You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. This quote, usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln, goes to prove that some things in politics never change.
After thirteen years of spin, media manipulation and bare-faced lies (don’t believe the rumours folks, Gordon and Tony really do have a very good working relationship), one might be forgiven for thinking that there was no one left who believed a word the Labour party had to say on anything. Nevertheless, they are out there, loyal to the party that did not trust them enough to tell them the truth. Willing to vote again for a party they thought was a disciplined, professional team, building a sustainable, caring economy on the rock of prudent financial management, but in reality was a faction-riven clique driven by personal ambition. Labour supporters are unique in accepting that buying popularity and the appearance of success by reckless borrowing was government at its best and most courageous. Already, the faithful are swallowing the myth that the poor and most vulnerable are going to suffer, not because of Labour’s disastrous reign, but because of the measures the new government have to take to repair their damage.
I am meeting these Labour supporters on the doorstep. They are frightened of the future and the possible collapse of their world, the safe world that Labour locked them into. If they had a choice, they would prefer things to stay as they were, and Labours careful rhetoric that somehow billions can be cut without affecting them, is appealing. Even the begrudging admission from Labour that ‘cuts are necessary, but not yet’, offers some form of relief. Pain deferred means no pain now, a phenomenon familiar to anyone who ever visited a dentist.
Labour appear at ease with the constant forecasts of doom and disaster emanating from their supporters, particularly the Daily Mirror (see Monday’s ludicrous prediction that within three years 8,000 pensioners a year would be dying from hypothermia, armed troops would be guarding 10 Downing Street from rioters and Diego Maradona would be raising the Argentinean flag over the Falklands). They are also seemingly at ease with the fiction that only they can maintain the welfare state as it has been. That if only they were still in power there would be no redundancies, no change to housing benefit, millionaires could still receive child benefit and the people who lend money to the UK would be delighted to continue offering loans at preferential rates.
But who are they trying to fool with this rosy interpretation of what the rest of the world recognises as a crisis? Surely they cannot be trying to appeal to their core support with this rubbish. After all, Labour supporters revel in the notion that they are the most tribal of the parties. Only Labour supporters chant ‘I’m Labour till I die!’ So is there a need to lie to these devotees?
Perhaps the habit of lying to their own supporters is so inured that Labour find it too much of a sea change to start being straight with them. After all, change takes time. There may be a new leader, but he and his team have emerged from the same culture that promised us an ethical foreign policy, no more boom and bust and a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. But it is a habit that Labour’s new leader really ought to break. The damage done to Labour’s moral authority as a result of many years of deceiving voters and their own supporters is already considerable. It does the party, and British politics in general, no good in the long run.
Labour’s hardcore support will usually swallow anything offered to them by their party, and a percentage of floating voters will support their narrative, as it is preferable to the medicine being offered by the other major parties. But are Labour offering an honest, responsible alternative, or telling people what they want to hear? Are they so desperate to garner support that they are prepared to dismiss a trillion pounds of debt and a deficit already in fifteen figures as ‘neither here nor there’?
I would hope not. I would have more regard for them as a party if they were to concede that things are bad and that they have not yet had time to formulate the policies they believe will put things right again. The public would also have more faith in them if they were to accept that they lost the general election and need to take a long, hard look at themselves and their way of operating. If their new leader were to declare that the party would put honesty and political integrity at the top of their change agenda they might even begin to repair the damage that has left their ‘brand’ synonymous with ‘spin’, double-dealing, false hope and lies. Be honest with your supporters, and with the country. Admit that there are no easy solutions to this mess, and that it is morally wrong to kid vulnerable people that they can somehow be divorced from the solution.