The economic catastrophe of Covid-19

In the days since my last blog post the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to intensify. On Monday night UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an unprecedented announcement to the British Public, limiting people’s freedom of movement and telling the population to stay in their homes. This followed his Friday address to the nation where all pubs, cafes and restaurants were ordered to close.

In New Zealand the country is also in lockdown for at least a month. Schools are closed and kids are learning from home. In NZ infection rates of Covid-19 are still relatively low, but are rising quickly. By following WHO advise early, NZ hopes to avoid the sorts of terrifying infection and death rates seen in Italy. Also to slow the spread of the virus to ease pressure of on the health system.

The impact of the virus, the global infection rate and death will be devastating for all of us. In the weeks and months that follow, life will not be as it was before, and things will be pretty tough. Tougher still, will be the economic catastrophe this pandemic leaves in its wake.

Covid-19 has delivered the fastest, deepest economic crisis in human history. Earlier in March the US stock market declined by 20%, its fastest decline ever. World markets are in flux. Amplifying this, unlike normal recessions where spending is encouraged to stimulate the economy, this time markets are actively shutting down to halt the spread of the virus.

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In another unprecedented move, governments are intervening to pay wages while people are encouraged to stay home from work. In the UK the Government has said it will support businesses to pay 80% of wages for employees who are unable to work during the crisis. In the US a $1.8 Trillion package has been approved to try and save the economy. The bill will bail out struggling businesses and gives $1,200 for every adult and $500 per child living in America.

Predictions of another economic slow down this year have been circulating for months, as this 2018 Guardian Article outlines. But few predicted that a global pandemic would be the trigger of the next crisis, nor the potential scale of the crisis. While the World Health Organisation (WHO) have for sometime warned of the risks to the global economy of a pandemic, few have paid enough attention.

Whilst the economic crisis is hitting us all, some sectors have already been devastated. Over the last 18 months I have worked in and with the people in the events sector in London. People who work in events, be they music and cultural or corporate have lost all their work overnight. Crew, lampies, sound people, riggers, musicians, promoters, venue staff and anyone else connected with events work had their income completely dry up about a fortnight ago. Many of my friends in London who work in this sector are really struggling now. As freelancers, they are still unclear what the Government compensation package looks like for them. This has happened to the events sector the world over, as this article from Australia explains.

Events is but one example. Another is hospitality, where they have had to close their doors. The number of bars and cafes that will go to the wall during this crisis will be considerable. Many such establishments have tight margins normally, a few weeks of not trading even with Government assistance will likely be fatal.

The 2008 Financial Crisis caused hardship and suffering to many around the world. Whilst markets recovered, austerity policies and stagnant wage growth meant most of us are still considerably poorer than prior to 2008. Even when there had been an official recovery, global markets remained far more fragile after the last crash. There is little evidence of global markets being able to weather this latest storm.

It would be easy to end this post leaving the reader with an impending sense of doom. And there is plenty to be pessimistic and fearful of in the coming weeks and months. But humans are tenacious as a species. We find ways to adapt to hostile or changing environments. Already we are seeing Governments take unprecedented action to protect jobs and people’s incomes to get through this pandemic. From this, new ideas, new ways of working and of managing the economy will emerge.

Things will likely not go back to how they were before this crisis, and this isn’t an entirely bad thing. Covid-19 will force us to look at public health differently. The economic crisis will once again highlight the vulnerabilities of our global economy, and force us to consider different and better ways to run our society. The upheaval from this pandemic will likely mean the 2020’s will be a time of considerable change. This will not be easy or pleasant. But from it we have the opportunity to try and make positive changes to our world. If something good can come from this horrible pandemic, then I hope it is this. And I hope to be part of any positive change that comes over the next few years.

Covid-19 and its ugly aftermath

Mid last week the World Health Organisation declared the Coronavirus or Covid-19 to be a pandemic. A pandemic is a disease that is prevalent throughout the globe. Humanity is no stranger to these, throughout history there have been a number of very deadly pandemics. This visual showing the history of pandemics places the current Covid-19 into context.

When the story first broke about this virus, the predominate view was that this was another Swine Flu or SARS. Both these were considered to be an over reaction by the media and a beat up. The counter argument is that by raising the alarm early and ensuring prevention, neither SARS or Swine Flu became as deadly as the Spanish Flu of 1918.

The Covid-19 strand of Coronavirus was only discovered 3 months ago in Wuhan China. It is believed by heavily controlling the movement of people and quarantining those infected, China was able to significantly slow the spread of this virus. The same is now being applied in many parts of Europe, where numbers who have caught the virus has sky rocked.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) are the global governance body to direct international health within the United Nations. For those cynical of the important role played by global governance organisations, they should consider the mess the world would be in now were it not for the intervention and advise of the WHO during this crisis. The WHO have given clear advise to governments on how to prevent the spread of this virus. Many governments are following this advise, others have been much slower to react. Increasingly though, most countries, businesses, public bodies and institutions throughout the planet are now reacting, and listening to the WHO.

The scary thing about this Pandemic, is that we still know relatively little about it. We know the symptoms are coughing, a fever and trouble breathing. People who have it are contagious for up to 14 days. And we know that elderly and those with underlying health conditions are more likely to die if they catch the virus. What we don’t know is whether this virus could mutate or get worse. Will the virus continue to spread. One theory is that of herd immunity, whereby once most people have caught the virus it can no longer spread. But this could be completely wrong, and a dangerous and deadly assumption to make.

The silver lining, if there can be any of a global pandemic, is that there are now really good public health campaigns about the need for washing your hands and being aware of hygiene.  The spread of viruses is a real problem. According to a International Longevity Centre study of better off/1st world economies, the Flu cost around 159 million working days in 2018 resulting in $39 billion US in lost productivity. The conservative estimate is that in better off countries 91 million people get the flu each year. Many of these infections could be prevented through better hygiene and people washing their hands. Potentially, the current awareness of the need to wash your hands, stay home when you are feeling ill and to cover your mouth when coughing may actually prevent the spread of the flu and other viruses.

The prevention strategies recommended by the WHO will help slow the spread. But they won’t stop the virus. All this can do is buy time, hopefully to learn more about Covid-19 and maybe develop some sort of vaccine or cure. Also to protect the elderly and sick prior to this happening. This is the plan. There are no guarantees this will work, but we need to try.

Whatever happens with the virus, one inevitable outcome will be considerable damage to the global economy. My next post will focus on what has happened to world markets so far, what the likely fallout will be. It will be far from pleasant reading.

This result could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom

On the June 23 2016, Dad and I were driving back to San Francisco from Sacramento, where we’d visited our relatives. We were fairly late, so had on US public radio to help keep us awake for the drive back to our motel. In the previous two weeks listening to US media, international news tended to get only limited coverage. That night was different. The US media were focused on one issue, and that was the result of the Brexit referendum.

Listening to the results being reported while driving on that California freeway, I recall thinking ‘this result could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom’. On hearing that both Northern Ireland and Scotland had voted to stay part of the EU, in contrast to the rest of the country, it was hard to imagine that this would not become a significant issue.

Fast forward three and a half years. Its 10pm, June 12 2019. By now I’m living in London. I’m driving home on the A40 in West London passing The Grenfell Tower, I hear UK general election exit poll predicting that The Conservatives would win a significant majority. I stay up all night to watch the results (though at times I struggle to stay awake). It becomes clear that the Scottish National Party (SNP) has won the vast majority of seats in Scotland. I also watch with interest the Northern Ireland results, where for the first time unionists (those who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom) have failed to win a majority. I recall my thoughts back in June 2016, and once again I think to myself, ‘This result could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom’. 

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Is the break up of the United Kingdom imminent?

Prior to the election I blogged about Scottish Nationalism and why Brexit had revived calls for Scottish Independence. I also blogged about Northern Ireland and how Brexit threatened the precarious 1998 peace agreement.

So what happens now? Well for Northern Ireland, the major development since the election has been that the Northern Irish parliament (Stormont) has reconvened for the first time in 3 years. After the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) dismal result, they have now realised that power sharing in Stormont is their best hope of remaining relevant. Northern Ireland hasn’t suddenly given Sinn Fein or other nationalist parties wanting a United Ireland a majority – their vote remained fairly stagnant. The vote shift was from unionist to more moderate/pragmatic parties who support the Good Friday Agreement and are non aligned to either Unionist or Nationalist factions.

The 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement states the following:

“the Secretary of State” should call a referendum “‘if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.”

There is no sign that such a referendum will be called in the immediate future. Nor can one say with any certainty how such a referendum would go. But at the end of 2020 we will have a better idea whether the UK has secured a decent trade deal with the EU. We will know the level of alignment with EU legislation. And from here, it will be easier to gauge what the true impact of Brexit will be on Northern Ireland. A United Ireland is always an option, and if the ongoing relationship between the UK and the EU is fraught with difficulty – Northern Ireland may just vote to join the Republic.

Unlike Northern Ireland, Scotland do not have an arrangement where they can hold a independence referendum. At least not one that the British Government has to recognise. In fact PM Boris Johnson has rejected calls for a second referendum on Scottish Independence. This doesn’t stop the Scottish Parliament calling one. The experience of the Catalan independence referendum of 2017 should ring alarm bells with the British Government. If Scotland votes to leave the UK, but the government in Westminster refuses to recognise the result – this could cause an interesting constitutional crisis. Aside from civil unrest from the people of Scotland, internationally there would considerable sympathy for Scotland were they denied independence. Not least from the EU, who would relish the opportunity to take back part of the by then former UK into the EU.

In politics it is risky to make predictions, and I generally try to avoid doing so. But questions of whether Northern Ireland and Scotland will remain part of the UK are now asked daily in the British media. Further, there seems to be an increasing realisation and acceptance from the British public that this could well happen.

UK Labour, still reeling from the 2019 election loss are now in the process of choosing a new leader. Sections of Labour still see Scotland as part of the country they can win back, while others believe this unlikely. In 2014 Labour ran a united front campaign with David Cameron’s Conservative Government urging Scotland to stay in the UK.

Many in Labour fear if Scotland leaves the UK, the party will never have the numbers to form a government in the UK again. This is nonsense. The last time the UK Labour Party relied on Scottish MPs to form a government was after the 1974 General Election. In all 3 elections Tony Blair won, Labour could have formed government without its Scottish MPs. But this is beside the point. For Labour, and the rest of the political establishment in Britain, the issue of Scottish independence should be seen as an issue of self determination and democracy.

If Scots want Scotland to be a separate country, then nothing should stand in their way. If Scots vote to stay in the UK again, as they did in 2014, then the issue is put to bed. But by refusing a second referendum post Brexit, this could bolster support for Scottish independence making it a much more likely prospect.

The break up of the United Kingdom isn’t inevitable. And there are pros and cons if it were to occur. But the calls for this to occur are becoming much louder. The challenge for the political establishment in London is how it will manage this. And if the UK does break up, what does that mean for the future of England and Wales. Would Wales and England stay united? How would a United Ireland and independent Scotland engage with England and Wales? What would be the social and economic implications of such a change?

The next few years will be very interesting for the United Kingdom.

The BBC – a failed public broadcaster?


The real disappointment of the 2019 UK General Election was the BBC. Once regarded as the bastion of quality media and the envy of much of the world, the BCC’s reputation is diminished greatly in recent years. From the historic cover up of Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse, to having to pay compensation to female journalists in equal pay claims the BBC is no longer viewed in as positive light by the British public.

At the 2019 election the BBC had an opportunity to show the world what quality political journalism looks like in the 21st century. It failed. The consequences for this could be dire for the Beeb.

Last week it was announced that the BBC are cutting 450 staff, which will result in fewer stories and greater centralisation in London. The very things that critics believe caused problems with the BBC in recent years are set to get even worse. Is the BBC now in its death throes? And how did it get to this point?

One widely held criticism of the BBC is that it is run by upper middle class predominately white and well educated people. Also that the BBC is heavily London centric. While similar criticisms can be made of other media outlets, it matters more what people say about the BBC. It matters because it’s funded through the broadcasting fee and public funds. It matters because its raison d’être is to set the standard for journalism in the UK and abroad. If its quality is in question, this call into question what its purpose really is.

The first example I recall while living in London of the BBC not hitting the mark was back in 2018 when there were major protests in support of the NHS, and the BBC failed to report on them. As mentioned in my previous blog post it is difficult for the media to report on everything happening. But these weren’t small protests, and NHS funding and the threat of privatisation is and remains one of the major issues in UK politics.

There were two events during the election where I thought the BBC fell short of what the public should expect of a public broadcaster.

The first was the Andrew Neil interviews with Party leaders. Both Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson were interviewed by Andrew Neil and it would be fair to say took a grilling. Both agreed to the interview believing that Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson would also be interviewed by Neil. The BBC had lead both leaders to believe this was the case, where in fact Johnson had never agreed to do and interview with Neil. Andrew Neil ended up doing an ’empty chair’ speech criticising Johnson for not doing the interview. Yes Boris shouldn’t have refused and interview with a tough journalist. Equally, The Conservatives had never agreed to do an interview with Neil. The empty chair stunt felt like the BBC saving face having mislead other party leaders in claims that Johnson would do an interview with Neil.

The second was BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg’s reporting the day before the election that postal ballot results painted a grim picture for Labour. The UK Electoral Commission issued a warning that these comments were a breach of electoral law. The day before the election postal ballots were still arriving by post, and had not been counted. So the statement being reported by Kuenssberg was not only breaching the law, but at the time it was being made lacked substance to back it up. It’s unlikely Laura’s comments had that much impact on the December 2019 election result. But they do make the BBC look unprofessional.

BBC Political Editor Laura Keunssberg came under fire for reporting on Postal ballot results before the polls had closed.

The BBC get accused of bias often, and this is nothing new. In recent years there have been criticisms that the BBC are too pro EU/anti Brexit and have been too critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. In both cases, there have been accusations that reporting on both these things has not been balanced or honest at times. Balance in the media is tough, and journalists and people working in news rooms will often have unconscious (sometimes conscious) bias. Given the generally middle class and urban nature of BBC reporters and its leadership, it is likely this would come through in its reporting.

A public broadcaster has a duty to be challenging and critical. And on Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership it is right that the BBC asked hard questions. In both cases there were plenty of hard questions to ask. But did the public broadcaster allow its middle class, urban and privileged perspective to cloud its reporting?

My view in watching the BBC reporting on Brexit, Corbyn, UK politics and global news is that it as a public broadcaster still operates like its the 1990s. In that context Brexit, Trump and the 2017 election didn’t make sense. Had the BBC really tried to understand why Brexit happened? Did the proponents of a second referendum really deserve as much air time as the BBC gave them? Did the BBC ever really try to understand why Corbyn won two Labour leadership elections? And why Labour’s vote increased significantly in 2017? The BBC took the view that the world had gone a bit mad, but if they just kept on saying and doing what they’d always done normal 1990s service would resume soon.

The BBC as a public broadcaster is owned by the government. The Government set the rules, and most importantly set the funding. After the election the Conservative Government announced that it would consider decriminalising non payment of the licence fee. They announced this at a time when people from across the political spectrum believed the BBC has underperformed as a reliable source of news. There is always a tension between the BBC and government, especially with centre right governments who don’t necessarily believe having a public broadcaster is necessary.

At a time of uncertainty, the BBC finds itself with fewer supporters than at any other time in its history. While still a much loved British institution which still produces a number of popular shows, many now question whether it’s achieving what it needs to as a public broadcaster.

The Fourth Estate struggling in the social media world

Ahead of the 2020 General Election in New Zealand, Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that her party is committed to run a factual election and has signed up to a social media tool to help prove it. The 2020 NZ election will be an interesting case study of whether in the social media age there can be honest political debate free of misinformation and manipulation of facts.

In the era of fake news politics has become increasingly murky. The recent UK election has been the latest example of this. For politics and specifically democratic societies,  trying to adapt to this new era has been painful and disruptive. However, for  traditional print, radio and TV media the change has been profound. And not always for good.

As I outlined on my blog in November, despite many problems that it has caused, social media overall is a force for good. It allows for greater diversity and gives a voice to those who have been under represented in the media. In an era where everyone has camera on their phone, people can record and share events globally in seconds on a number of platforms. Social media provides a platform where people can build communities of shared interests and beliefs. And in politics, social media has helped engaged young people in democracy. Also social media has meant stories get public attention that mainstream media didn’t bother to report.

And this is the issue with mainstream media. It has never reported everything. It couldn’t. There is too much news in the world to fit into one 30 news broadcast or a 40 page newspaper. Often accusations of bias or corporate media blackouts steam from the media not covering stories, are due to limited space. These days much more can be reported, as what doesn’t make the headline news can still be put online. And if the BBC or the Financial Times don’t report a story – chances are it will still end up on social media and if its of interest it will quickly go viral.

The downside of this is that we live in a world where anyone can get anything published on social media. And anything online can go viral. Often this is good, but also it can mean fake news (aka bullshit) ends up filling peoples twitter feeds.

For this reason traditional media still matters. People may not buy papers like they did 25 years ago, but they take a report by CNN or The Daily Telegraph as far more creditable than say some guy called Nick Kelly who does his own blogs (with questionable uses of apostrophes and grammar). But how do these respected media outlets cypher through all the “news” online and seperate wheat from the chaff? The truth is they have really struggled.

About a decade ago there was a spate of fake celebrity death posts online. People would create a fake news that say Jon Bon Jovi had died – CNN or whoever would report this as being fact – and minutes later Jon would contact the station informing him of it mortal status and the report would be swiftly removed. This was embarrassing for media, and upsetting for fans (and even more so for the poor sod reported dead).

Fake news and lying is nothing new in politics. Politicians are being economical with the truth is par the course. And yes often they got away with it. But sometimes a clever journalist would catch them out. The old rules of engagement were, if you get caught that it was game over.

One of Trumps legacies in politics will be the way he has managed to blatantly lie and contradict himself, yet survive. The guy contradicts himself on his own twitter feed. He is calculated to have lied 5276 times since becoming president. But he gets away with it, at least till now, by saying his critics are spreading fake news. In 2020 it is now difficult to tell what is true and what is false. When once respected mainstream media have again and again been caught out reporting fake news events, someone like Trump has free rein to lie.

In the 2019 UK election accusations of fake news were constant. Days before the election an image was published of a child at Leeds hospital lying on the floor due to a lack of hospital beds. I used this image in my blog post about The NHS. Soon as the image was published, there were multiple posts online claiming the image was fake. So while papers like The Mirror were reporting it as real, other media were reporting that the image was fake. In the end many who supported the government chose to believe it was fake. Whereas those supporting opposition parties were likely to believe the image was real. The truth became a matter of opinion, based on what you choose to believe.

Complete objectivity in reporting is a bit of a myth. There is not and has never been a purely objective news source. Certainly in politics where there are conflicting policies, values and ideologies being neutral and objective is near impossible. This is not to say that there aren’t ways media that can provide a reasonable degree of balance. And some journalists do this very well. But sadly in 2019, the media struggled.

It is easy to blame journalists and the media. But we also need to understand the environment they operate in. Newspaper circulation has declined rapidly in recently years. While papers can publish stories online, they have to compete with other free media, so make no money in posting stories online other than what they gain through advertising. The decline in revenue has meant fewer journalists, and pressure to do quick high impact stories rather than invest in in-depth investigative journalism.

Breakdown of UK daily newspaper circulation, 1956 to 2019.
The above graph shows the decline in print media circulation from 1956 to 2019.

In TV and radio, commercial pressure have created an environment thats is not conducive to quality reporting. Some still manage it, but many believe the quality of journalism has been dumbed down over the last 30 years.

In 2020 it will be interesting to watch the NZ election to see if the governments announcement about running a factual campaign works out. In particular will the opposition parties sign up to similar factual campaign pledges. Whilst this may seem unlikely in NZ, the chances seem far slimmer in the US where Donald Trump is up for reelection this November.

The future of journalism is uncertain. Traditional media will more and more be operating within the realms of social media both to seek information and to disseminate it.  There is a great need reliable and trustworthy sources of information, as far as this is possible. Certainly one would hope that public broadcasters will be up to this challenge. Sadly, as my next blog will outline, the UK’s BBC so far has not stepped up to the plate.





Why UK Labour lost? Part 9: What the party needs to do now.

UK Labour lost the general election. A new leader needs to be elected. The Labour Party is now consumed in this process.

Much has been said and written about why Labour lost, the quality of which varies considerably. The broader context of this defeat is that over the last century, UK Labour has won 8 out of the last 28 general elections. Overall the Labour Party is not a successful electoral force in the UK. What makes the 2019 loss harder, is that the party lost sections of its historical base in the North of England and the Midlands.

But being honest isn’t just about focussing on the negative. Many have compared the 2019 election to 1983. Labour in 2019 did well in London, with many MPs being returned with staggering majorities. By contrast in 1983 Labour’s result was no where near as strong in London.

Also Labour performed strongly with younger voters. The below map shows how voters under the age of 40 voted in the 2019 election:

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Above is the UK electoral map if only voters under 40 voted. Source: Election Maps UK

Labour and parties of the left did significantly well with young voters. By contrast back in 1983 the Conservatives enjoyed a much higher support from younger voters. During the election I discussed the impact younger voters were having on UK elections, and that this is part of a global trend. Younger voters have been hit hard by a decade of austerity. For many under 40 the middle class aspirations of their parents generation are far beyond reach. For this reason, trying to pitch Labour to the aspirational centre will likely alienate rather than inspire younger voters. But if the Party can hold much of this support, it give it a good base to build on for the future.

The problem Labour faces is the UK is now a polarised electorate. Generational divides have seldom been so stark. The Brexit vs Remain division runs deep, and trying to win support from both sides is damn near impossible at this time. The other major issue that I’ll discuss in a future blog is the future of the United Kingdom. The future of Scotland and Northern Ireland as members of the United Kingdom is far from certain.

The SNP’s success in the general election effectively wiped out Labour in Scotland, and continues a decade long decline of Labour as a political force there. Many in Labour still see winning back Scotland as the path back to government. The prospect of this happening seems increasingly unlikely. For Labour, their focus needs to be on winning support in England and Wales. Scottish independence isn’t certain, but Scotland being a separate nation wanting seperate representation is now a fact of life. It is now unlikely that any English dominated political party will gain the majority of seats in Scotland ever again.

The current Labour Leadership race is gearing up. Underlying this race will be a debate between two waring factions within the Party. One supports a return to a 3rd way Labour like Blair led in 1997. The other, supports Clement Attlee style Social Democracy. these are two distinctly different political ideas, both trying to operate within the same political party. While many 3rd way supporters may feel more comfortable in the Liberal Democrats, under First Past the Post their chances of gaining government are limited. Likewise for socialist or social democrats, forming a new left party would likely struggle in the current electoral system. So these two political perspectives are forced to share the Labour Party.

I’m not going to pick the upcoming leadership election, or do analysis on any particular candidate at this stage. But understanding the context in which this race takes place is crucial. The reasons for Labour’s defeat weren’t just about leadership. The challenge for Labour is trying to win power in a small c conservative electorate. Also an electorate that is deeply split over the question of Europe. An electorate that is four seperate nations, where in Northern Ireland and Scotland there are growing calls to leave the UK. An electorate where there is a generational divide more stark than ever. And an electorate where the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. But most importantly, an electorate that traditionally has not voted Labour and where trust in the party and its politics is lacking. Despite all this Labour can win the next UK election. But it will need to do a damn sight more than just elect a new leader.


Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Oooo Jeremy Corbyn

Why UK Labour lost? Part 5: Antisemitism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 6: New Labour and Blairism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 7: Momentum and the Corbynistas

Why UK Labour lost? Part 8: what it takes to win?


Why UK Labour lost?  Part 8: What it takes to win

The UK Labour Party in the 2019 election assumed that like in 2017, the release of their policy manifesto would see their support increase significantly. Assuming that 2019 would be a re-run of 2017 was a foolish mistake. Also in 2017 Labour was under new leadership, and it was the first time in many years Labour had a manifesto with things like nationalisation and spending increases to reverse austerity cuts. In 2019 everybody knew the manifesto would include these positions.

Labour’s manifesto did help the party increase its vote share and support in 2017. After that election, Labour needed to build on this. It needed to be finding or creating political space to promote policies like re-nationalising rail or saving the NHS. Instead, the political discourse over the last two and a half years has been about Brexit. This was unavoidable and Labour could not prevent this. This forced the party to spend considerable political capital engaging in this fight. Labour found itself in a position where it could not clearly articulate how it would keep its pledge to honour the 2016 referendum result, and provide a credible alternative to the Tories. Further too many in the party actually wanted to stop Brexit, a position Labour hadn’t run on in 2017. All of this meant other issues were given inadequate attention.

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Labour’s 2017 Manifesto had overwhelming support polls showed. 

By the time of the 2019 election, Brexit eclipsed the political landscape once again. Trying to announce new policies in other policy areas was going to be difficult, even if there had been a strong strategy. Labour’s campaign strategy and messaging was not strong. An example of this was the free broadband policy. This was actually an interesting policy and an important debate to have. But the timing to announce this was poor. And the way it was sold to voters was hopeless. The policy came across as a cheap election bribe rather than a coherent policy.

The policy aimed to nationalise broadband and for the government to invest in high speed internet infrastructure in parts of the UK where investment was desperately needed. This policy should have been sold as part of a coherent regional development strategy. Invest in high speed broadband, helping to create business and jobs parts of the country that have been left behind.  Instead of this, the policy was sold as save £20 a month on broadband charges. This policy was launched mid election campaign where there is no time to properly explain or sell it. Thus the policy was reduced to a sound bite making it look like nothing more than an election bribe. Not surprisingly it failed to resonate.

The broadband policy was but one example of this. Labour needed to spend the last couple of years building support for its policies in the community. It needed its core policy message to be central to everything it did over the term of parliament. Policies like the broadband one should be announced mid electoral cycle, and take the time to explain yourself to voters. Instead of complaining about the media misrepresenting the policy, hold national road shows, use social media to explain and promote the policy. And in the process of this, engage with voters and allow supporters to have input into it. This takes time, is resource intense and won’t see a massive poll jolt. But such a process builds trust with voters, and come election time means the policy is clearly understood.

One of the other features of Labour’s campaign was the desire to centrally control the message. 20 years ago this was how you did politics. In the 21st century social media environment this is a) too slow and b) just looks contrived. Social media narratives are crucial for selling policy or ideas. It’s also how negative messaging or trolling works. An offical Labour Party tweet maybe seen by a few thousand followers. A good one maybe retweeted thus seen by a few more thousand.

For a message or hash tag to viral quickly, you need a number of posts or tweets sent with a consistent message and hashtag sent at once. Ideally people who are in different social media echo chambers so as to quickly gain a diverse audience. To do this, requires organisations and individuals to do social media posts. With 600 thousand members Labour was in a great position to own the social media narratives. Labour still tried to engage members and supporters by getting them to share content from the centre, rather than support members to create content themselves. This is a scary concept for those running campaigns. But to win in the 2020’s this is what is required.

Finally, Labour lost the campaign by having too many messages, rather than some core ones. Boris and the Conservatives had get Brexit done. Labour had a long and detailed manifesto. Some of the ideas had been heard before, some were new. But the branding of Labour’s offer to voters was poor. The Party were quick to talk of it as a radical manifesto. Actually most of the policies were  bog standard social democratic positions, common throughout much of Europe. Most voters didn’t read the manifesto. Most Labour Party members still haven’t read it cover to cover. What was needed during the campaign were some key big ticket policies or themes. Instead of talking about being radical, have a simple message about how you will make life better for voters followed by three popular examples. Then have the policy manifesto in the background to provide detail.

During the 2017 election polls showed that voters overwhelmingly backed Labour’s manifesto. This was and still is ground where Labour can win power. But behind this, the party needs an election strategy that properly sells these manifesto positions. In 2019 it was never going to be easy to move the conversation along from Brexit. But a decent strategy to sell its social democratic message was Labour’s best shot.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Oooo Jeremy Corbyn

Why UK Labour lost? Part 5: Antisemitism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 6: New Labour and Blairism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 7: Momentum and the Corbynistas