Ed Miliband: What went wrong?

Two headline stories emerge from the General Election of 2015. The Conservatives won a majority, and the Labour Party lost and lost badly. It was one of the most exciting election nights of my lifetime, opening with a dramatic exit poll not even predicted by most psephologists, forecasting that the Conservatives would emerge as the largest party and probable victors. The Scottish National Party was on course to win almost every seat in Scotland.

For the Liberal Democrats though the news was bleak. In the same exit poll they were forecast to win just nine seats. The morning after resulted in the resignations of Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, former leaders of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats respectively.

Somewhat inevitably, the psychodrama, backstabbing and soul-searching has begun in the Labour Party. It is painful to watch, as I was a child of Thatcher, but a teen and young adult of Blair. Things Can Only Get Better by D:Ream was more than just a catchy pop song to me, it was a sincerely held truth and Tony Blair, together with John Prescott and his pledge card represented that truth. They had a vision for Britain, and demonstrated to the people of Britain how that vision would improve their lives. Crucially though they gained the trust of the British people, resulting in three election victories under Blair.

But oh, how the worm turns in British politics! Labour are now in that torturous position the Conservatives found themselves in in 1997. A toxic elixir of irrelevance hinterland and wilderness. When you have powerful contributions to make, but the electorate has all but tuned out of your message.

In the ensuing paragraphs, I will set out why I think Labour was so severely punished north of the border, what was wrong with the campaign and, and how I think such mistakes could be avoided in the future.


Another aspect of the election campaign the psephologists failed to anticipate was the extent of the rise of an ebullient SNP. They have claimed the majority of the seats in Scotland (an exact total of 57) with only the remaining two seats being held by Labour and the Conservatives. Historically Scotland has always been a Labour heartland, with the Conservatives in particular making very little electoral impact there.

However a resurgent SNP led by Nicola Sturgeon who fought an excellent election campaign has cut into Labour’s dominance like a knife through butter

Many commentators have opined fulsomely on why Ed Miliband’s refusal to do a deal with the SNP was absolutely the right decision to make. Strategically, I think it almost sealed his electoral fate.

Nicola Sturgeon often spoke during the TV debates of an anti-Tory majority. Amongst the voting public of Scotland this already exists. Knowing what we know now about the Labour Party’s precarious position in the polls from the beginning of the election campaign onwards, it would have been almost impossible for Ed Miliband to form a government without the SNP’s assistance. Note here that I make no judgement about the desirability of this as an outcome. What I am saying is based on the electoral arithmetic.

Now you would have thought that the goal of any Opposition leader would be to kick the incumbent Prime Minister out of Downing Street and get back into government. Yet Ed Miliband’s refusal was based on an anachronistic point about something the SNP had failed to do in the 70s, as Nicola Sturgeon laughingly pointed out when Ed Miliband himself was 7.

He intimated he would rather lose the election then do a deal with the SNP. I believe it is this callous stubbornness, and noncommittal attitude which lost him the election. As I said earlier there is an anti-Tory majority in Scotland. Therefore I believe he was punished severely by the Scots for refusing to do this deal.

Other factors come into play too. Jim Murphy feels like an elephant in the room. I do not want to cast aspersions on his ability. He is a solid guy and was always a good performer at the Despatch Box in the House of Commons.

I have always felt though, that he is hamstrung by his invisibility in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.

Like Jim, Kezia Dugdale is an able performer. However you don’t go to the theatre to see the understudy, you go to see the leading woman or man. Imagine if David Cameron never turned up to Prime Minister’s Questions! I just feel he is unable to be a truly effective leader when he is unable to take the fight to the SNP and be present in the Scottish Parliament. At the moment he does a star turn as the Invisible Man rather than at First Minister’s Questions and I think that needs to change quickly

I believe also Labour ceded much ground to the SNP because they occupy the political ground that the Labour Party have long since vacated. It was their vocal and continuous opposition to austerity which won them a smorgasbord of seats in Scotland but as a socialist party Labour ought to have been leading the charge on this, but they were nowhere to be seen. The SNP give the Scottish people something to believe in, an ideology translating into real social change.

Labour in Scotland seems to be a black hole of nothing.

Therefore Nicola Sturgeon deserves huge praise for the dignified and purposeful campaign she and her party fought. Across the five-year term of this Parliament I believe they will be a force to be reckoned with and I look forward to following their progress.


Since their bruising election defeat the Labour Party has gone into full on hydra mode, with former titans from Labour’s winning years savaging their current approach. If David Cameron was pumped up, Ed Miliband was depressed and melancholy. Given that people sometimes connect with politics on an emotional level, the vision offered by Miliband’s Labour was far too pessimistic and lacklustre, describing many problems but offering few solutions. Returning to my opening paragraphs, I voted Labour in 1997 because I believed Tony Blair offered a cohesive well thought out vision of how he would make Britain better. The job of any Opposition is to look like a Government in waiting. I thought that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party went a little way to achieving this, promising to scrap the divisive and much maligned Bedroom Tax for example. Plus I thought the idea of cutting tuition fees, in a way remedying Nick Clegg’s broken promise was a noble one.  These two policies were good ones in isolation. However although they would have worked on a micro level, the campaign was sorely lacking in big macro messages and a cohesive narrative.

The Labour Party was complacent and coasting; they relied too much on predicted dissatisfaction  with the Conservatives to bring out their core vote – part of the roundly unsuccessful 35% strategy which was the dominant force behind their campaign.

As to other key messages, there was something of a vacuum. Guided masterfully by Lynton Crosby the Conservatives employed the K. I. S. S strategy (keep it simple stupid.) Their campaign revolved around the endless repetition of two key messages, the first being “a long-term economic plan which is working” and the second warning people not to trust Ed Miliband with the economy, and stoking English anxiety over a possible Coalition made up of labour and the SNP.

Given that any strategy from Labour seemed to be missing in action, this gave the Conservatives even more space in the air war to relentlessly and mercilessly push their strategy, etching it forever into the consciousness of the voting public. The message was uncomplicated and one which the electorate as a whole bought into.

The absence of any strategy instead gave us a campaign of guff. Guff comprised of pointless slogans and dubious souvenir tat from the gift shop, hell yes even T-shirts.

I also thought there was failures in Labour’s ground war operation. This seemed to privilege quantity over quality. That is to say the idea of having lots of activists in constituencies would automatically translate into votes. It is not sheer numbers that matter. It is more a question of whether the activists understand the key messages they have to put out to voters if there are any. What ensures votes is not endless emails asking for donations. If voters do not believe or trust you then no amount of money will solve that problem.

There was a lot of negativity around the Tories during this election campaign generated by Labour. But there was no counterbalance around why I should vote for Labour as a credible, positive and visionary alternative. They just sounded bitter the whole way through, not like a government in waiting, and not like a fresh smelling new car when you get into it for the first time. I suspect the party as it stands is riven with public division, having been riven with division in private for a long time, not only stabbing brothers in the back now, but stabbing each other from the front. Looking at them now they are little better than a sixth form debating society.

Unfortunately the Labour Party has not learnt anything. As people like David Miliband and Alan Milburn come forward to offer the honest truth about why Labour lost it is not being constructive. It is sticking its fingers in its ears refusing to listen. I would say I would rather listen to winners than losers and if Labour wants to win again it ought to follow my example.

For these are not just observations offered by John and Jim at the Dog and Duck, these observations are offered by the architects of Labour’s victories. Please listen or stay consigned to the wilderness.

Another problem for Labour and perhaps the most crucial one is that it got excited and euphoric over the wrong things, the Russell Brand debacle being a prime example.

“He’s telling everyone to vote Labour” cried a buoyant social media. I just thought so what? Such naive bonhomie muddies the boundary between perception and reality. I can tell you that red is a better colour than blue, but my telling you this offers no certainty that you will agree with me. And so it is with Russell Brand. Labour supporters confused the possibility that people might vote Labour with the actuality that Brand’s exhortation would translate into votes at the ballot box. Russell Brand telling people to vote Labour is a political stunt and should not be elevated to anything more.

The conclusion is similar with social media hashtags like #CameronMustGo. Will the keyboard warriors ALL go to the polls and vote? Not likely.

In addition, Russell Brand is a Marmite figure, either you love him or you hate him.

It incensed me personally that Labour would seek the services of a man with a dubious record on violence against women for the sake of a few votes. It showed me in glorious technicolour how desperate and kaleidoscopically monochrome Ed Miliband’s Labour had become. It seemed so moribund.

Lastly I must address the “Ed Stone.” I have never seen a more pompous and supercilious stunt in my life. It was dreamt up according to Andrew Pierce in the Mail on Sunday by Torsten Henricsen-Bell, an aide who liked the idea of the pledge card I mentioned at the outset of this piece, and David Axelrod. Why not just have another pledge card?

A pledge card would be far less costly and would stop the Labour Party looking out of touch in a time of austerity surely? As Iain Dale noted dryly on LBC, “this is the equivalent of measuring the curtains.”

I guess the curtains have gone back now?

It is not lofty philosophical grandiosity that wins elections. Elections are won and lost on policy and trust from the electorate. Labour should stop taking chunks out of each other, squabbling over who won elections and who knows more and who should be listened to. As a lifetime Labour voter I say this. It looks cheap and unedifying and does nothing for the public you are elected to represent.

As I told somebody the other day the real question is not when Ken Livingstone won an election but why Labour lost. Labour has become too obsessed with talking to itself and creating its own virtual self-congratulatory echo chamber, the cognitive dissonance around the headstone being a prime example. I know the loss feels raw and painful but turning on each other is not the answer. As Speaker Bercow would say the public doesn’t like it.

There is much thought to be had and much soul-searching to be done. My advice is to stop the squabbling now and to let the civilised talking and listening process which has to take place begin in earnest.

News on the #LBBill second draft

Originally posted on LB Bill:

It is now four long months since the 12 Days of the #LBBill Christmas; we know we’ve been silent in that time here (there has been some discussion on twitter and facebook), but we thought blog readers were long overdue an update. Perhaps the most significant development has been the publication of the government consultation Green Paper: No voice unheard, no right ignored. Norman Lamb paid tribute to the #JusticeforLB team when he launched it (that includes you if you’re reading this and supporting the LBBill) and you can see our response here. So, what has happened for the LBBill in 2015 so far?

1) Feedback

We have spent time pouring over the feedback that you’ve all provided so far. You can see most of the feedback here, and there has been some sent by email. This has been absolutely critical to the process, we are…

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The Dichotomies of Labour



I am a traditional Labour supporter. I believe in fairness and equal opportunities for all. Just last night when interviewed by a market research company carrying out polling, I gave Labour maximum ratings as the party I am most likely to vote for in the General Election.

However I have become furious at comments made by Rachel Reeves in the Guardian.

The interview begins in fairly recognisable Labour territory, a pledge to reduce reliance on food banks. Now, food banks do fantastic work, that is indisputable, but one cannot turn their face away from the fact that it is the Coalition’s unrelenting ideological pursuit of austerity which necessitated their creation.

But, ensuring that people have enough to live on to purchase their own food restores their dignity and allows them to participate fully in society.

It was not the proposal to reduce the use of food banks that provoked my anger however.

Politicians of all colours have been at pains to suggest they support hard-working people. On the face of it this is a good thing, if you contribute to the country then you should be rewarded for your efforts.

However this drive to support the hard-working has had an unintended consequence, hostility towards the unemployed and those who cannot work. What this debate lacks in abundance is nuance and the ability to drill down into the many reasons why people cannot work.

In further comments, Rachel Reeves appears to pander to that hostility. In suggesting that Labour does not want to be seen as the party of the welfare state, she says;

“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen and we’re not the party to represent those who are out of work. Labour are a party of working people, formed by working people.

However, in attempting to diffuse criticism that Labour is soft on the unemployed, you are saying that you do not care about vast swathes of the electorate. I find the assertion that Labour does not represent me insulting. Labour should be out to win not haemorrhage votes


It is little more than a betrayal of the strong socialist credo upon which Labour is founded to disassociate itself from the welfare state. Labour should be proud of the fact that it created a framework which helps the sick, and the vulnerable and most needy in our society.

More worryingly, it communicates to a huge proportion of the electorate the message that this politics business is not for them¸ that you just don’t understand how politics works, you proletarian oiks!

I felt small when I read Rachel Reeves’ comments. It reminded me of the visceral pain William Beech, the young hero of Michelle Magorian’s novel Goodnight Mister Tom feels when he is sent to the “baby” class as he is unable to read.

Having a disability does not preclude you from voting. Nor does it make you any less politically savvy than anyone else. I think that disabled people as a social group are much disenfranchised with their treatment at the hands of the Conservative led coalition and would gladly use their vote to help form a Labour led Government on May 7th.  The comments of Rachel Reeves do feel like a betrayal

I voted Labour in 1997 because I saw politicians like Tony Blair as understanding of my situation. I saw John Prescott produce his pledge card on television, and felt he was a conviction politician who believed every word on that card – therefore I believed him too.

Things Can Only Get Better became more than a catchy campaign anthem (which should definitely be on Ed Miliband’s campaign playlist by the way). It became a state of mind for the British electorate, in economic conditions not altogether dissimilar to those we are currently experiencing. It offered real hope.

But today’s Labour seems hamstrung by two things, an ideological fight with the Conservatives, and a paralysis over economic stewardship. But I would invite Labour to think introspectively about who they are fighting the election for, or against. Are they fighting against the Tories, or for the voters?

When I first saw Rachel Reeves comments I thought they were crass and spiteful. Such commentary does not emerge from socialism, it emerges from a desire to be seen as ideologically tough on an issue which is costly to the Exchequer.

However, if you boast that you will be tough on welfare, then, although many benefit claimants are in work, you are also adding to the stigma that people such as those with mental health problems or disabilities face.

If I have noticed one thing living under the brutal austerity of the Coalition, it is a politics riven with a hectoring, bullying tone towards the unemployed. I know politicians might say that they are not talking about me, they are talking about people who can work who don’t. But do you know why I am not reassured by this placation? The public does not differentiate between different types of benefit claimants, nor their individual narratives, because endless games of divide and conquer do not afford such opportunities. Egged on by the Coalition, and now it seems by the Opposition, on the issue of welfare the electorate is enticed into a game of dog whistle Heroes (those who work) and Villains (those who don’t). But it is not that simple.

For behind the grandeur of social theory, there are human beings who will live out the costs of politicians’ ideological boasts. I find a delicious irony in an interview that on one level, wants to reduce food bank use that on another level simultaneously vilifies the unemployed without even a flicker of awareness. That is why I think the morals of making such pronouncements at best questionable

I will end with a reminder and a warning. It is not for politicians to dictate who votes for them, creating a false dichotomy between desirable and undesirable voters, or put another way, good and bad ones. The electorate can however, choose to vote for you, or consign you to the Opposition benches. Labour would do well to remember this today.












































DrinkAware? Some victim awareness too please!


In wider society, there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting the responsible consumption of alcohol. In a worst-case scenario alcohol becomes an addiction requiring medical treatment. However, there is much wrong with the latest campaign poster from DrinkAware, and the messages it promotes are harmful to girls and women, and a get out of jail free card for perpetrators.

The image depicted is that of a hospital corridor, with two arrows pointing in opposite directions towards the Maternity Ward and the Sexual Health Clinic respectively. Written across the poster is the caption;

“Being drunk just once age 13. Twice as likely to have unprotected sex.”

This poster explicitly blames young girls regarding the possibility of getting drunk and pregnant through unprotected sex. However, sex is not a singular act. It is a plural one. This poster erases completely the responsibility and role of men in a drunk 13-year-old becoming pregnant. It is their responsibility not to engage in sex with a girl or woman who is drunk and in the scenario outlined on the poster it would also be an illegal act. Also, it does not provide a source for its claim that girls are twice as likely to have unprotected sex

But we live in a victim blaming culture, and this poster places the sole blame on teenage girls. It does not say anything at all about the role of men and boys in taking advantage of intoxicated girls, nor does it address their responsibility to be in control of their actions.

The finger wagging, paternalistic tone struck by this poster is extremely disappointing, and it does nothing to encourage girls who may have been raped while under the influence of alcohol to come forward to authorities if they want to and speak about their experiences.

This poster is pure blackmail. In terms of its subtext, it says “just once age 13 is enough and it is all your fault you silly girl!”

Boys and men are equally responsible during sex yet this poster renders them conveniently invisible. They would be responsible in the event of pregnancy too, yet this poster renders them invisible. Where are the posters telling men and boys that being drunk just once aged 13 could get a girl pregnant and instructing them to keep it in their pants? Exactly! Nowhere!

In wider society, we love to shame and condemn women and girls as that poster does, yet we turn a blind eye, or even reward boys and men for bad behaviour.

There is something else wrong with this poster is. We have two arrows pointing in opposite directions, firstly towards the Maternity Ward and secondly towards the Sexual Health Clinic.

This gives the impression that there are only two outcomes with respect to unprotected sex. The complete erasure of boys from the campaign may cause you to believe that it is women alone who are responsible for these outcomes, when in fact men bear the responsibility to.

Turning first to the maternity ward the poster completely neglects to mention the option of abortion, an option which any responsible clinician would discuss with a girl faced with this scenario, and any responsible campaign should make girls aware of this possibility too.  To frame pregnancy as a consequence over which a girl has no control is disrespectful and damaging to women, and irresponsible on the part of DrinkAware.

With regard to sexual health, sex as I said previously is a plural act. Men also have responsibility for their sexual health, and as such would be responsible for any woman getting an STI.

Overall though, this campaign makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. It gives the impression that women are totally responsible for unwanted sexual advances (ergo rape) and for the consequences. It blames them totally for drinking alcohol at a young age, despite the fact that a man may be buying it for them and taking advantage of the situation, yet there are no equivalent campaigns warning men of the dangers of having sex while drunk, and telling them to keep it in their pants.

This campaign leaves women isolated and at sea. It plays on the politics of fear and shaming women. Yet sadly, this campaign represents a missed opportunity. It could have been used to educate women and girls about the support that is out there for rape victims who have been raped while under the influence of alcohol. It could also have been used to educate them about the help and support that is out there in the event of unwanted teenage pregnancy.

As it stands this campaign poster is damaging. It blames the victim for a traumatic ordeal, and renders invisible every male perpetrator. As such it is serving no other purpose than to be a servant of patriarchy and I would advocate for its immediate removal. I would also ask DrinkAware to be more careful planning future campaigns with how it uses language to avoid belittling, victimising and shaming rape victims.

NB: Jane England has started a petition to try to get the poster banned. She has petitioned the Media and Public Affairs manager at DrinkAware, Kelly O’Sullivan. PLEASE SIGN.

The Only Thing Dave Lee Travis is a victim of is his own egoism

In the days before the Internet and mobile phones, radio was uppermost in the dissemination of pop music and showbiz gossip. In particular, BBC Radio 1 was the Holy Grail and its DJs were like the Simon Cowell’s of their day.

One such DJ was Dave Lee Travis, affectionately dubbed The Hairy Cornflake or ‘DLT.’ Disc jockeys like Travis had real credibility and kudos amongst their fans as Radio One was one of the few places young people could gain access to information and updates concerning their favourite stars. Travis and his colleagues would also make regular TV appearances on the weekly music show Top of the Pops.

It is clear since the actions of Jimmy Savile came to light that there was a culture of “anything goes” at the BBC when the fame, celebrity and notoriety enjoyed by Travis and his colleagues was at its peak. Fame can also result in chutzpah, and a feeling that one is untouchable and irreplaceable.

Yet, it was all these qualities and more which were in evidence as he irascibly preached to the assembled media outside Southwark Crown Court yesterday. In his statement to the waiting media he tried to wheedle and cajole the public into believing that the offence with which he was charged somehow happened due to circumstances beyond his control. He spoke demonstrating no remorse in relation to the offence committed, nor did he show any empathy for the victim. Instead, he painted himself as the victim, the wronged and inconvenienced party who had been crippled by the court case.

This brings us back to much more familiar territory. Familiar, because this is what perpetrators so often do. As a disc jockey, Dave Lee Travis was a master of the use of language. He wanted to convince us that he had done nothing wrong, and avoid taking responsibility. His courting of the media yesterday showed that he is a man unwilling to rescind the grip of celebrity, a man who wants to be in ultimate control. Yesterday represented a show of defiance, and a point-blank refusal to take any responsibility for his own actions, preferring instead to blame the Crown Prosecution Service for wasting money on two trials.

In plentiful evidence here are the hallmarks of most abusers, power and control. In his own small way, David Griffin probably wanted to control the reporting of yesterday’s events. He is a man in denial, at least publicly. He spoke of being mortified. How then must his victims have felt?

At best, he is delusional. At worst he is a cruel and cold-blooded narcissist who painted himself as a victim in all of this. Seeing him on the steps of Southwark Crown Court yesterday outraged me. The cruelest irony is that the statements he made could have been from the victim. When he suggests that it is of little comfort to him that he was acquitted of so many offences, I am in no doubt that it is of little comfort to his victims too. In an ultimate act of hubris he denies that he is a sexual predator. A conviction for indecent assault however makes his denial somewhat incorrect.

The victim spoke in an impact statement of her pain at being called a liar and a fantasist. Dave Lee Travis is a perpetrator. He is absolutely not a victim. Perhaps he is in complete denial about what he has done.

That is what annoyed me about his appearance in front of the cameras yesterday. He refused to acknowledge that he had brought this upon himself. If he had never indecently assaulted his victim, he would never have been in court. People do not receive convictions for criminal offences for no good reason. He wants us to believe that he and his family know the truth. His victim also knows the truth. Combative and remorseless to the last he even shouted in court at the Sunday Times journalist Camilla Long, telling her she was making him uncomfortable. How must your victim have felt then? When you squeezed her breasts for 10 to 15 seconds? I suppose she was highly comfortable and ecstatic? Not.

When they are convicted of a criminal offence most people would leave the courtroom quietly by the nearest exit. Not so Travis – a showman until the end. Perhaps times were not so different when Travis was at the height of his fame on Radio One. Misogyny was rife and victims were disbelieved, but what Travis seemed to resent most of all was being held to account for his actions. His faux bemusement did not fool me however.

What I fail to understand though is why the media allowed this man to showboat in front of the cameras after being convicted of a criminal offence. It is because of such showboating, the ability to talk and manipulate that The Hairy Cornflake thought he was untouchable. Well, not this time. The milk has soured and we know the truth. The actions of the media were disrespectful to victims everywhere. There should not have been a single microphone outside the court room to allow DLT to spread his message. There was no hint of contrition. Unlike radio, it is one incidence where silence would have been better.

The people whose humanity he disregarded will have to live with the trauma his actions he visited upon them for the rest of their lives. Yet, all too often women are told to get over it, don’t get angry, he didn’t mean anything by it. I say don’t get over it, be angry, and to quote him “we know the truth.”

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I Have A Right To Say I Am Being Abused And It Is Not OK

Originally posted on Week Woman:

I have been reflecting on why I have reacted so strongly to today’s Guardian article which classified the “TERF wars” as a tit for tat squabble. I covered in this post briefly the sexist implications of such a classification. But the article’s sexism did not fully explain the visceral gut-wrenching slitthroatsreaction I had to it. Having considered it for a bit longer, I think I have hit on why it upset me so much. It upset me because it feels too much like victim-blaming, because it completely ignores the real and actual abuse visited upon non-compliant women who refuse to identify with their own oppression (see this post I have just put up for some horrifying examples, although, massive caution note). It reminds me too horribly of the thousands of people who kept repeatedly, relentlessly, cruely telling me I was feeding the trolls, ie, causing my abuse, when I was being driven to not…

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