Labour needs to do more than find a new leader: it must again become a movement. by Andy Winter

A concept I used to refer to regularly in the earlier incarnation of this blog was borrowed from the West Wing, the Big Mo – Momentum. Political parties in the ascendency enjoy momentum, and with it can come political success. Up to the 2011 council elections the Green Party locally had the Big Mo. Labour enjoyed the Big Mo in 1997.

In 2015, the old Big Mo, as in momentum, has given way to a new Big Mo – Movement. A political movement transcends party politics, it is a positive force routed in aspiration for change. Such aspiration should not be confused with the shallow use of the word when applied to ‘hard working families’ or ‘strivers’. 

The independence referendum in Scotland, although unsuccessful, unleashed something that proved to be the death knell of the major parties in Scotland on 7th May.  The support the SNP enjoyed came from across the political spectrum. People were not necessarily voting for the SNP as a party, but for what the SNP symbolised. There was a sense amongst the people that things could be different, could be better. It overcame the politics of austerity of the Conservatives and austerity-lite of Labour. And with it Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were all but wiped out north of the border.

Across the UK, the debate about the new leader of the Labour Party is focused on the ‘presidential’ characteristics of some rather bland individuals who appear to be more concerned about not offending anyone than putting forward a message of hope. Austerity-lite is neither one thing or another. The revolutionary slogans of the 1970s and ’80s have given way to ones mumbled by those unwilling or incapable of arguing an alternative economic plan:

“What do we want?”

“Cuts!”

“When do we want them?”

“Not as quickly as you!”

The debate demonstrates that Labour activists and commentators have learned nothing from the movement in Scotland that has thrust the SNP into the forefront of British politics. They have not grasped that the people of Scotland didn’t just vote for a party, they voted for a movement.

By comparison, Nichola Sturgeon embodies the hopes and aspirations of the majority, yes the majority, of voters in Scotland.  The Sturgeon / SNP Phenomenon has reached far beyond Scotland. I can’t remember how many times during the elections people in Brighton said to me:  “I wish I could vote for Nichola Sturgeon”.

But it wasn’t that Sturgeon presented herself in a presidential manner. The debate between the seven party leaders was a watershed in British politics, with three women party leaders showing that they offered more than four rather grey stale males. They spoke to ordinary people and, in particular, to ordinary women. They spoke ‘human’. Isabel Hardman from the Spectator said that if she had had a bad day, got caught in a down pour, and had lost her keys, she would want to pop in for a cup of tea with Lianne Wood. Lianne Wood is the next door neighbour we all wish we had.

I imagine many Labour activists and supporters regard Nichola Sturgeon as the leader they wished they had. 

But that is where they would be going wrong. A party is more than its leader. Electoral success has become much more than just the Big Mo.

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Small earthquake in opinion polls, few non-Tory casualties

There is a rather worrying opinion poll reported in today’s Daily Telegraph.  (I should really call it the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph.  The Today Programme on Radio 4 always refers to the Mirror as the “Labour-supporting Mirror” although mysteriously never refers to other papers being Tory-supporting).

The poll carried out by Crosby/Textor in 100 of the most marginal non-Tory seats had the Tories on 43%, Labour 31% and the Lib Dems 20%.  This, according to the pollsters, would see the Tories winning 74 seats from Labour (but not, presumably, Brighton Pavilion where the Green’s Caroline Lucas is likely to win), but none at all from the Lib Dems.

We are told that there is a hunger for change, and Labour will no doubt be the big loser, but the Tories are still unlikely to be the big winner.  If the nation wants change, it is not a change to the Tories.

I have a problem with the Crosby/Textor poll.  First of all, who the heck are Crosby/Textor?  They are hardly Mori, not even YouGov.  They sound a bit like the odd bunch who conducted the rogue poll that put Labour ahead in Brighton Pavilion.  It is a shame that the Telegraph chose not to publish a constituency by constituency breakdown of the poll, nor did the Telegraph state how many individuals were actually interviewed in total and in each constituency.

So, on first reading this poll rang alarm bells, but on reflection I feel that the campaign in the marginals still have a long way to go.  Tonight’s debate by our glorious leaders could yet have a significant impact on the outcome, assuming they don’t bore us to death in this sanitised debate.  Bring on a Santos/Vinnick debate where they abandoned the rules.  But that was fiction, not real politics!

Caroline Lucas has the Big Mo

In the West Wing they call it the Big Mo.  Bartlett had it. Santos had it.  Now Lucas has it.  Momentum!  The real difference is that in the case of Caroline Lucas it is real.  It may be the start of a snow blizzard out there, with freezing pavements and fresh snow everywhere.  But all you can see while slipping and sliding around Brighton Pavilion is Green.  I lost count at the number of Green Party activists delivering Green Leaf. 

In the past month or so, the Greens have posted a letter/leaflet to every household in Brighton Pavilion, had the ‘bump’ of the opinion poll that put Caroline Lucas well ahead of Charlotte Vere and Nancy Platts, and now they are blitzing the constituency with Green Leaf.  What was a stunning campaign in Goldsmid that saw Alex Phillips elected, is being reproduced in Brighton Pavilion, but eight times bigger.

Caroline Lucas has the Big Mo.  With four months or so to go, and with the ever increasing probability of a significant win, momentum is definitely on the side of the Greens.

I cannot feel anything but sadness for Nancy Platts, a strong candidate but for a party that is committing political suicide.  The Hoon / Hewitt betrayal  has wounded every Labour candidate.  Brutus and Judas, Hoon and Hewitt, two has-beens whose enduring legacy may yet be the destruction of Labour at the polls.