Thursday, 14 May 2015

Hearts And Souls: When People And Parties Make History.

Scots Wha Hae! SNP Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, pumps the air alongside her elated Scottish National Party followers as the scale of their victory over Labour becomes clear.
“I set out really to change the approach, and changing the economics is the means of changing that approach. If you change the approach you really are after the heart and soul of the nation. Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”
Margaret Thatcher 1981

WALK INTO the Opposition Leader’s Office with ideas about changing the heart and soul of the nation and see how long you last. Andrew Little’s advisers don’t really do souls. And the average punter’s heart doesn’t exactly lend itself to metrical capture. Try to run either of them through a computer and things are liable to get messy. No, Little’s advisers prefer polls and focus groups, and the joys of regressive analysis. They’re much more fun.
Much more fun, but, apparently, not much use – as the events of 7 May in the United Kingdom have just proved. South of the River Tweed, metrics proved to be one of the UK Election Day’s biggest losers. The pollsters, statisticians and data-crunchers, in which the British Labour Party had invested so much, got it wrong. Turns out that the heart and soul of a nation can’t be measured – it can only be felt.
North of the River Tweed, the politics of hearts and souls (as opposed to stats and polls) had triumphed in truly historic fashion. As the results were posted, it soon became clear that the Scottish National Party (SNP) had wiped the Labour Party off Scotland’s electoral map.
Throughout the campaign, Labour had equated the national fervour stirred up by the SNP with the worst kind of nationalism. Former Labour supporters were accused of succumbing to the SNP’s “rapture” – as if they were a bunch of slack-jawed American fundamentalists. It didn’t work. No matter how many times Labour demonstrated that the SNP’s promises could not possibly be paid for, the voters blithely ignored them. Their hearts and their souls were elsewhere.
Meanwhile, south of the border, the right-wing parties were only too happy to present themselves as the staunch defenders of England’s heart and soul. The UK Independence Party, UKIP, implored voters to stop the EU, and the mass influx of foreigners its rules continued to sanction, from destroying what it meant to be British. It was a message that resonated just as loudly on the Left as it did on the Right. UKIP wasn’t a threat to the Tories alone; in Labour’s heartland UKIP candidates were moving, ominously, into second place.
The Tories themselves needed no lessons in the politics of hearts and souls. England, they warned, was about to be squeezed. Labour, that great defender of the EU, was about to enter into an unholy alliance with the SNP. The English people risked being caught between Labour’s socialist internationalism and the demands of the independence-seeking Scots. The country was in danger!
Against these nationalistic battering-rams, the gates of Labour could not hold. It had asked the voters to stand with the poor and the underpaid; it had asked them to make the wealthiest 1 percent pay their fair share of tax; and it had pledged to defend the NHS. But, what it had not been able to do was convince those who were neither very poor, nor very rich, that Labour had the faintest idea what was going on in their hearts, or cared very much at all about what was happening to their souls.
Margaret Thatcher knew that true political success would only come when the Conservatives’ explanation of what it meant to be British proved to be more compelling than Labour’s.
“What’s irritated me about the whole direction of politics in the last 30 years”, she told The Sunday Times on 3 May 1981, “is that it’s always been towards the collectivist society. People have forgotten about the personal society. And they say: do I count, do I matter?”
Thatcher’s emphatic answer was: “Yes – you do!” To all those hundreds-of-thousands of “personal societies”, inhabited by the families and friends of the individual voter, the Conservative Party proclaimed the unequivocal message: “You do count! You do matter!”
You do count! You do matter! Margaret Thatcher campaigning in 1979.
Browbeaten by the boss; burdened by mortgages they could only just afford; resentful of strikers in the factories; frightened by unemployed youngsters on the streets: these Britons turned gratefully towards the one party that reassured them they were, and always had been, the heart and soul of the nation.
The great irony, of course, was that just 36 years earlier, in 1945, exactly the same message had been taken into every home by Labour. After 10 years of economic depression, and six years of war: when it had grown easier and easier to believe that individuals were no more than the dust ground out between the massive cogs and wheels of the economic machine; or, nameless soldier-ants, fighting in defence of the nest; Labour came into the lives of millions of fragile families and said: “You do count! You do matter!” And their hearts were warmed, and their souls soothed, and for more than 30 years the Tories dared not dismantle what the socialists had built in England’s green and pleasant land.
Scottish Labour may scorn its former supporters for succumbing to the rapture of the SNP, but New Zealand Labour could learn a lot from the Scottish experience. The amazing collapse of Labour’s vote in Scotland was about much more than the SNP. Somehow, out of the thwarted referendum and its aftermath, a majority of Scots came to the collective conclusion that the heart and soul of their nation, for so long forsworn, was theirs to save.
As with the British people in 1945 (and the New Zealand people in 1935) such historically charged moments are capable of transforming a political party into a vehicle for both national salvation and cultural renewal. And the reason why so many voters are willing to climb on board is that from some place deep within, unreachable by polls, focus groups or data crunchers, the conviction arises that, together, they and their party have come to represent, if only for one brief breath of history, the heart and soul of the nation.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 12 May 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"And they say: do I count, do I matter?"

Give her credit – Thatcher had huge brass bound balls to answer yes to that question. :-) The sort of chutzpah of the condemned murderer who kills his parents and then asks for leniency because he's an orphan. What she should have said was "well some of you do and some of you don't." – And we all know who don't :-).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

As far as the people of Scotland concerned, I wish them well. But I think they will find that some of their national's leaders are not as left-leaning as you might think. And if they do plump for separation from the United Kingdom, which I think might be a good thing for them, those same nationalist leaders are going to have to cope with running a country. For which they will need more than emotion. Let's hope they can manage.

Brewerstroupe said...

The picture of Maggie tells it all. Decidedly queer-looking in the headscarf.

Anonymous said...

Chris, Nice insights but wheres the recipe? I always get frustrated reading you because you diagnose / deconstruct things briliantly BUT wheres the next step?

In this case what is the heart and soul of the nation saying?

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@11:01

Ah, yes, that is the question.

And, believe me, I am working on an answer.

To know how I would have fought the last election, however, just hunt out my posting from September of last year: "The Left Triumphant! A Counterfactual History Of The Last Twelve Months."

You can find it here:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Mike Grimshaw said...

In the UK elections it seems there were two important facets. The first was the relocation of Labour voters to UKIP which was a right wing (in)version of the anti-Westminster, anti-metropolitan nationalist sentiments of the SNP. In both cases therefore the conservative Labour voter voted for a nationalist agenda. We tend to forget just how socio-economically, but especially socially conservative much of the traditional Labour vote was- and is. Secondly, in a gobalised world, it is the working class Labour voter who is often the most staunchly nationalist. Yet nationalism is increasingly viewed with suspicion because it is often linked to regressive and essentialst socio-politicial ideas. Hence the metropolitan National party distaste for the regressive nationalism of Winston Peters- and Peters taking the vote of what would have been in the past Labour voters.(There is of course an on-going tension in the National party between the old national rural/provincial bloc and the emergent main centre Nat:the nz shy tory)
In England there was the rise of what has been termed the 'shy tory' who is probably university educated, middle class, employed,cosmopolitan, aspirational, and importantly, in the recent past once would have voted for New Labour.This also includes a growing, aspirational non-white vote. Cameron and Tories, just like Key and the Nats, have claimed the economic and social mantle of New Labour and occcupied a centre- at least in perception.
The 'shy tory' is also, in nz, the 'shy nat'- often someone who came from what was a traditional Labour voting family, gained tertiary education, has become cosmopolitan and globalized- and yet still has familial links to the traditional Labour voter- or the new non-voter. They now live in a main centre, are aspirational for themselves and their children. They would never have voted for Thatcher- or for Muldoon- but will vote for Cameron and Key (and then perhaps for the tories and the nats- this is figurehead politics to quite a degree.So they would never vote not only for ed miliband and andrew little/david cunliffe- they would never vote for the labour party they are the figurehead of. They might vote for david miliband or grant robertson; though here perhaps david clark [private school boy, tertiary educated, metropolitan] is a beter future bet...? They distrust unions and claims of the imposed rather than chosen collective, are socially liberal but fiscally cautious. They appreciate the need for social welfare and the welfare state, but also have what can be called 'blood bogans' in their wider family which makes them suspicious of an expanded, non-targetted welfare state. They would not 'out' themselves as shy torys or shy nats yet suspect that many of their friends, colleagues and work-mates are actually of that persuasion too.
Could Labour ever bring them back? New Labour did once - (and here Helen Clark did to a degree) but Labour as a name and a brand now doesn't speak to them except as a nostalgic echo from the past when socialism was intellectually viable and exciting - yet mostly experienced as a form of student politics protest. In NZ, Labour vs Bolger and Richarson and Brasch seems a different option than Labour vs Key... They may have voted green a couple of times here- but split the green vote with a Nat vote.
This is the emerging heart and soul of the nation - both here and in the UK.Importantly, this is the new heart and soul who will vote-
(and see it as their democratic duty to do so) but never belong to a political party.

aberfoyle said...

Those outside the S.N.P.Party,voted with their heart for the Nation of Scotland.Of those, not all voted in favour of a yes for the past recent Independence vote,what soured them was Cameron,making promises during the Independence vote that he did not deliver on.Also Labour and their campaign against the dire threat of a S.N.P.victory,all soured the voter.

All my family over in Scotland old and young voters,all voted for the S.N.P.all prior die hard Labour.What turned them was the again promise of better things from Westminster if they fell in line with Labour,and the dire consequences if the S.N.P.won.
In their hearts they know that the S.N.P.are socialist light and come Scotland!s next general election they will again revert back to voting Labour, or a similar left leaning political alternative.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

pat said...

neat and accurate summary MG....add to this the missing million are also not necessarily drawn to the left as displayed byLlabour (although that assumption is made) and it is easy to see a very lean future for Labour without a significant reversal of the fortunes of this group

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Charles E said...

It will be interesting to see how things go from here in Scotland, as their Westminster MPs have five years to make either complete dicks of themselves, or actually prove themselves re-electable. Remember here when Labour lost all the Maori seats to our banal nationalist party, plus they took a couple of National seats. Next election they lost them all and were nearly wiped out.
Heart & soul voting can have very bad consequences, like a certain election in Germany in the 1930s, or in more recent times in Venezuela, so I would prefer duller elections mostly as they have a lower risk of disaster.

Victor said...

A few thoughts on the UK election:

Firstly, although approximately two million more voted Tory than voted Labour, the rise in Labour’s share of the popular vote compared to 2010 (1.5%) was nearly twice the rise in the Tory share (0.8%).

Secondly, if you just look at the popular vote in England, Labour’s share rose by 3.6% and the Conservatives’ by just 1.4%.

Thirdly, just eight seats changed hands directly from Labour to Tory, whilst ten changed hands from Tory to Labour. The shortage of seat changes twixt the main parties is, I would have thought, highly unusual in an otherwise decisive FPP election.

Fourthly, Labour’s greatest seat loss was obviously not to the Tories but to the SNP (which was positioning itself, rhetorically or otherwise, to Labour’s left), albeit that the Tories would still have won if Labour had retained all its Scottish seats.

Fifthly, the Tories slaughtered their hapless Lib-Dem erstwhile allies, channelling considerable funding into the suburban constituencies that the Lib-Dems (and the Liberals before them) had sweated blood to win. This was the largest single reason for the high Conservative seat tally.

Sixthly, despite Tory targeting, the Lib-Dem eclipse was to some extent due to former Labour voters returning to that allegiance after a (normally Blair-induced) flirtation with the Lib-Dems. In middle class, suburban constituencies, a re-slicing of the non-Tory vote tended to let the Tories back in. But that’s just FPP for you.

Put all this together and I think there’s reason to doubt that the UK has swung decisively to the right or that there’s an overwhelming appetite for enhanced austerity. Even so, a narrative to this effect has now been constructed and will be hard to budge.

It's also fair to add that, under a different voting system, UKIP would also have loomed much larger and placed its weight behind the Tories.

BTW a friend in the UK tells me that the Tories particularly targeted those Lib-Dem seats occupied by (in current terms) centre-left candidates such as Vince Cable, leaving the likes of Cleggie comparatively unmolested, just in case a coalition poodle was still needed.

Victor said...

Summarising my previous post concerning what's happened in the UK.

1. The Tories massacred the Lib Dems (with some help from Labour voters) and soaked up a lot of seats from them.

2. The SNP massacred Labour but (of course) only in Scotland.

3. Labour did substantially better against the Tories than last time but not well enough, given all the other factors at play.

Nicola, Queen of Scots is only partially to blame for the third of these.

In the UK as a whole, the main blame goes to Mr Crosby, UKIP, Austerity Chic, the undoubted political skills of David Cameron etc. etc.

In the words variously attributed to Groucho Marks, George Burns and Celeste Holm :‘The secret of life is honesty and fair-dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.’

Boris will now have to wait five years before thinking about No. 10's wallpaper. And he may never get there.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah Boris – you gotta love him – a triumph of form over function.

Victor said...

Strangely, Boris is not amongst my love objects. But each to his own.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I know you probably realise it was irony Victor, but you could have said so. :-) I get tired of explaining irony to Americans, so you're just adding to the stresses and strains of life :-).

Victor said...


Not for a moment did I envisage you enraptured by Boris.

But, you're right, there might be Americans viewing this thread.

One can't be too careful.

aberfoyle said...

In hard times left turn right,my usury debt to my slaved debt to my wood and roof determines how i view social care that cares for me my timber and roof,my financial investment.