Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Nice and safe

After the untimely death of Charles Kennedy, Alastair Campbell wrote a very nice piece in the Guardian about a man he considered s friend, despite their political differences.  In it there is the following sentence:
Even though we knew it was a lost cause, and that Charles would be a Liberal all his life, Philip Gould and I did have an annual dinner time bash at trying to persuade him that deep down he was Labour, and now you have a son at school in London, how about we get you a nice safe Labour seat?
'A nice, safe Labour seat'.  There, in a nutshell, is the heart of the dilemma facing the Labour party today, especially in Scotland.  A safe seat is one where the party in question can rely on the electorate in that area voting consistently for their party.  Until a few weeks ago, Labour considered just about every constituency in Scotland as a 'safe seat', hence their total shock at their losses on May 7th.  How has this come about?  What's changed?

The referendum for one thing.  As I've said before, during the referendum people got used to hearing arguments from both the independence supporters and the Unionists and making up their own minds about where they stood on the matter.  Another thing might well be changes to the education system.  It's now considered more important to teach children to question authority and to seek out information for themselves, which they do with remarkable facility using the Internet.  Perhaps this has had some side-effects not anticipated by the politicians - the law of unintended consequences.  The recent scandals over MPs expenses, leaks of memos known to be untrue and court cases regarding drunken assaults have knocked politicians off the pedestals they once occupied as people to be looked up to.  Now the are seen as no better than the rest of us, and whatever they say is no longer taken as inherently correct because they said it.

Today we hear that Yvette Cooper, one of the candidates to lead UK Labour, is coming to Scotland to try to persuade former Labour voters in Glasgow to return to the party (which will not be helped by the compliance officer expelling people from the party for the crime of expressing support for the SNP on social media), while Kezia Dugdale seems to be on the point of a Damascene conversion on the importance of Holyrood to Scottish politics and the need for it to have more powers.

These changes in voter behaviour have been seen most obviously in Scotland recently, but there are signs that changes are happening in the UK as a whole.  Labour are beginning to see a decline in support in northern England as well.  Even the Tories would do well to revisit the idea of 'safe seats'.  The old hegemony of the two-party state is beginning to crumble, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

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