Members of the #Milifandom all around the country were crying into their cornflakes come Friday morning. They had no words, just James Blunt’s ‘Goodbye My Lover’ on a constant loop. Thousands were left bewildered at Labour’s catastrophic defeat. Labour’s hopes were increasingly raised throughout the campaign, only to be shattered on the night. A blanket of blue sweeping the country was a harrowing sight to see.
The successful Conservative campaign was built on two deep foundations: a public perception that the years of economic malaise were Labour’s fault and greater readiness to see David Cameron as a natural prime minister. Miliband was often criticised for the lack of control he would have over the country. In return he asked for trust but Britain wasn’t prepared to take a gamble.
There are many reasons for this failure: the embarrassing loss of Scotland to the powerful and iconic Nicola Sturgeon and the retreat of English working-class support to UKIP and Green. Labour’s influence in Scotland was washed out by the tsunami of the SNP with just the one remaining seat caught up in the undertow of this dominant wave. No one can say that Miliband didn’t give it his best shot. He bought the hearts of millions of supporters in the North, but failed to encourage in the South. However, as the polls suggested, Miliband had an absolutely clear run – and it failed.
The exit poll’s introduction foreshadowed the misery that followed. As Labour started to lose out on each of the marginal seats, there was soon to be an ominous consistency, the inevitable decision was nearing closer. Were Labour voters making broken promises or were Conservatives shy in voicing their opinions? Ed Miliband had hoped to address the public’s concerns in the online TV debates but the Labour Party provided poor policy alternatives to the Conservative’s. By providing no satisfactory alternative, it increased the damage even more. Miliband and his advisers believed they were writing a whole new chapter of the party’s history, “turning the page” on New Labour, when in fact they were still hovering over the old Labour script.
Miliband’s treatment from the right-wing Rupert Murdoch-dictated press didn’t help. During the campaign, he successfully rebutted a caricature of awkward ineptitude. The Sun and Telegraph particularly targeted the leader over his inability to eat a bacon sandwich, never mind take over at Number 10.
The next Labour leader will need to be forward thinking, creating realistic policies that voters will believe. Most importantly, they need to encourage more people to vote Labour, which Miliband unfortunately failed to do. Was he tough enough? Unfortunately not.
Words by Bill Edgar