I can already see the reaction from Labour readers – are you kicking the dead man again? This isn’t a vendetta I’ve got against Ed Miliband – he was always too weird to even dislike, thinking back on it – but rather that a). I find what I’m about to write about interesting in a sort of political geek sort of a way and b). I think there may be valuable lessons for the Labour Party to extract once they’ve had their Corbyn-flavoured meltdown and are ready to enter the land of the grownups once again.
Worst element of Ed Miliband’s leadership, you ask? Could be any number of things: the bacon sandwich, the Ed Stone (although I still perfer Edhenge for some reason), “hell yeah”, the Gareth anecdotes in the 2014 conference speech…I could go for several pages. No, I think, looking back on it, the worst thing about Miliband’s leadership was the whole One Nation thing.
I can see why they thought it was a good idea at the time. Borrowing a phrase associated with the Tories was a bold move. And Labour must have thought that they were headed to a place that felt like they were more of a national party than the Conservatives back in 2012. Tories buried in Scotland, screwed in the north of England outside of the shires, wavering in Wales. Meanwhile, Labour was going to recover all of those seats in southern England they lost in 2010, while when the Lib Dem collapse happened in the southwest, Labour would be in prime position to scoop up all those seats. Right? I guess you can see already where the faulty thinking started. That’s before you even get to the philosophy of One Nation Toryism, which is rather a conservative place for Labour to put themselves anyhow.
Now, post-election, it all looks pretty silly. Labour have the same number of MPs in Scotland as not only the Lib Dems, but the Tories as well (I wish I could go back to 2010 and make a bet on that one. What odds would you have got?). Labour did abysmally in the south of England, where the Conservatives managed to get off the Lib Dems seats they hadn’t had for a couple of decades.
The worst thing about it, however, is that it set up the Tories to reclaim the One Nation mantle even though they hadn’t really earned it. The governing party are no more geographically diverse than they were pre-May (their gains mostly coming via the Lib Dems, and a good chunk from the southwest of England at that), but Labour can hardly carp about such things having lost seats themselves while the Tories got a majority no one saw coming. It feels a bit like when the children put on their parents’ clothes without adult permission, only for mummy and daddy to come home, laugh, and take their garments back. Not a good look for Labour.
Coming back briefly to the philosophical element of the One Nation idea: the Tories can also look “wetter” than they actually are. Which they’ve already taken full advantage of (the budget and the minimum wage rises being great examples).
So what are the lessons? I think the big one is that Labour shouldn’t really try and borrow stuff from the Tories as a general rule, particularly Tory stuff from the 19th century. Putting it that way, it’s kind of odd they had to have that play out in reality to learn it. And maybe they haven’t even done that yet.