I still think it’s a bit early to offer a full account of what happened last Thursday. Ballot papers don’t generally offer us more than a cross in a box from which to determine the reasons why a voter cast their vote as they did – and the small minority who adorn their ballot papers with more detailed expressions of opinion, some of whom share their vocabulary of obscenities with the Council staff counting the votes, generally add very little to the sum total of human knowledge.
Understanding the reasons behind an election result therefore requires further research. Exit polls can tell us a fair bit about why people tell us they voted as they did, and I intend to study those further – but I don’t think that we can be guided only by what people say about why they do what they do in any case. In a sense that simply pushes the question back to another question – why do people feel as they do?
I will spend a bit more time thinking about this generally, but there are some things that can be said specifically.
I am fairly certain that some of the explanations being offered for Labour’s very poor performance last Thursday can safely be discounted. These are all those explanations for our 2019 defeat which plainly cannot also account for the result of the 2017 General Election.
A very fine example of such a failed attempt to explain our election defeat is available from Labourlist, and is offered by veteran Labour right-winger Luke Akehurst. Luke thinks it is “obvious” why we lost, he quotes his own (as he thinks) wise words from 2015 and says that our Party has been “indulging in a dangerous delusion for four years”. Basically, Luke (whilst expressing his horror and anger at a Tory victory) seems almost relieved that his understanding of the world has been confirmed by a defeat at the polls for a socialist programme.
I tried a little experiment with Luke’s article online. I searched for “2017” in his article. It wasn’t there.
Now that’s very odd, because, during the four years of our “dangerous delusion” (in his words) Labour had lost another General Election, whilst scoring our highest vote share since 2001 and our highest number of votes since 1997.
In 2017 we had the same Leader whose unpopularity is being blamed for the result in 2019.
In 2017 we had the same socialist policies which centrists are now decrying as responsible for our failure.
We cannot simply attribute the result in 2019 (which was still better, in terms of vote share, than in 2015 or 2010) to the identity of the Leader or the socialist politics of our manifesto unless we can also explain why these factors did not apply in 2017.
I can only conclude that comrade Akehurst has been asleep since 2015 and therefore missed what happened two years ago (perhaps he ran away and hid, blaming himself for having argued that Corbyn should be on the ballot paper in the first leadership election?) He is auditioning, perhaps, for the role of Rip Van Winkle of the self-proclaimed “centre-left” (who generally come across as a bit more centre than left…)
For those who were here two years ago, whether from the right or left, we need to avoid attributing the 2019 result to factors which, whilst present two years ago, did not produce the same effect.
The Blairites screeching their hatred for Corbyn and socialism at every opportunity (of which the media gives them quite a few) are not doing a good job of understanding or explaining what happened last week.
Neither, however, are those good comrades on the left who want to blame the media’s hostility to Jeremy Corbyn for our defeat. That same hostility was expressed, with the same force, in 2017 as 2019. If we could get 40% of the popular vote in the teeth of such media vilification, we cannot use that same media vilification to explain why we got 32.1% in 2019.
As I said a little while ago, any explanation of our 2019 election result which is persuasive needs also to be capable of explaining the 2017 result. Mr Akehurst, and all those rightwing Labour MPs on the telly, must try harder to understand what has happened.
And so must we all.