The Parallels for UK Labour from US Democrats
The 2014 midterms were a massive rebuke to Obama and US Democrats. In state after state Democrat Senators, Congresspeople and Governors were wiped out, far beyond pollsters expectations. Obama’s last two years in Presidency look to be ridden with Republican opposition and messy compromise.
As a lesson in politics the midterms should carry worrying signs for UK Labour. There are huge similarities in the campaigns that UK Labour and the Democrats are running, and the signs are that Labour’s campaign is just as likely to fail. The parallels between the campaigns are perhaps unsurprising when Labour have imported David Axelrod and other Obama staffers to guide the campaign.
In the midterms Democrat campaigns leaned heavily on social issues, focusing in on portraying Republicans as about to launch an all-out war on women. Democrats posited their opponents (with just grounds) as hell-bent on withdrawing access to abortion, contraception and healthcare. Similarly Labour’s central plank of their General Election campaign is protection of the NHS. Loudly they (rightly) declare that the Tories cannot be trusted with the NHS, but is there any evidence it works as a campaign strategy?
From Heywood & Middleton the lesson is a stunning no. Labour ran a shallow and narrow campaign focused in on portraying the Tories as the enemies of the NHS, not realising they were giving voters no reason to vote Labour. Depreciating the lot of the Tories gave Labour’s core vote no reason not to vote UKIP. A quick trawl through Labour campaigns reveals a bevy of attack messaging on the Tories and Lib Dems, but a dearth of positive messaging and reasons to vote Labour.
Just like the Democrats Labour are stuck trying to obfuscate the fact that they have no answer for the nation’s core economic woes. Beyond tinkering on the fringe of the structure of the economy, offering meager minimum wage increases, neither the Democrats nor Labour have the answer to people’s core concerns. People don’t see a Labour party as able to deliver jobs nor address sagging wage packets, and it’s why Labour are less trusted on the economy than the Tories. A lack of clear messaging is seeing too much of Labour’s voters drifting elsewhere.
Equally people just don’t see Ed Miliband as prime minister. With backbenchers mustering for an ouster and Miliband even more unpopular than Nick Clegg, Ed has not been a popular Labour Leader. Labour have been quick to brush aside Miliband’s dismal approval rates, but the US elections show there is no bigger drag on an election than your figurehead.
State by state voters swapped popular or at least less hated Democrats for disliked or mistrusted Republicans, because of their deep disappointment in Obama. It carries a worrying portent for Labour that no matter how popular a local candidate could be, voters could abandon Labour MPs and PPCs because of Miliband.
For the Greens there is a huge opportunity. Even in the US poorly resourced Greens had record breaking results in New York and Ohio. For the better resourced Greens in the UK it shows a clear message on people’s day to day concerns could garner breakthrough results. The Greens can outflank Labour by offering an alternative to austerity, and painting out a clear way of reshaping our economy. Natalie Bennett’s clear focus on jobs you can build a life on, with a compulsory living wage, thousands of Green jobs and more rights at work could well resonate.