Labour should have focused on "more important enemies". Photo: Getty
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Greens blame Tory majority on Labour's willingness to "accept the narrative of its opponents"

The Green party's economic spokesperson reflects on Labour and the media's pandering to the the Tory narrative.

I suppose it is inevitable when you are involved in a political campaign that military analogies come to mind. As a Quaker, I sometimes find this troubling, but on the other hand I think democratic politics is an alternative to war and so perhaps it is quite appropriate.

I now see Ed Miliband as a general surveying a battlefield on which he has been defeated the previous day. His decision to resign instantly following the announcement of the result is being interpreted as indicating his nobility, but accepting that Labour was roundly defeated on Thursday is just another example of how Labour has accepted the narrative of its opponents. Of all the mistakes it has made over the past year this is the most serious.

So can we consider the general election in 2015 a stunning victory for David Cameron? With only a 0.8 per cent increase in his vote share I would suggest not. It is, however, a stunning victory for Lynton Crosby. I wonder how many of us who are actively engaged in politics are kicking ourselves that we simply did not understand how he was controlling the campaign. In contrast to Labour spin doctors, Crosby has played a poor hand brilliantly. So what techniques did he use?

First, he has focused media attention on the aspect of politics they understand best: the messages. We have heard a lot about dogwhistle politics and whether the Tories were being too nasty in their messaging. We have had lengthy debates about whether it was fair to criticise Miliband for having problems eating a bacon sandwich. This was a classic example of smoke and mirrors. Because while the media were focused on these trivia, the Tories were focused on the marginal seats they needed to win to gain a majority.

They have ruthlessly targeted their coalition partners and converted their seats into Tory seats, especially in the South West, which I represent. Politics is always about majorities and it therefore comes down to numbers rather than messages. It is a failing of political commentators in this election that they were successfully diverted from this reality.

Crosby's second achievement was to create a false understanding of who was actually winning the campaign. We will wait to see why the polls were so inaccurate, and no doubt "ashamed" Tory voters were one element of this, but the complacent understanding of the anti-Tory majority that we were safe is one of the greatest explanations for the Conservative majority. Did Labour strategists believe this spin? I am sad to say that I think they probably did.

The third brilliant achievement of the Tory campaign was the way it dealt with the parties that would never hold a majority. In the case of my own party, it was clearly at Crosby's behest that Cameron made much of the need to include the Greens. This was a fairly obvious ruse to take votes from Labour but it was also a concealed tactic to divide and conquer, which Labour fell for by diverting their attention into a strategy team to attack our party and a massive (and gloriously unsuccessful) campaign to unseat Caroline Lucas in Brighton. We felt at the time, and more so now, that they should have been focusing their attention on more important enemies.

As I survey the battlefield I can see a PowerPoint slide with three points on it: marginals, minor parties and narrative. These three points explain how a tiny increase in vote share for the Conservatives has been turned into a massive shift in power whose economic, social and environmental consequences will be devastating. For the past year Crosby has played our politicians and, more importantly, our journalists, who willingly trotted out his narrative and implemented his campaign for him.

It seems so inglorious to win an election in this way that I am left wondering how much of the strategy is clever and how much is unacceptably deceitful. Why does this election result feel so unfair? The answer is that the whole Crosby strategy works around an anachronistic voting system. He is not to blame for that, and he has exploited it in a way that can only reinforce his reputation. Our problem now is that the system he used so effectively has handed absolute power to the very people who have the least incentive to change it.

Sometimes we comfort ourselves by thinking that nobody actually dies in the political struggle. Sadly this is not the case. Five years of Tory government could mean deaths from air pollution, deaths of old people in poorly insulated under-heated homes, deaths of disabled people who will not be properly looked after, death by suicide of those whose jobs are simply too inhumane to be tolerated. As politicians we should never forget these human casualties. But our priority should be to reject the divide-and-rule strategy of the Tories and to work together against the voting system that has just given all the power to a party only a minority support.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for South West England

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war