It wasn’t an earthquake. It wasn’t a seismic shift. It was a by election – and by elections are like that. So what should Labour learn from it?
That said, this by election does show some worrying trends. Firstly, we have to recognise that the traditional Scots Labour vote is threatened by the SNP.
Red Clyde has always supported radical ideas – and the Nats have a radical policy. Whether it is a rational policy remains to be seen, but we seem to lack a coherent response to the desire for an independent Scotland .
Whoever takes over as leader in Scotland (and with the complicated electoral college it is far from clear who that will be) he or she must demonstrate a vision and to be able to communicate that vision clearly.
Secondly the party organisation was, by many accounts, defective. Any campaign has to be won.
Glasgow East was always going to fraught with problems, with no leader in Holyrood and several unsuccessful attempts to find someone to take up the baton. In the event an outstanding Labour candidate emerged (in Margaret Curran), but there was little support for her locally from big hitters.
Lessons have to be learned from this and quick.
Thirdly, the Labour Party needs to reconnect: and this means reconnecting with voters on their terms. The most striking figure for me was not the swing to the Nats, but the turnout. In one of the most high profile by elections in recent years, billed as nothing less than a vote on the future of Scotland , a possible end of a Westminster leader with and with massive media coverage, the turnout of voters was 6% fewer than in the general election (that means more than 5,000 missing voters).
Where should Labour go from here? Should they change the leadership? In my view, no. It is not about personality, it is about policy – and the entire cabinet is responsible for that. They need to focus on what is important and what is really happening.
What is that? It’s what it always is. It’s the economy, stupid.
The cost of utilities, petrol and food is worrying people. The collapse in the housing market is worrying people. The lack of a firm strategy to manage it is worrying people.
How do Labour come back after Glasgow East? The answer I think is to recover their courage and keep the heid – in all senses. They have a big majority in parliament and two years to go before an election. Gordon answers the public properly when he says he will get on with his job and wants to concentrate on guiding the country through the problems we face. However the strategy for achieving that must be transparent and clear. The perception of the public is that there is dither and fudge instead of decisiveness and focus.
So here are my policy suggestions.
Help for the housing sector. This week we have the spectacle of the banks pleading for the government to underwrite the mortgage market. However, for many people lower house prices are a good thing, letting first time buyers into the market more easily and making homes more affordable.
The banks caused this crisis by unregulated lending, based on cynical exploitation of poor people in America, and unsustainable levels of lending in the UK which fuelled an already overheated market. Many families and single people have struggled to afford a home and now feel seriously threatened.
Lose your job, miss a few payments and you face the worst possible thing that can happen – you and your children being made homeless. Am I alone in thinking it is shameful that bank repossessions are still allowed by the party that started the welfare state and which has a majority in Parliament?
We should announce that from now on banks will be expected to enter into voluntary agreements with borrowers who get into difficulty. If those agreements break down, the bank should be able to apply to court for a repayment order based on ability to pay, but repossession orders should be history. One quote on local radio yesterday sums it up – “Why should my taxes bail out the banks when I can’t afford a mortgage for myself”.
Subsidise the banks while making families homeless? Ask yourself what Jimmy Maxton would have said to that – then ask yourself why we lost Glasgow East. Let’s put confidence back where it matters- literally in the in the family at home.
Cost of utilities and fuel. The cost of fuel heat and light continues to soar, but BP announces record profits. Instead of flying around the globe persuading OPEC producers to increase production (which laudable but long term), cut the fuel duty at the pump to the level in other EU countries. Use a windfall duty on profits to replace lost revenue.
Benefits. Put a stop to ministers demonising whole classes of benefit claimants, especially the long term sick, in pursuit of so called reforms. The vast majority of benefit claimants are honest and decent. That should be said more often. There are already sufficient powers to deal with individuals who abuse the system. Concentrate on doing that and stop needless worry for ordinary people who need the most help.
These are simple policies, set out plainly. For a government with a majority in Parliament, seizing the initiative is the only way forward. Dithering like rabbits caught in the headlights is not.
After Glasgow East – keep the heid, but the heid has to keep faith.