Friday, July 25, 2008

Glasgow East: it doesn't get worse than this

Brown's problems simply couldn't get any worse as Labour yesterday lost Glasgow East, the 25th strongest Labour seat in the country.

This wasn't a defeat, it was a mauling, with a 22.5% swing away from the party.

Almost no Labour MP, including Brown, is now safe. Glasgow East was Labour's 25th safest seat in the UK and its third safest in Scotland. The seat had been Labour since the 1920s. If the 22.5% swing was replicated in a general election, Labour would have just one Scottish MP left. It doesn't get worse that this.

This was a revolt of the core vote. Nationally, Labour lost most of the swing vote in 2005. Three years on, the rest of the swing vote is long gone and the core vote is now bleeding away. Even in 2005, Labour topped 60% of the vote in Glasgow East. The byelection rips a huge hole in the mental and political safety-net that saw Labour through the disasters of the 1980s. The idea that Labour will always win 200-plus Westminster seats is history.

This problem started under Tony Blair who used to speak of "Guardian readers" as a form of insult. An extraordinary way for a political leader to speak of his supporters, but Blair consoled himself that, come election day, we had no-one else to vote for other than Labour, so he didn't have to concern himself with what we thought. He could concentrate on appealing to the floating voter somewhere in the middle.

The election of Brown was supposed to change all that, but it hasn't. He still concerns himself with pushing through 42 day detention bills and, most recently, reforming the benefits system in order to make people clean graffiti and perform other menial tasks before they can collect any form of benefits.

Glasgow East has let him know what it thinks of these regressive policies.

For too long the Labour Party have taken it's core voters for granted, pushing Tory policies upon us whilst fully aware that we did not want them.

And yes, rising oil prices and the cost of food will have played their part in this disaster, but this is no longer a case of the middle class losing their faith in New Labour, this is the Labour heartland finding that the SNP represent their values much more than the Labour Party do.

The SNP have abolished prescription charges in the NHS and have scrapped the graduate endowment to restore free education in Scotland. They have also frozen the Council Tax.

These should be Labour Party policies but, of course, it was Blair who pushed through loans for students, removing the right to free university education. The SNP have wisely campaigned against all of the least favourite Brown/Blair policies and, in doing so, have cut right into Labour's heartland.

Labour now find themselves facing a problem of their own making. If Brown continues to govern by operating a policy of Tory-lite, then Scotland is gone and with it the chance of Labour ever again forming a majority government.

We voted Labour because we wanted a Labour government. In the early days, on subjects like health and education, we got one. But, 9-11 changed everything.

Blair wholeheartedly bought into the response of George Bush and by the time he had succeeded in pushing the Iraq war through parliament he was almost utterly removed from his party and it's supporters.

The SNP are now representing the values of those supporters much better than Labour do.

That's why the disaster is on the scale that it is. Blair treated his supporters with contempt, taking comfort from the fact that they had nowhere else to go.

In Scotland, they do. And they've gone there in record numbers. Even if remedial action is taken immediately, it's hard to see Labour winning another term. For, in truth, unless they start to represent the values of the people who elected them, they don't deserve it.

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