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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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser