A night of failure

My negative take on the results.

Sorry to be so negative the morning after the election, but here is my initial, sleepy reading of a largely unreadable result: it has been a miserable failure for pretty much everyone.

Labour failed to retain its majority and failed to emerge as the largest single party in this shiny, new, hung parliament of ours -- something some of the polls had suggested, and some Labour strategists had been hoping for, until only a few days ago.

The Liberal Democrats failed to translate their "surge" into seats and failed to "break the mould" of British politics -- more like a medium-sized dent. To win fewer seats than they did in 2005 is embarrassing.

And the Tories failed to win even a small majority, despite Gordon Brown's unpopularity, the worst recession in decades, the biggest financial crash in a hundred years, the expenses scandal, Lord Ashcroft's millions, Bigotgate, the various Labour leadership coups, and the fact that they were up against a party that had been in power for 13 long years. The dawn of Dave? Not quite. (Oh, and when Cameron says that Labour has "lost its mandate to govern our country", he is right. The problem for him is that he hasn't won a mandate to replace it. In the end, four and a half years of "modernising" leadership just wasn't enough . . .)

Another failure, perhaps the biggest failure of all, has been the democratic failure. It is a national disgrace that voters were turned away from polling stations, disenfranchised during the closest general election in 36 years. We have, in the words of the Electoral Commission chair, a voting system that is "Victorian" and "not fit for purpose". In various corners of the country, democracy failed on 6 May 2010. Will we ever again be able to send election monitors abroad with their heads held high?

UPDATE: Actually, it hasn't all been bad. Great to see success for Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion -- and the election of Britain's first Green MP. And I'm delighted to see the humiliating defeat for the neo-fascist Nick Griffin and the BNP in Barking. Perfect!

UPDATE 2: Here also are my predictions from last night, which, I think (!), still hold true:

* No party will gain an overall majority -- parliament will be hung. (Seeing as how I predicted a hung parliament nearly a year ago, it would be odd to pull back from that prediction now.)

* Ed Balls will retain his Morley and Outwood seat.

* Turnout will be higher than 70 per cent -- again, a prediction I made a while ago (on LBC, in an interview with Iain Dale!) and one I'm sticking with.

* The Conservatives will emerge as the largest single party.

* Labour will come second, not third in the popular vote. Its vote share and number of seats will exceed the 1983 totals.

* Gordon Brown will still be PM at 1pm on Friday.





Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Labour must reclaim English patriotism if we are to beat Ukip and the Tories

We can't talk about the future of our country unless we can discuss the past. 

I was a parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, but the place which I currently call home is Hackney, London. This distinction is worth explaining. The questions of Labour and Englishness – what exactly is the English problem that we’re trying to solve, why do we need a progressive patriotism, does it already exist, if not why not and if we had one what would it look like? – are, above all, questions of identity and place. We need to build a patriotism that includes and resonates with residents of both Hackney and Thurrock. Currently they are very far apart. 

I’m the little girl who sat on her dad’s shoulders to wave a flag at Princess Anne’s first wedding. And I was also, like Sadiq Khan, waving a flag at the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I’m an ex-Catholic, I’m a Londoner, I’m English and I’m a woman, and all of those identities are important although not necessarily equally so and not necessarily all of the time.

But I’m also a member of the Labour party, not only as a candidate, but now as an activist in Hackney. And that is where I see the difference very strongly between Hackney and what I experienced in Thurrock. 

Thurrock was Ukip ground zero last year - 12,000 people voted for Ukip in a general election for the first time, on top of the 3,500 that had voted for them before in 2010. Most of those 12,000 people had either not voted before, or had voted Labour. 

This isn’t just about being in two different places. Sometimes it feels like more than being in two different countries, or even like being on two different planets. The reality is that large swathes of Labour’s members and supporters don’t identify as patriotic, fundamentally because patriotism has been seized and colonised by the right. We need to understand that, by allowing them to seize it, we are losing an opportunity to be able to reclaim our past. 

We do not have any legitimacy to talk about the future of our country unless we can talk about our past in a better way. We have tried but our efforts have been half-hearted. Take Ed Miliband's call for One Nation Labour, which ended up amounting to a washed-out Union Jack as a visual for our brand. It could have been so much better – an opportunity for an intellectual rebranding and a seizure of Conservative territory for our own ends. Ultimately One Nation Labour was a slogan and not a project. 

There is a section of the left which has a distinct discomfort with the idea of pride in country. It has swallowed the right-wing myth that England’s successes have all been Conservative ones. This is a lie, but one that has spread very effectively. The left’s willingness to swallow it means that we are still living in a Thatcherite paradigm. It is no wonder progressives revolt at the idea of patriotism, when the right’s ideas of duty and authority quash our ideas of ambitions for equality, opportunity for all and challenging injustice. But we risk denying our successes by allowing the right to define Englishness. It’s England that helped establish the principle of the right to vote, the rule of law, equal suffrage, and the fight against racism. 

If Englishness is going to mean anything in modern England, it needs to be as important for those who feel that perhaps they aren’t English as it is for those who feel that they definitely are. And a place must be reserved for those who, though technically English, don’t see their own story within the Conservative myth of Englishness. 

Although this reclaiming is electorally essential, it is not an electoral gimmick. It is fundamental to who we are. Even if we didn’t need it to win, I would be arguing for it.

We need to make sure that progressive patriotism reclaims the visual language that the Conservatives use to dress up their regressive patriotism. Women need to be as much in the pantheon of the radicals as part of the visual identity of Englishness. Women tend to either be there by birth or by marriage, or we are abstract manifestations of ideals like "justice" or "truth" – as seen on city halls and civic buildings across the country. But English women need to be real, rather than just ideal. Englishness does need to be focused on place and connection, and it should include Mary Wollstonecraft and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as Wat Tyler and Thomas Paine. 

We can’t pretend that we’re always right. The most patriotic thing you can do is to admit sometimes that you’re wrong, so that your country can be better. I love my country, for all its faults. But I do not live with them. I try to make my country better. That is progressive patriotism. And I know all of us who want to be part of this can be part of it. 

This article is based on Polly’s contribution to Who Speaks to England? Labour’s English challenge, a new book published today by the Fabian Society and the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester.