Sunday, 10 May 2015

Conservatives clinch majority in surprise British vote

* PM Cameron wins second term * Labour leader resigns * Scots back nationalist party
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 9 May 2015

BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron moved quickly to consolidate his government after his ruling Conservatives swept back to office for another five-year term, defying pre-election predictions of a close contest.

In a series of dramatic upsets last night, the Tories won enough seats to gain a majority in Parliament. The leaders of three major political parties all quit after suffering major losses. But the Scottish National Party (SNP) won a decisive victory in Scotland, one which will haunt Mr Cameron and threaten the future stability of the United Kingdom.

Speaking outside his official residence in Downing Street after being entrusted by Queen Elizabeth II with the formation of the new government, Mr Cameron vowed to "strive and bring the country together" in the wake of the SNP's landslide victory in Scotland.

But he also reiterated his intention of holding a referendum on Britain's future membership in the European Union.

With most of the ballots counted, the Conservatives are on track to win 331 seats in the 650-seat chamber, giving them the majority needed to rule without a coalition partner.

Despite numerous opinion polls showing Labour, the chief opposition party, neck and neck with the Conservatives, Labour slumped to its worst result in three decades, winning 232 seats, 26 fewer than what it had before the elections. The Liberal Democrats, who were coalition partners with the Conservatives, were crushed, winning a mere eight compared with 57 previously.

The shock results saw Mr Ed Miliband quitting as leader of the Labour Party last night.

"I am truly sorry for failing to win the election," he said, urging the party to have an "open and honest debate" about its future.

Mr Nick Clegg also stood down as head of the Liberals.

The head of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), Mr Nigel Farage, also resigned after losing to a Conservative rival.

Ukip, which is devoted to pulling Britain out of the EU and restricting immigration, did well in attracting more than three million votes, but managed to get only one MP, another development that helped Mr Cameron's party.

How could all of Britain's pollsters have got their predictions so wrong? One explanation is that of the "shy" Conservative voter: Pollsters have known for decades that some people who vote Conservative do not like to admit it in public, because they consider it unfashionable.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to Mr Cameron to congratulate him on his victory.

"Under your stewardship, the UK took difficult decisions and emerged from the financial crisis as the fastest growing economy in the G-7," said Mr Lee. "The clear mandate you have received enables you to bring your government's long-term economic plan to fruition, re-unite the country and fulfil the UK's global responsibilities."

Other foreign leaders, including United States President Barack Obama, also sent congratulatory messages.

Tellingly, European Council president Donald Tusk said he counted on Mr Cameron to make the case for Britain's continued membership in the EU and was ready to help him do so.

Rash of resignations follows parties' crushing defeats
Leaders of Labour Party, Ukip and Liberal Democrats throw in the towel
The Straits Times, 9 May 2015

LONDON - Mr Ed Miliband resigned as leader of the opposition Labour Party yesterday, as did the heads of the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party (Ukip) after the Conservative Party won Thurs- day's unpredictable election.

Mr Miliband, 45, whom pollsters had until Thursday portrayed as neck and neck with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, saw his party suffer its worst defeat in almost three decades, including losing all but one lawmaker in Scotland. "I am truly sorry I did not succeed, I have done my best for five years," he told supporters in his resignation speech. "I take absolute and total responsibility for the result."

Written off as a political insider lacking charisma just a few months ago, he had won plaudits for his tough campaign style and some observers saw leadership material. But he could not overcome his gaffe-prone image, which was summed up in a photograph of him unattractively eating a bacon sandwich. Unveiling a giant slab of stone etched with his key pledges did not help either.

"Britain needs a strong Labour Party. It's time for someone else to take leadership of this party," said Mr Miliband. Labour has 232 seats, 26 fewer than in 2010. He said the party's deputy leader, Ms Harriet Harman, would take over until a new leader is elected.

Another high-profile casualty was Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, 48, who stepped down after his Liberal Democrats were crushed in the election.

Mr Clegg, who in 2010 led his party to its first spell in government as junior partner to the Conservatives, retained his seat in Parliament but saw the vast majority of his colleagues lose theirs. His party lost all but eight seats from the 57 it won in 2010.

"Clearly the results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared," an exhausted-looking Mr Clegg told a news conference.

The anti-European Union Ukip also lost its leader, Mr Nigel Farage, 51, who quit after he failed to win a parliamentary seat. But he did not rule out running for the leadership again.

"There will be a leadership election for the next leader of Ukip in September and I will consider over the course of this summer whether to put my name forward to do that job again," he said.

Plain-speaking and populist, Mr Farage turned his party into a national force and helped it win millions of votes, but his anti-EU drive came to a halt yesterday. Ukip managed to secure only one House of Commons spot.

"I feel an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders," he said yesterday.

Mr Farage played a major part in prompting Mr Cameron to promise a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU, which would take place by the end of 2017.


Pollsters left red-faced for being so wrong
The Straits Times, 9 May 2015

LONDON - A dead heat? The pollsters were just dead wrong, as the results of Thursday's British general election showed.

Only on Wednesday, YouGov, ICM and Survation called it a tie, and three other polls published by TNS, Opinium and ComRes gave the Conservatives the narrowest of leads over Labour. Panelbase gave the Tories a two-point lead while all the newspapers said a hung Parliament was a certainty.

"The pollsters need to go off and interrogate themselves and poll each other to find who has been telling porkies (big lies) to whom," said Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson. "It's extraordinary that 11 polls on the eve of the election should get it so wrong."

As the pollsters scratched their heads for answers, the same excuses as those used in 1992 were being floated: changing methods of polling, "shy Tories" who did not want to say whom they were voting for, and a very late swing of undecided voters, The Guardian reported.

YouGov chief executive Stephan Shakespeare apologised on Twitter yesterday morning: "A terrible night for us pollsters. I apologise for a poor performance. We need to find out why."

In 1992, "shy" Conservatives were credited with helping Mr John Major win the 1992 election even though opinion polls had indicated Labour was ahead.

"It will either have been a late surge or long-term 'shy answering' and it takes some time to work that out," said London School of Economics professor Tony Travers.

Mr Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, told The Daily Telegraph: "What seems to have gone wrong is that people have said one thing and did something else at the ballot box. We are not as far out as we were in 1992, not that that is a great commendation."

He blamed politicians for relying too heavily on polling data. He said they "should campaign on what they believe, they should not listen to people like me".

Following the 1992 debacle, the pollsters redeemed their reputations by correctly predicting the difficult 2010 result, which led to a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. But it's back to square one after their latest slip-up.


Cameron faces uphill task in country united only in its divisions
New political map shows four distinct nations, each voting its own way
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 9 May 2015

IN THE end, it wasn't even close: As votes in Britain's general election were counted, it quickly became clear that the inconclusive cliffhanger result that all opinion pollsters had been predicting for months would not happen, and that the ruling Conservatives had won.

"There's only one opinion poll that counts, and that's the one on election day," a jubilant Prime Minister David Cameron, who will now remain in power until the end of the decade, told his Conservative party activists. 

Although government won't change hands in London, the nature of the country did change at the polls in fundamental ways and may not even survive in its current shape.

Mr Cameron now faces the huge challenge of being the prime minister of an increasingly disunited United Kingdom.

As the UK's new political map now indicates, the country is already divided into four distinct nations, each voting its own different way.

England, which accounts for the bulk of the territory and population, has always been the Conservatives' electoral bastion, and has swung even more firmly towards them; apart from a few urban areas in the north-east, the entire map of England is now a Conservative blue.

Meanwhile, Scotland is now almost entirely yellow, the colour of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which advocates Scotland's independence from the UK. The party has obliterated Labour, which used to control the region, and has secured 56 of Scotland's 59 seats.

Labour still clings to Wales, which it historically claimed as its fiefdom. But neither Labour nor the Conservatives have much influence in Northern Ireland, which has its own parties, organised along the Protestant-Catholic religious divide. So, the UK is a country united in its divisions.

Mr Cameron was quick to acknowledge that his first task was to heal these electoral divides. "Above all, I want to bring our United Kingdom together," he said yesterday.

Mr George Osborne, who is expected to retain the job of Chancellor of the Exchequer in the new Cabinet, said: "We need to respect that result in Scotland in this general election and see what we can do to make the people of Scotland feel part of a strong United Kingdom."

But that's easier said than done. Scotland's new leaders were quick to point out that their demands may well go beyond just more autonomy: "There is going to be a lion roaring, a Scottish lion," said former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who will now act as Scotland's chief voice in the British Parliament.

Mr Cameron will quickly discover that the more powers he offers Scotland, the more the SNP will demand. The SNP's ultimate objective is to hold a new referendum on independence, notwithstanding the fact that the option was decisively rejected by voters last September. And the stronger the clashes between the government in London and politicians in Scotland, the easier it would be to bring about a re-run of that referendum: A confrontation is, therefore, inevitable.

And even running England may not prove to be smooth sailing for the new Cameron administration. The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants to pull Britain out of the European Union and restrict immigration, looks set to have only two MPs in the new Parliament.

Still, the party appears to have polled around 3.4 million votes nationwide, drawn largely from working-class Labour voters and middle-class Conservative supporters; it was only the vagaries of the British electoral system that prevented UKIP from winning its proportional share of parliamentary seats, which could have been as high as 70 MPs.

So, although Mr Cameron will publicly dismiss UKIP as a busted flush, the reality is that it is now the third-biggest force in British politics, a development politicians ignore at their peril. The pressures on the Cameron government to be tough on Europe and even tougher on immigration will, therefore, remain.

And these will be made worse by trends within the ruling Conservatives' ranks. An estimated third of the new intake of Tory MPs are new legislators who harbour deep suspicions about the EU.

Mr Cameron will have to satisfy them as well, by holding his promised referendum on Britain's continued membership in the EU. Opinion polls indicate that such a referendum can be won by those supporting the EU.

However, opinion pollsters are not exactly trusted at the moment, having failed to predict the latest electoral results, and referendums have a knack of being even more unpredictable than general elections.

But the longer he delays holding the EU referendum, the more Mr Cameron will open himself to blackmail from his own supporters: The government's parliamentary majority is wafer-thin, thereby increasing the backbenchers' powers.

In essence, the new government will have to navigate a course between being both pro- and anti-European, between satisfying the Scots and not annoying the English, and between restricting public expenditure and dishing out new cash to the various parts of the UK, in order to keep everyone happy.

Mr Cameron may discover that his ultimate fate will resemble that of Mr John Major, another Conservative prime minister who defied expectations and won the 1992 British general election, only to be destroyed thereafter by his inability to impose discipline on either his party or his country.

What British election results say about voters
Current opinion-polling methods are out, along with class hatred. People want help to succeed.
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 11 May 2015

POLITICS is a brutish, cruel business. Exactly a week ago, Mr Ed Miliband, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, was hailed as a providential figure: He was anointed as the next British prime minister, a proud scion of a famous left-wing family.

Today, he commands nothing apart from mocking newspaper editorials, and his Labour Party lies vanquished and rudderless. Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron - the man who only a few days ago political observers in London dismissed as having "just 5 per cent chance" of retaining power - was triumphantly re-elected, and can not only expect to run Britain until the end of this decade, but is also likely to become the second longest-serving Conservative prime minister since the 19th century.

What happened in Britain offers some important lessons which leaders worldwide would be well-advised to study.

Picking winners

THE most striking feature about Britain's latest voting is that every single opinion-polling agency got its predictions disastrously wrong. Pollsters unanimously declared that neither the ruling Conservatives nor their chief Labour opponents would get a majority, only to discover when the ballots were counted that the Conservatives won, exceeding most predictions by a whopping 50 parliamentary seats.

Desperate to defend their reputations, pollsters offered a variety of justifications for their failures, ranging from the smug to the ridiculous. The Ipsos MORI polling giant continues to claim that its predictions were "within the margins of error for all the parties except for Labour whom we over-estimated", which is a nicer way of saying that the projections were correct, apart from the supposedly small matter of actually identifying the winner and loser.

Other pollsters tried to explain their failure by blaming Britain's "shy voters", the group of people who, allegedly, secretly vote Conservative but do not want to admit this in public, for fear that they will not be considered "cool". But the phenomenon has been known for decades, and polling agencies have claimed long ago that they "regularly compensate" for such "anomalies".

And then came the usual, self-serving argument of pollsters caught with wrong predictions: A supposed "last-minute surge" in the number of people voting for the Conservatives. The snag with this explanation is that there is no evidence of such a surge, and that opinion polls conducted hours before ballot stations opened in Britain last Thursday indicated no shift in sentiment.

So, what accounted for the pollsters' failure? First, it is obvious that the old techniques of collecting data are no longer working. In Britain, there was a substantial difference between polls conducted online, with people answering questions through their computers, and people being canvassed through their mobile phones. Those who answered questions by phone tended to favour the Conservatives, while those answering online opted far more for Labour.

Yet the overwhelming majority of polling firms ignored this significant discrepancy and continued to rely just on Internet surveys. The reasons? Costs and convenience. Internet surveys are dirt-cheap to conduct, but telephone surveys are not, largely because most people no longer use their landlines, so they need to be contacted through their mobile phones. However, obtaining random mobile numbers is sometimes illegal and always labour-intensive. And contacting people on their mobile phones is even more expensive: In the US, legislators allow the use of automated software to contact landlines, but demand the manual dialling of every mobile phone number.

The result is that polling agencies may be relying on flawed data supplied online by people who enjoy giving their views on any topic, the sort of people who may appear to be representative of society at large in terms of age, gender and profession, but are actually not so in every other way.

It is striking that the failure to predict the results in Britain comes only a few months after pollsters confidently predicted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in deep trouble, only to see him pulling off a sweeping electoral victory.

Pollsters also failed to gauge the level of support for President Barack Obama when he faced re-election in 2012. In short, the failure in Britain is part of a pattern which indicates systemic polling problems.

Opinion polls also under-estimated the scale of the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), a movement pledged to win Scotland's independence from the rest of Britain. The SNP wiped out Labour's presence in Scotland: As one British commentator cruelly put it, there are now more panda bears in the zoo in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh than there are Labour MPs in Scotland.

Shying from the truth

BUT another reason for the pollsters' failure is that they made the wrong ideological assumptions about British voters. They assumed that rising support for the UK Independence Party (Ukip), a nationalist movement which wants to pull Britain out of the European Union and restrict immigration, would come largely at the expense of the Conservatives.

It did not.

The bulk of Ukip's votes came from the less-educated, poor members of the working class, people who usually vote Labour.

They are the ones who feel threatened by immigration and who are attracted to a nationalist campaign. If pollsters were less obsessed with treating every nationalist movement as "right-wing" they could have realised that a movement such as Ukip is actually a left-wing one in social terms, and one which hurts Labour.

Being ideologically blinkered translates into blindness to facts. The real problem may not be that of "shy voters", but of shy pollsters, who do not account for realities they do not like.

The moral of the story? That politicians should not treat opinion polls as either science or gospel, and certainly not as a substitute for the hard job of governing.

Leaders should follow their own convictions and offer the electorate what they think is right and workable, rather than what plays well with opinion polls, which may turn out to be wrong.

Another interesting conclusion from Britain's surprise electoral result which applies worldwide is about the aspirations of today's electorates.

Mr Miliband was persuaded by arguments that after years of economic austerity, "a mood of rising left-wing populism" was again becoming important. The success of economists such as Mr Thomas Piketty, who recently authored a best-selling book highlighting rising inequality in the Western world, also persuaded Mr Miliband to campaign on a left-wing agenda.

However, this flopped badly, for electorates are less stupid than their politicians assume.

British voters did not like the five years of austerity which they experienced, but opted for five more years of the same, largely because they did not find Mr Miliband's alternative of more spending and more taxes very convincing.

The old politics of class-hate, of telling voters that their salvation lies in taxing the rich in order to supposedly help the poor do not work: People want to be helped up the ladder of success, rather than see those who are successful knocked down.

Instead of outlining plans for big construction projects to reduce the severe housing shortage in Britain, Mr Miliband pledged his Labour Party to the imposition of a so-called "mansion house tax", a special duty on people owning expensive homes.

And instead of offering tax relief to young couples trying to establish families, he promised to increase taxes on the rich. Labour talked about the top and the bottom parts of society, but had nothing to say to those in the middle - the majority of the voters.

Labour ultimately lost the elections not because it was kicked out of Scotland, but because it was rejected in England, where the bulk of the voters are.

Working electoral system

AND the much-maligned British electoral system - one inherited by every former British colony including Singapore - worked precisely as intended. Sure, it was unfair, in the purely mathematical sense: The nationalist Ukip polled 3.8 million votes, but secured only one parliamentary seat, while Scotland's SNP polled 1.4 million votes, and got 56 seats.

Yet that is exactly the purpose of the British voting system: In order to maintain political stability, it depresses the importance of newly established challengers such as Ukip, but magnifies the strength of any movement which has strong regional roots, such as the SNP. The results may be skewed, but they strike a right balance between regional nationalism in Scotland which requires immediate treatment, and broad anti-foreigner sentiment, which will not be allowed to upset the operation of a parliamentary system.

None of this means that political life will be plain sailing for PM Cameron. He has no better than even chances of keeping Scotland as part of Britain. And he has to deal with anti-European backbenchers.

Still, his victory signified a return to more traditional politics of common sense and common values, of less public relations and opinion polls, and more understated substance.

Conservative perhaps, yet with a small "c".

Gauging tipping points of British politics
Editorial, The Straits Times, 11 May 2015

NATIONS that have adopted the electoral system Britain invented would view the dramatic outcome of its general election with some interest. What does Westminster's winner-takes-all model portend when it heightens voter disaffection, as was the case in Scotland? That system, which gives big parties an edge and makes smaller ones parochial, had contributed to neglect up north, which in turn spurred a wave of nationalism there. This development has made the landslide victory by the Scottish National Party (SNP) the "great event" of the election, in the eyes of some British commentators.

It is stunning that the SNP could secure 56 seats with just a 4.7 per cent vote share, compared with the single seat of the UK Independence Party, the third-largest force in British politics with 12.6 per cent of votes. Defeat in Scotland's separation referendum last year had ironically sparked fervent support for the nationalists. Paired with a possible SNP sweep in the Scottish parliamentary elections next year, it could all represent the thin end of the wedge.

In yet another irony, Prime Minister David Cameron, who deserves plaudits for his Conservative Party's largest tally of seats in over 20 years, could plausibly be the last prime minister of the United Kingdom. Outgoing deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was not being far-fetched when he placed Britain at "a very perilous point in our history, where grievance and fear combine to drive our different communities apart". What feeds such concern are political contours showing four regions pulling in different directions: a true-blue Britain dominated by mostly centre-right Tories, Scotland now in the grip of left-wing separatists, Northern Ireland, which is the domain of local parties (the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party and Catholic Sinn Fein), and Wales, a left-leaning Labour stronghold.

Muddling the map is the erosion of the unifying effect of established parties, whose membership is under threat - "as individualism has grown stronger, political tribalism has weakened", noted The Economist magazine. Taking its place partly is a trend, evident in Europe too, of "apartisan", younger voters gathering around single issues.

One such issue bearing grave implications is Britain's continued membership of the European Union. Indeed, Mr Cameron might rue his promise of legislation for an in/out referendum. A "Brexit" could wipe off as much as €300 billion (S$447 billion) or 14 per cent) from Britain's GDP, say respected German institutes. All would gain instead if Mr Cameron resolutely keeps Britain open for business by leveraging all existing and emerging ties, and safeguards its proper place in the world.

Why Labour lost the election
By Peter Mandelson, Published The Straits Times, 23 May 2015

IN THE wake of the Labour Party's defeat in Britain's general election on May 7 - its worst in nearly three decades - a contest is under way to select a new leader. But without an honest analysis of that defeat, there is a risk that the party's choice will merely pave the way to a similar disappointment in 2020.

The difference between now and the 1980s is that Labour then was on an upward trend following a near-death experience. This time, we are headed downward from an unprecedented series of three election victories under Mr Tony Blair, starting in 1997.

We did not lose because Labour is an egalitarian party. Britain, for all its class traits, believes in social justice. We are an inclusive society and want to see everyone get a fair start in life. We don't expect people to end up equal, but we see it as the job of our politicians to lean against inequality.

It was the strength of Mr Ed Miliband, the departing Labour leader, that he not only reflected this preference for fairness but also spotted something else: Since the global financial crisis, the public's intolerance for inequality has turned into outright anger about the polarisation of incomes between the very rich and the rest.

But Mr Miliband's attempt to use this as a weapon against the incumbent Conservatives met with limited success. Picking up on a popular view of the Tory leadership as a "posh boys' club", he set out to mobilise working-class and middle-class voters against the rich and powerful in society, linking their privileges to his political opponents. The Conservatives, of course, use mirror-image tactics to appeal to higher-income groups against welfare recipients and those they regard as the undeserving poor.

So there was a race to see whose rhetoric would attract the most votes, which the Conservatives won. Why? Partly because the rest of us do not pay for rich people's wealth (except when they cheat on their taxes), whereas general taxpayers do fund Britain's generous welfare system and sometimes feel that the unemployed are not just workless but work-shy.

The bigger reason Labour lost the argument is that the British, on the whole, do not like income disparities being turned into class war. Earlier in his leadership, Mr Miliband fought on a platform of social justice and fairness, using the language of "one nation". In the campaign, he seemed intent on pitting one half of the nation against the other.

It did not help that Mr Miliband himself is a well-off north Londoner, educated at Oxford and Harvard, someone with no first-hand experience of the lives of the people he was championing. It was not the essence of the inequality argument that people rejected so much as its articulation. His ideological crusade seemed unconvincing.

There was another hurdle in his way, one that Mr Miliband never addressed adequately: What would a government he led actually do to remedy inequality?

He argued for the need to "change the way the economy works" and whom it works for. This found an echo in public opinion: Many feel that business has become less a means of generating wealth, fairly distributed, than a vehicle for personal enrichment, especially for some extraordinarily well-paid beneficiaries in the financial sector. Mr Miliband's proposal was to pile taxes on the rich, but this is not the same as making the needy better off or rewarding aspirational voters.

In the absence of any realistic programme to reform the economy in a redistributive way, Labour fell back on a series of expensive financial offers to the public: capped energy prices and rail fares, controlled housing rents, a government-backed "living wage" and reduced tuition fees. Though welcome to many, these sounded implausible or unaffordable in straitened fiscal times.

This perception meshed with Labour's reputation - largely, but not entirely, unmerited - for losing control of government finances when in office before 2010. Tory strategists hammered home the message that Labour's policies would bring chaos. Unfortunately, Mr Miliband had failed to establish his fiscal credentials earlier; by the time of the election campaign, it was too late.

So what are the lessons from Labour's electoral meltdown?

For a start, a party committed to radical change has to be careful in balancing its message. It needs to construct a case for change, not rely on sound bites. The "haves" in society are prepared to make sacrifices for the have-nots, but they need to be treated to a reasoned argument, not a "them and us" assault that undermines rather than builds consensus.

While people admire Labour and its commitment to social justice, they won't sign up for what looks like an ideological vendetta, particularly if they fear becoming undeserving financial casualties of it. Voters are justly cautious.

There is no reason to believe they will always reject a leader to the left of Mr Blair, but they do not regard business, big or small, as the enemy - much as they would prefer to see business earnings properly tied to performance. If a political leader goes in for leftist rhetoric, they want it backed by a practical programme. Otherwise, the message appears unhitched from reality.

In this election, the number of people undecided late in the race was greater than usual. I do not accept the idea that the pollsters were wrong because they simply underestimated so-called shy Tory voters. British elections are won in the centre ground inhabited by a good 15 per cent of the population who do not necessarily lean left or right. Those people want to be convinced of a party's leadership, economic competence and sense of fair play.

If a party aims its policies at only one section of the electorate, this will not be sufficient for victory. You have to be able to draw voters from the centre to your side, especially in a campaign's final days.

This was a huge problem for Labour when it became clear that in order to govern, it would have to rely on parliamentary support from a resurgent Scottish National Party, predicted to win almost all the constituencies north of the border. Labour suffered from too much uncertainty about its programme, and its leader's credibility, to withstand fears among English voters of Scottish nationalist influence.

The leadership contenders all fault Labour's strategy under Mr Miliband. They rightly talk about reconnecting with voters, but when they also talk about the need for party unity, this sounds like continuity and an unwillingness to make hard policy choices. This is a luxury that is not open to them - not if they want to win.


The writer, a former Labour Party campaign director, was a Cabinet minister under prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

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