regroup, I cant help but feel a new surge of political interest and more importantly, activity, is upon us. As a massacred centre voter (libdem) it truly does feel that the way forward is to join forces with those who care for a future that benefits all of us. And that can only happen with strength of numbers, which we do have in our collective 63%.

  9. KT

    I agree with Keziah, too. I will never vote Tory but for the first time in my adult voting life, I did not vote Labour either as it felt like a vote for another shade of Tory. It feels like the party isn’t really sure what it is any more, or what it stands for. In trying to scramble around finding how to win more votes from the Tories or UKIP, the Labour party forgot to give the public any clear reason to vote for them. I think what we really want is change. Some believable plan for sustainability. Many of us feel that while the Conservatives take from the poor to continue feeding the rich, Labour just borrow money to feed the poor… and continue feeding the rich. We don’t want to hear how benefit claimants will be penalised, we want to hear how you will get inside broken communities and give back some sense of self esteem and purpose to people who have no belief of a better future. A series of gimmicks and quick fixes is not going to mend the country or improve social mobility. I am also despairing at so many Labour politicians jumping on the “aspiration bandwagon”. We will always need people to stack shelves, clean bathrooms and answer the telephone. Stop pretending that everyone can or should aspire for university degrees and start valuing the work that everyone does and paying people a proper living wage. There are too many politicians within the Labour party who have never lived amongst the working classes and are not in touch with the real lives of an enormous section of society. The vast majority of people want to work. They also expect to be paid enough for that work to feed and clothe their families, heat their homes and take their children swimming now and then. It is absolutely ludicrous that the Tories think the way out of this situation is simply to shove these people on zero hours contracts and sanction them if they refuse to comply. The way the poor are being demonised is shocking, and it felt to many that unlike the SNP and the Green party, Labour were not defending the very people that would normally want to come out in their droves and vote for them. The campaign was weak, the message was weak, it felt there was no credible alternative. Labour used to defend the working man, the underdog. There are more of us….give us something worth voting for and you will win next time. This should have been an easy election to win for a decent opposition, considering the way the Tory-Lib Dem coalition slaughtered public services and make Britain a nation of food banks and misery. Please regroup and show us that you will defend the jaded working classes again and make Britain fairer.

  10. Michelle

    I agree wholeheartedly with Keziah. Labour were never posing as a real alternative to the Tories. The Green party hit the nail on the head with their political party broadcast – austerity both ways | tory or tory-light. What kind of choice is that?

    If labour want to prove to the country that they represent the “working people” or even the people for that matter, the MP’s should decline this ludicrous 11% payrise they’re set to get, or take this and make a donation to their constituencies. Literally put your money where your mouth is and prove you’re with us.

  11. Paul

    There are two issues that get conflated in the post election debate: –
    1. Was the party positioned correctly
    2. Was the party effective at getting its message across

    The answer on the second point is a resounding “no”. I’m afraid Ed team were a PR disaster and the message was all over the place (anti-austerity but keeping Tory spending pledges, nasty Tories but we’ll keep out the immigrants as well etc etc). It all came across as political posturing rather than having a position backed up by substantive arguments.

    Unfortunately this also makes answering the first question about party position rather difficult. I don’t think its as simple however simply right or left. They did however fail to win over some key groups. In particular they seemed to do badly in poor market town (e.g. Gainsborough). I can only assume that the Tory lazer focus on “hard working families” (combined with the benefits cap) was very effective here. Most people self identify as hardworking. I can imagine that man people objected in less affluent areas objected to the high high benefits being paid to people living in London.

    This was then combined with some failures with the economic message. Some of this was positioning again. However some of the criticism was more substantive. In particular Labour managed to alienate many of business leaders with its regulatory rhetoric. This was no doubt initially popular with the electorate, however, I suspect the disappointment expressed by many business people with these polices reinforced the perception that Labour couldn’t be trusted with the economy. Therefore any electoral benefit was more than offset by the substantial costs. .

    Sadly this isn’t the lesson that many Labour supporters seem to be learning. In particularly there seems to be a common fallacy that a more left wing labour party would have won working class UKIP voters and SNP voters. However these arguments seem to assume that you can buy off demagoguery. If somebody has decided that “immigrants”, “the EU” or “the English” are the primary problem then sadly I don’t think any public spending promises will persuade them to vote different.

    Unfortunately people who have stepped outside mainstream argument can probably only be persuaded back by slow rational argument (i.e. something a bit deeper that posturing of the last Labour leadership). Meanwhile in the short term I suspect some traction can be made by persuading Labour doubters that it isn’t anti business, can manage an economy and does support working people. Such a strategy would win back across the spectrum including many reluctant Tories (which obvious not only wins Labour votes but loses them for the Tories).

  12. Steve T

    Historically, there are clearly two kinds of elections. Usually we have one kind or the other. This time we had both.
    In some elections, voters vote to win. In most however, voters vote to not lose.
    Progressive politics wins – as Labour did in 1945, 1964 and 1997 – when people have a powerful collective self belief that together we could achieve much more, when we’re confident life can be better, that we can all have our share, and that no one need be left behind. We can feel it for months before the campaigns even begin, before any managerial policy tweak, before anyone eats a bacon sandwich: this time we all just know it – this time we can really go somewhere if only we act together.
    The other kind of election is about how we feel when things are bad and look like they’ll get even worse. Somebody’s clearly going to have to lose: well let it not be me. I’m not to blame, it’s all the fault of the last government / the government before that / the immigrants / the people on benefit / the unions / Europe / the banks / the rich / the poor. Let them do the losing, not me. There’s no sense of collective interest or belief, and so we elect managers who’ll manage who loses and make sure the losses aren’t mine.
    In 2015, the election in England was of the second sort. In Scotland it was of the first. Labour had no progressive collective vision and that’s why Labour lost both.

  13. Ed King

    Keziah has a fair point. Perhaps Labour did not do enough to counter the Tories’ message. This may have lost some voters, but certainly not the majority. Labour did not lose because they were too left or right wing, or because of the media. She complains about media rhetoric then writes how the Tories have a “blatant disregard for human life”!? She’s angry, as are lots of people, but don’t be swayed by angry hyperbole. There is so much contempt in the media but it shouldn’t be fought with more contempt. The Labour campaign was actually pretty good on addressing issues facing many of the poorest in society (zero-hours contracts, bedroom tax, food banks, welfare), but people just didn’t buy the “Tories are evil, heartless, callous bastards” rhetoric, of which there was plenty. The 21st Century has made political opinion so polarised across the world – it’s all LOVE or HATE. Good sense and reasoning, straight-talking, a clear message and positivity (all of which were lacking in 2015) will win in 2020, not a manifesto savaging opponents and calling them liars. You can only outmanoeuvre an opponent by outsmarting them; shouting them down does not win the argument.

  14. andycarling

    I asked the head of the European centre-left why they lost the European elections and he said “I think that was because we did not stand with the victims of austerity enough.”

    I then spent a year quoting this at every Labour figure, from MEP to those behind the scenes why the party is going into its second general election in a row with a leader they know will lose.

    Their replies were virtually identical. Blustering that Ed was a nice guy, they couldn’t stand the people around Ed and that, sounding completely insincere, that they had a chance.

    Looking at the leadership candidates and the quality of their debate, I would ask why they were so determined to make it three losses in a row.

    Remember Gordon Brown lifting a BNP slogan, British jobs for British workers? When you’re aping Nick Griffin, you’ve fallen a long way.

    I recall in this campaign how the party was boasting about cutting funds for arts and culture and that immigration mug, it made me feel sick to be honest.

    Now you are a party of Islington policy wonks, led by focus group not principles.

    Tony Blair is not your saviour, he lied to the public and set half the world on fire. This is where the public’s distrust of politicians went from a minor concern to a destruction of the body politic.

    I would ask the SNP to form a sister English party, especially in the north. That would shake things up. Labour look like a dead party walking. The SNP have energy and will to fight for values Labour once had.

    David, I understand your point and have sympathy for those who are struggling to point out the obvious to a blinkered higher echelon, but the party is drifting into the sunset. I see dead people, but they don’t know they’re dead.

    I hope you prove me wrong, because if i’m even slightly right, we’re in real trouble, all of us.

    • Paul

      A lack of principle is a defining feature of UK politics at the moment in there is a lot of common ground in the two main parties with both parties being broadly pro-EU, support the union, indifferent to immigration and relatively similar positions on spending, borrowing and taxation.

      However the public mood is current angry and hence too many politician in both the Tories and Labour are scared to admit their relatively liberal view. Hence you end up with the politics of phony positioning with sensible politicians saying borderline nonsense which they self evidently don’t believe.

      Meanwhile the people who are genuinely fired up are the people who believe the nationalistic, xenophobic, simple pancea-solution nonsense (e.g. the SNP and UKIP). I honestly think the public are crying out for somebody to make the case for decent liberal, open and inclusive values with the same fire…. indeed I’m convinced one of the reason why people were so sad at the passing of Charles Kennedy is that he was one of the few charismatic politicians make such as case.

  15. James Columbine

    so who did Keziah vote for? I saw Ed Milliband in Warrington , speaking to a large hall full of the converted The Labour leadership is puerile , too frightened of offending some interest group or being wrong-footed by the blue heathens Ed suggested strongly that as the son of immigrants there could be no opposition to their entry to the Uk Why is the situation now, the same as it was for his father? Where was the opposition to the EU on this and many other issues? I speak as an internationalist not as a simple follower of a UKIP group. They have also decided not to oppose further measures from this Government Why? Labour IS the opposition

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