Theo’s analysis: People didn’t trust Labour on the economy… and it’s time to bin the mansion tax


THE telling of this election tale, and trying to piece together what really happened and why, will take a few more days yet, perhaps longer. With Labour nursing deep wounds sustained beyond north London’s boundaries and a search for a new leader, and possibly a new direction, underway, Camden’s finance chief Theo Blackwell is one of the quickest on the draw to explain publicly why his party has been left hurting.

His post-mortem, a frank post on his blog, includes anger at how the mansion tax left candidates exposed, a frustration at what he calls a clique surrounding Ed Miliband that had become besotted with his intellectual insights, and an honest admission that Labour had simply not been trusted on the economy.

“For most people ‘economic competence’ isn’t just about your stance on capitalism, it’s a judgement on effectiveness, on how well you do stuff,” Theo writes. “Sure… voters might have liked someone to take action on energy companies, train franchises and banks, but they were also saying that they didn’t want Labour to do it, because we’d just mess it up. So every time we proposed something radical we undermined our own case even further by people not believing we’d be able to do what we said.”

To put Theo’s thoughts in context within the party, he is an experienced councillor who has buzzed around the top of Camden’s group for more than a decade. He is someone that was happy to wear the north London geek t-shirt when Ed Miliband was hell-yeahing Jeremy Paxman, and, despite the tone of his post-election posts, he did not spend the campaign sitting on his sofa with an upturned mouth and sulking about the tactics which he is now admitting he had reservations about. On polling day, he was part of the Labour team knocking up in Holborn and St Pancras, and then for his friend Polly Billington in Thurrock, where in the end it was actually the Tories who kept UKIP out.

But he is clear and consistent too on his view that the Tony Blair years are too readily trashed by left-wingers in the party, and that important achievements from that period are overlooked by those who championed Ed Miliband’s redrawn Labour Party. At one stage during the campaign, his Twitter profile picture was defiantly changed to a photo of Tony Blair rocking out on a guitar.

Some people will read his post and digest it as a call to switch the agenda within the party back to where it was, to a time when the party won more elections. His thoughts seem similar to the way that likely leadership candidate Chuka Umunna will outline in tomorrow’s Observer his view that the party must reach out beyond its ‘cobbled’ core support. Like Theo, Umunna tells of how he found Labour using an allergic language towards business, alienating potential supporters in the process.

“At times it seemed that Labour was on a personal intellectual odyssey rather than applying for a job to run the country,” Theo writes. “The campaign was too focused on Ed and his speeches, as if an essay on something by him would made people sit up and listen. There is a time and a place for that, but not in the months running up to an election and not – as it seemed – all the time and to the exclusion of the wider team. Ed’s inner circle was universally known as cliquey and never at the end of a phone.  Simply put, the esteem they felt for his undoubted intellectual ability was not embraced by the world at large.”

And then there is Theo’s thoughts on the mansion tax, the policy which was endlessly name-checked as the self-inflicted spear which helped keep the Conservatives within striking distance in a constituency like Hampstead and Kilburn. It was clear, these last few months, that some local Labour politicians felt uncomfortable defending the levy on £2 million houses. To some extent this was because the detail of how much it would actually cost people, clarity on where it would be suspended for people for cash-poor pensioners, and why it would be introduced in the first place – i.e. not just for Jim Murphy’s kitty in Scotland –  was so poorly communicated by the party. For others, there was an outright objection which they felt duty-bound, due to the election campaign, to keep private. Dissenters tried to shift the argument to council tax band reform, to avoid being trapped in a yes/no quiz on their support for the tax.

“It [the proposed mansion tax] clumsily invaded people’s lives with subjective political judgements about success,” Theo writes. “No thought was had about homes just below the threshold. Braver moves like reforming the outdated property tax system were dismissed. Obvious contradictions like how Labour was arguing for localism, but at the same time magically levying a tax on people it considered to be rich in one area of the country and redistributing the money elsewhere, were not thought through and left candidates exposed. The policy should now be consigned to the dustbin, with a lid on it, as should language about ‘bad’ businesses and ‘predators.’”


4 Comments on Theo’s analysis: People didn’t trust Labour on the economy… and it’s time to bin the mansion tax

  1. Chris Knight // May 10, 2015 at 12:15 pm //

    Theo the answers easy, no matter who has lead the Labour Party they have repeatedly Ball’sd up the economy (excuse the pun) and Labour are simply not trusted with the countries funds.

    I am old enough to remember Dennis Healy’s words “I’ll squeeze the rich until their pips squeak” Labour totally missed the point at this last election that the demographic of the country has changed and that folks these days have aspirations of betterment of their personal situations, sadly the echo of Healy’s words still hang around Labour like a bad smell.

    Basically its time to stop the whinging, get out a little more and throw away the Labour Robin Hood mentality.

  2. Zenaida // May 10, 2015 at 3:30 pm //

    Theo has grown a beard, but he cannot account for the ‘gagging orders’.

    Lord Prescott seems to influence the Kentish Town aka Dartmouth Park cabal.

    They are all getting bigger and bigger.

  3. Keith Sedgwick // May 11, 2015 at 1:21 am //

    The trouble with Theo’s analysis is that, in central London, Ed’s message sold. So what exactly, therefore, is Theo’s opinion on the judgement of his borough’s electorate? If Ed was wrong, does that mean the voters of Holborn and St. Pancras were wrong, too?

    My analysis is that It is in central London where the growing gap between the rich and the poor is starkly evident. Ed’s zeitgeisty policy of the mansion Tax mansion, aka Thoma Piketty’s solution to inequality being a nominal tax on capital, was intellectually cogent though dishonest, in pretending to be a means of raising revenue for the NHS. In central London, where the lack of affordable housing is the number one issue for voters, Ed’s stance on inequality resonated because it tangibly translated to the topical issue. Outside London, where inequality is not so visceral, voters just didn’t see how the concern about inequality related to their lives.

    I am always struck when discussing politics with people outside central London, how big a gap there is between the the way we Londoners see the world and way others do. There is something about being in such close proximity to each other, rich and poor, white and BME, heterosexual and LGBT, etc. that sharpens the political discourse to an extent not discernible outside the central metropolis.

    Here then is the crux of the matter. Had Ed not been culturally so London-centric, he might have understood the everyday concerns of the average voter of middle-England. The average voter does not walk out of their front door in the morning to witness a procession of Porsches as they trudge to work, nor pass couture boutiques, the contents of which they could never afford. They don’t walk streets lined with homes that can only be afforded by millionaires and they certainly don’t pass by large housing estates, in prime real estate locations, in the main, occupied by the unemployed.

    Ed’s policies addressed central Londoner’s concerns but not those of middle-England, which is why the party did so well in central London and so badly elsewhere.The worst thing the Labour party could do right now, is choose another leader of the same cultural hue.

    • Thanks Keith, I priced that in to my actual post when I talk about the wonkery bubble. As Ivan Lewis said today, Labour had a moment when it talked about ‘One Nation’ and ‘Britain’s Promise’ (that the next generation would be better off than the last) but we inexplicably retreated into a core vote strategy. Here in Holborn I expect that much of what you say on inequality is right, esp the total lack of a housing policy. But things like the Conservative position on Europe was a bit toxic.

      We shouldn’t get too carried away with metropolitian elites (which, ironically BBC commentators seem to be egging) nor make the mistake that future candidates from London = a metropolitan elite = failure. After all, the Prime Minister is David Cameron. Also everyone should note the Tories have a small majority not a big one. Many MPs just elected have been so by small margins, not large ones. The swing in England from Tory to Labour was 1.5%.

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