Canvassing in Battersea, which Labour failed to win. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why did Labour lose so badly?

The fundamentals - the Tories' advantage on leadership and the economy - reasserted themselves.

Plenty in Labour were braced for a mediocre election result. With the party expected to lose almost all of its 40 Scottish seats (a forecast which proved terrifyingly accurate) it would struggle to advance far from the 258 it won in 2010. But few anticipated the calamity that befell them last night.

The Tories are now projected to win a majority (with 329 seats), a remarkable result after a term of austerity. David Cameron is on course to become the first incumbent prime minister since 1955 to increase his party's vote share. Labour, meanwhile, is expected to have just 233, 25 fewer than it won in the assumed nadir of 2010. Among the casualties, remarkably, is Ed Balls, a huge loss to his party and the Commons. As in 1992, when the "shy Tories" fooled the pollsters, the Conservatives have benefited from those only prepared to profess their loyalty in the privacy of the voting booth.

The great surprise of the night was not Labour's performance in Scotland (which was merely as terrible as forecast) but its performance in England and Wales. It not only failed to make sufficient gains from the Tories, it lost seats it won under Gordon Brown.  Southampton Itchen, held by the party since 1992, went blue, as did Balls's Morley and Outwood, Bolton West, Telford, Derby North and the Vale of Clwyd. What explains failure on this scale? The Tories' SNP scare campaign, the hostility of the press to Labour and the Conservatives' funding advantage will all be widely cited. But the most plausible explanation is that, as the Tories long expected, "the fundamentals" simply reasserted themselves. For years, the Conservatives had enjoyed a commanding advantage on leadership and economic management. No opposition party has ever won while trailing on these. Labour's painfully large deficit on both made defeat inevitable.

This interpretation points to the need for Labour to restore its economic reputation and to elect a leader with far wider appeal than Ed Miliband (whose personal ratings evolved from terrible to merely bad during the campaign). But a fierce debate will now take place within the party over whether it lost because it drifted too far from New Labour or rather did not drift far enough. Those from the party's right will point to Miliband's refusal to state that the last government spent too much (failing to "concede and move on" in Philip Gould's phrase) and to act earlier to reassert Labour's fiscal probity (spending years opposing every cut in sight). But those on the left will criticise his decision to promise to moderate austerity, rather than to end it. In the absence of a clearer dividing line between the Tories and Labour, voters hungry for an alternative to the coalition were drawn to the SNP, Ukip and the Greens.

It is this argument that will now define the Labour leadership contest to come, with Chuka Umunna expected to represent the former position and Andy Burnham the latter. But with the party near-extinct in Scotland (holding one of the country's 59 seats), even more marginalised in the south and threatened by the Conservative boundary changes to come, the existential question will simply be "how can we win from here?" Labour is losing votes in all regions and to all parties for different reasons - to Scottish nationalists, to anti-immigration Ukippers, to southern conservatives, to anti-austerity Greens. There is no obvious strategy to address them all.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue