I have posted on a regular basis my observations about political discourse and the book Don’t Think of an Elephant. Having just read another round of articles in the press from former colleagues it has never seemed more relevant.
To summarise the auhor George Lakoff points out that people think in ‘Frames’ and the lesson for the Democrats in the 90s was that the Republicans got this. The Democrats, like Labour last week, hoped a list of policies which the electorate said they supported (even when blind tested) would be enough to get them into government. The problem as Lakoff points out is that most people don’t follow politics to the same degree as MPs and the commentariat. This means in an election people vote on the basis of their big picture Framed ideas and who suits those frmaes best. I will use this word only once but this is where the aspirational politics piece fits in. Individually as I say people liked the Labour policies but the Tories had successfully framed this election long before the short campiagn and the alleged progress Ed and Labour made by having a ‘good campaign’. I know thet Douglas Alexander got all this. We have chatted about Lakoff and framing. He knew the book inside out. So I am not sure where our lack of narrative came from.
The election was decided on – Ed Miliband, the economy, Scotland & the SNP(& immigration for UKIP swichers) In each of these areas the instinct of people won them over to stick with the Tories. No long list of policies that didn’t add up to an alternative narrative was going to break this hold over the big picture of this campaign. Sometimes this was raised as an issue – about creating a positive vision for the future. It is certainly a theme that is starting to be raised in the Leadership debate. It is not enough to list a series of new paltitudes – about being for aspiration or about unity. What do these mean? We need a much better articulation of the vision for the country and what sort of country we wil be governing in 2020? I bang on about this a great deal. Party leaflets that say Councillor X or Y wants cleaner and safer streets. Meaningless. When was the last time anybody proposed dirtier and unsafe streets…?
So whilst the number of articles being written at the moment from the party are often old ‘big beasts’ settling old grudges from an era of Blairites v Brown v New Labour v Old Labour, the electorate don’t care about this. These are internal battles that are only even fought by a fraction of the 220,00 Labour Party members.
Once all the leadership an deputy leadership contenders have anounced I will be running my thoughts across what they have to say. I am fortunate that I know their personal qualities and know them well from inside the party. But for me none of this matters. My sole test will be who can create a vision, a narrative that undersands and appeals to the electorate that will win seats like Loughborough again. If we ever want a working majority in the Commons my old seat needs winning back. There is no point creating even safer majorities in our ‘safe seats’ it is all about creating the One Nation Ed started to articulate a couple of years ago.
I am looking forward to the ongoing debate. It is healthy to discuss what we are for. It’s uncomfortable to do it from such a poor position in opposition but in the long term a refresh might help to win another generation of governing.