There are an awful lot of people who, in Scotland and the North East of England, have been only voting Labour for a long time without any great enthusiasm. There were a lot of them, so the seats themselves weren’t marginal in the conventional sense however the votes themselves should have been considered marginal ones.
It’s now clear that, having been considered safe in the mid 1990s as there was (famously) “nowhere else for them to go” they decided in large numbers to head for nationalism, albeit of different flavours.
The Labour party in both Scotland and the rest of the UK found itself caught between two competing nationalisms. In Scotland our strategy was to try and compete with the SNP’s “stronger for Scotland” by being more Scottish, more visibly and with more vigour. It was as convincing as it was successful.
In the North of England and the Midlands we didn’t do as badly as we did in Scotland but still lost large numbers of voters to UKIP as a result of taking the electorate for granted for many years. This was also true of the places that the No campaign lost in Scotland.
Winning again in those places is going to require a change of tactics. It’s no good having an efficient and effective Get Out The
Vote operation if The Vote isn’t there to be to Got Out. Grinding away a council election win with an extra 2% or 3% on a 30% turnout is great but doesn’t help generally in general elections.
In order to have enough doors on the WARP sheets1 to knock on on polling day we need to have convinced people to vote for us and we won’t do that by knocking on their door every day for the next 5 years and asking them how they’ll be voting. Most of them won’t have thought about it.
We need to listen to people, learn who they are and what they care about and then be able to talk with them about how Labour will work for them, what we’re doing and will do to make their lives and the lives of the people they care about better.
In short, when you’re knocking on a door, be a decent human being interested in the person answering. Don’t bark the 3 questions at them and bound down the staircase leaving a bewildered and potentially irritated voter in your wake.
That’s the easy bit out the way.
The hard part is going to be showing how the Labour party matters to them and is relevant to their lives in the time between now and the next election. It’s no longer a case of picking the right place on the Left-Right idealogical spectrum, if that ever was the case.
The fact we lost so badly to the SNP who had, after all, directly lifted all their policies from our manifesto and were running on essentially the same platform but with a constitutional tweak (FFA) that had been bombed with facts from being the central plank of their campaign in January to an easily denied footnote and allegations from senior SNP members that mentioning it was part of a “phoney war” is proof of that. Facts, evidence and policy coherence don’t matter in elections nearly as much as they should do.
We won’t change that, but what we can change is how willing people are to listen to us. One of the problems fighting the SNP, UKIP and (previously anyway) Respect has been the “you’re all the same, sod the lot of you” attitude that invalidates almost everything we say.
Fixing that is going to mean getting involved in local campaigns, building small victories and working with people who are either not involved in party politics or horror are in other parties.
Labour has always been on the side of the vast majority of people, even when the majority of people haven’t been on our side. The party has work to do to catch up to changes in society, particularly the changes in work patterns and trade union membership, so that we are both addressing and representing those interests accurately.
We also have to work on better ways of communicating that to people, knitting together individual policy proposals into a coherent whole that people understand and relate to. That has to start with addressing the reality that there are many people who vote Labour who do so without much great enthusiasm and who now have other choices. I don’t think it’s safe to assume that they all voted SNP or UKIP last week.
 Or “Fucking WARP sheets”, to give them their full treasury tag blighted full name