In the aftermath of the Bradford West by-elction result, it is increasingly clear that Labour didn’t have the slightest grip on what was actually happening. Comments and discussions on Labour blogs show us that Labour assumed that simply because certain areas (for example, areas with a dense Muslim population) were voting; they had to be voting Labour. This kind of complacent assumption really is an insult to voters.
The reason I joined the Liberal Democrats and became an active campaigner was because I saw that whole swathes of my area were taken for granted by the Conservatives. We need to be clear on one thing – not delivering leaflets, not canvassing and not working for our voters, whilst happily accepting their vote come election night, is a disgrace. Whilst safe LibDem seats are hard to come by, we need to take the Bradford West defeat as a warning against the complacency that corrodes our political system.
George Galloway’s assault on the Labour majority last week should also tell us something about how Labour approaches seats of a religiously and culturally diverse nature. After the result, rather than a frank discussion about where their narrative is going wrong, Labour activists were questioning how they could have lost the ‘Asian vote’, or how well they did with the ‘white, hard Labour’ supporters. This offensive stereotyping of the general public may not tell us why they lost – but it certainly tells us why they deserved to. As soon as we hive off parts of society and weigh them up on their electoral worth we forfeit any real moral weight to our campaigns. Rather than discussing issues with people one at a time, Labour’s commodification of voters at all levels of their campaign is shameful. When we lose sight of individual voters and their hopes and dreams, we also lose sight of any real reason to run for election in the first place.
The final lesson to be learnt is from the mutterings online last week. Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann wrote on Labour List that part of their problem was that on the doorstep they had ‘no Muslim doorknockers, no Urdu speaker, no Hijab wearing woman talking to Muslim women voters’. Similarly, commentators online have blamed everything from Galloway’s letters to mosques, to how much he drinks – one even questioned whether Ed Miliband being Jewish could have been to blame. What this proves, is that rather than looking for problems in their own organisation, Labour would prefer to blame this on literally anything else. As long as this kind of self delusion continues, the government can sit comfortably with little effective opposition.
Some days ago, when it was reported that Ken Livingstone had remarked that Jewish people wouldn’t vote for him due to their wealth, it would have been easy to brush Ken’s comments aside as the mutterings of a political fossil lusting after power, but against the backdrop of Bradford West, Labour’s misguided love of statistics and demographics and it’s distance from real people is becoming more and more damning.
Whether the choice of Bradford’s citizens is one they’ll live to regret or not is yet to be seen, but what is unquestionable is the fact that this latest display should be a rallying call to all flagging LibDems. If we don’t work every day for our wards, divisions and constituencies – Labour and the Tories will be the only winners and the whole sorry cycle will start again.
* Sam Phripp is a Liberal Democrat District Councillor from Frome in Somerset. Elected in May 2011, he became the youngest person ever to serve on the authority.