Memo to Labour: David Cameron did not win this election from the centre ground

2:07 pm - May 10th 2015

by Sunny Hundal    

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Tony Blair writes today: “the route to the summit lies through the centre ground”.

We expected this right? Tony Blair is becoming famous for repeating himself all the time.

There’s also one glaring problem with this cliche: Cameron didn’t win from the centre ground. In fact he moved further away from the electorate and voters rewarded him for it.

Britons saw Cameron as right-wing as Miliband was left-wing. They were both equally away from the centre.

In fact, Cameron was further away from the centre nearer to the election than he started off! And yet he increased his share of the vote and seats.

Furthermore, most of Miliband’s major policies: cracking down on tax avoidance, abolishing non-doms, raising the 50px tax, focusing on the NHS etc – were very popular with the public. His analysis of people not being served by capitalism was right – even Tories like Fraser Nelson and Charles Moore admitted it.

So if this was about moving left or right, and about offering policies that chime with the public, why didn’t Miliband win big?

Because people value authenticity, and they value competence. Labour gave them neither; Cameron at least offered latter. Miliband didn’t have clarity of message either. People frequently misunderstood his positions or didn’t believe in them. When it came to the crunch, they could not bring themselves to place their trust in the man (sadly). Miliband just wasn’t believed, whatever he promised and however popular that was.

There’s a lesson here for the left: popular policies don’t necessarily win you elections if the person offering them isn’t believable. Unless he or she is seen as authentic and competent enough to follow them through, you can offer free owls to everyone and people will still reject you.

There’s a lesson here for the Labour right too: elections aren’t always won from the ‘centre ground’. That era of triangulation is over. Obama won, twice, on quite a liberal platform, railing against inequality and the top 1%, because he was seen as competent and determined.

UPDATE: There are other inconvenient facts too. As Peter Oborne points out:

Their prescription is curious after a general election in which the three parties which rejected the centre ground — the SNP, UKIP and the Greens — made the biggest gains in the popular vote.

Meanwhile the party which made the greatest claim to the centre ground — the Liberal Democrats — was virtually annihilated.

But don’t let the facts get in your way, Mr Blair.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

I agree Sunny, and Tony Blair really didn’t win the 1997 election, it was the tories who lost it, regrettably, many within the Labour Party are likely to believe this advice. There will be more post-mortems about why Labour lost so dramatically, but Blair’s rejection of the core Labour voters is still punishing the existing party, how this can be addressed whereby it is believable to those who have been lost to the party is going to prove difficult.

Imo Labour’s biggest problem was not their policies but Ed Miliband.

I think politicos read too much into the left-right nonsense and forget that most people aren’t as interested in politics as they are.

I imagine people look at the world and see Islamist terrorism, the aggressive imperialism of Putin, a one way partnership with the United States, and they want somebody they think can stand up for Britain, not kow-tow to others, and I’m sorry but that somebody was not the man who unconvincingly told Paxman “Am I tough enough? Am I tough enough? Hell yes I’m tough enough!”

Ed Miliband is a geek, and probably a nice chap, and there are many great qualities about nice geeks, but I don’t think possessing leadingship skills is one of them.

Labour need a genuinely tough enough leader that people can respect, if not nesserily like, rather than somebody who tries too hard to be liked. Dare I say, somebody unafraid to be labeled a bastard/bitch by their opponents? I don’t recall Miliband being called a bastard too often.

Tony Blair’s point is that *Labour* have to win from the centre ground. If it’s traditional right vs traditional left the electorate will go with the right every time because it’s the cautious and “safe” option. Miliband moving to the left allowed the Conservatives to move to the right and still win.

4. dirty green

Miliband was basically a Blairist. He just triangulated a little to the left of Blair rhetorically. He was certainly following the model of Obama, who did the same to Hillary Clinton, by using vaguely lefty sounding rhetoric. This was also the pattern of Hollande in France. If you looked at the right wing, deficit obsessed, platform they were running on, you would not have been persuaded by this trick. Since both Obama and Hollande were managed by Axelrod it is likely he would have disappointed most Labour voters like Obama and Hollande did. He would have governed like Tony Blair. Maybe perception management is the modern equivalent of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf?”

That is not to say Blairism won’t maintain control of the Party. Both sides are Blairists, but I do think your future in England will soon follow the path of Scottish Labor, and the Liberal Dems.

5. Benjamin Profane

I love it when people provide blanket explanations for why people voted one way or another without any evidence to support their view.

6. dislecksick

Ah, winning from the centre = we have to cover up the agenda because the people don’t like it.

How predictable from above comments that the left feel that lost because they weren’t left enough.

Ukip almost got 50% of your vote, what are the public telling You?


The vote for UKIP told us that the party’s double speak worked very well.

8. VictimsFriend

Lesson Number One : Don’t expect to gain votes and confidence if you don’t look the part.

Lesson Number Two : Prepare yourself fully before you enter into televised debates with the public, especially if you don’t look the part and the opposition have already made clear what they are hammering you about. Example : That letter, spending, financial crisis etc……

Lesson Three : Should have offered a referendum on Europe before the general election because that is a Mega Big Issue and gains loads of votes. There was nothing to lose by offering to match the Tories & UKIP by giving the electorate that choice.

Lesson Number Four : Should have had more dialogue with the SNP before the general election to avoid the end result.

Lesson Number Six : Don’t bother to challenge the prime minister to a one to one and call him a coward if you look like Gromit.

Result of Lesson : Just don’t enter a three legged donkey into the Grand National.

9. John P Reid

The chart shows the libdems in the middle, and guess what the libdems were in coalition, so the last gov’t were in the centre

10. Newmania

Usual rubbish, approval can be registered for almost any policy anyone was likely to propose in isolation, its the totality of the offer that counts and it was too left wing.

Simple stuff


The lib dems were not voted in government, they made a deal with the tories after the election, therefore their so called ‘centre position’ cannot be held up as a winning formula on that particular occasion.


The majority of voters do not vote in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’ in fact there are so many overlapping ideas within all parties that it is difficult to know (unless you are aware of the party proposing the policies) from which ideological base they come from. Any simple analysis that can be outlined in a couple of sentences is just that, simple.

12. John P Reid

Joho, as the libdems were far to the left of the Tories got 2/5ths of the Gov’t vote, the swung the Tories from the right, to having a centre a government last time, the public saw a centre government last time, voted for more of the same,most people I know who voted Tory for the first time last week, though it would be another Tory/Lubdem coalition

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