How Labour lost Bradford West

As in Scotland, the party focused on an anti-Tory message that ignored the real electoral threat.

When I suggested that Labour could lose Bradford West I said that "Regardless of the mitigating circumstances, Labour needs a win... Anything else would be disastrous for the party - and for Ed Miliband especially - heading into recess."

I also said that such a result was "unlikely".

How wrong I was.

Let us be clear. This result is pretty disastrous for both Ed Miliband and for the Labour Party. After a week of dreadful headlines for the government, the last thing that Labour needed was a story that threatens to turn the media narrative again. Media narratives do matter - especially with MPs away from Westminster for two weeks, which means bored hacks are looking for a story. Labour has now have provided one of those.

But to claim that Labour's defeat in Bradford can be laid solely at the feet of Miliband is far too simple. If Miliband's performances had been better, if his personal polling was better and if Labour had a genuine policy offer to the people of Bradford, then perhaps Labour might have performed less awfully. But we would still have lost. The same goes for any other Labour leader you might care to name. A different Labour of leader wouldn't have won Bradford West.

The change we need is bigger than that.

What we saw in Bradford was an extreme example of how Labour's approach to politics is failing. We focused on an anti-Tory message that ignored the real electoral threat, it didn't engage voters, and it failed. It was Scotland MkII. It was comfort zone politics from a comfort zone opposition. As I've said elsewhere today, the result in Bradford is also an example of what happens:

"when voters become considered as 'voting blocks', and when wards are talked of as 'Muslim wards' and 'White wards', rather than talked of - and to - as individuals, families, neighbourhoods. As fathers, mothers, young people and old. Students and workers. As people."

Miliband has said that he will go to Bradford West and "learn lessons" from this defeat. That's crucial and something he should be doing at the earliest available opportunity. But a lot of the lessons aren't new, and he has already learnt them, which is why his community organising guru Arnie Graf and his reformist general secretary Iain McNicol need to go with him. We already know the rebuilding job in Bradford and in moribund constituencies across the country is going to take much more than a return to the old ways. The challenge now is delivery.

As for Miliband's leadership in general. Is he in trouble? More so perhaps than he was 24 hours ago certainly. After such a disastrous result, how could he not be? But he's arguably more secure than he was a few weeks ago, and certainly more secure than he was a few months ago. There are potential electoral speed bumps (to put it mildly) up ahead, which would certainly unleash at least a few of those who have never forgiven him for winning the leadership. But if he wants to cage them long term, he must make prove them wrong. He must grow and change the party, and the way we do politics. We, the Labour Party, must become inclusive, open and engaged.

He must acheive what his leadership always promised, but has not yet delivered. Change.

Mark Ferguson is the editor of Labour List.

"It was comfort zone politics from a comfort zone opposition." Photograph: Getty Images.
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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.