Now the local elections and AV referendum are over. It was largely a good, but not great, day for Labour. The party is one seat short of a majority in Wales. Labour gained 800 seats in local elections. Many were won from the Conservative Party although the great majority were at the expense of the nation's new favourite party to dislike, the Liberal Democrats. While Labour won several new councils, there were big losses in Scotland. The headline of "worst Labour result in Scotland for 80 years" only sounds bad because Labour used to landslide regularly. While the SNP is now the majority party, Labour remains firmly the second largest party.
In other news, the AV referendum was a clear "no" to reform with the Tories leading the charge. So much for likely electoral reform in our lifetime. Much was to blame. Liberal Democrats will claim Tory betrayal of agreed boundaries -- such as the PM not taking a leading role -- and collective anger at the personal attacks on the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg. While there was much laxity about factual accuracy on all sides, the "no" camp went to particularly egregious lengths...and it seems to have worked. They say the public doesn't get too interested in policy matters. Now we can add that this is more true with regards to voting reform.
So what advice for Ed Miliband, the Labour leader?
One major idea is to defend a new post-election theme that might shape and give substance to his leadership of the opposition. Some themes have been tried and so off the cards. Perhaps "The government isn't working" would be good, but we've heard a similar soundbite before. Some recommend the idea of "Blue Labour" and harbour fond memories of "old" Labour's past. While this gets right the popular grassroots appeal of moving away from New Labour's "modernisation" agenda (or was it the privatising aspects of the public sector agenda?), it also gets wrong how rosy those good ol' times were. There is much to celebrate about Labour's past, but its future will be secured by how it can adapt to new conditions and not how well it can return to a relic of its former self.
Highly notable is the complete absence of talk regarding "the new generation". Miliband was criticised a bit for this terminology -- perhaps by non-The Who fans. It was argued that his generation was little different from Clegg's or Cameron's as all three are of similar ages. There is certainly a new leadership and some new faces on Labour frontbenches. Is this a "new generation"? Hardly and it is good to see this may have died a quiet death.
So what to recommend? Well, one theme is "Cameron's Britain: prosperity for the few and austerity for the rest". (Or "Tory Gains, Public Pains"...) This might speak to the increasingly likely fact that post-general election there is a minority that seems to be profiting at the expense of austerity measures imposed on the much greater majority. Such a theme would speak to the concerns of a great many voters both in the base and the beyond. This could also be used to help chip away at the key idea that the Tories can be trusted to run the economy.
A second theme could be "Cameron's Broken Society". We hear much about the so-called "Big Society". This has been a bit of an Achilles' heel for the Tories not least because it is so vague. It also has come to suggest that we should all volunteer for services that matter to us because the government can't be bothered to fund them. It could be useful in speaking about the Big Society -- that some have called "BS" -- as the Broken Society. This could emphasise that however much our local communities could improve their conditions have been made far worse by the coalition government's unnecessary spending cuts.
These themes are largely negative and it would be best to have a positve theme to share. This might be "Labour: Getting Britan Back to Work" although this would have to more clearly spell out (than has been done) how employment opportunities might be created under Labour policies, etc. But it highlights the focus on the economy and work.
These will be key issues where Labour can win if it is able to win over the public. The election results demonstrate that the public is listening --- and actively looking for a new voice given widespread disatisfaction with the Lib Dems. Of course, noting there is now only one major mainstream progressive party is part of the future strategy. But I also think the object should be to be more than progressive and appeal to new voters. Getting Britain back to work hits on many things gone wrong with current government policy. I hope Ed Miliband moves down this path.
UPDATE: Or perhaps Labour might run with this theme: "Labour: Getting Britain Back in Business".