I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, but I write this piece as a member of the left more generally. And it's really quite a simple one. Looking at the results of last week's election, we fundamentally failed and were catastrophically wrong. Parties on the left have stopped responding to the electorate, and started talking at them instead.
I'm not going to discuss the leadership of our parties, or how the Conservatives are going to be in government as a single party, or electoral reform. These are distractions, and they're secondary to understanding what went wrong (and, given the wipeout of the Liberal Democrats, prove my point - the country just rejected two party governance and coalitions, for now, regardless of trivia about vote shares, breakdown, and systems that would have given us 84 UKIP MPs.) Nobody is talking about it apart from those who lost out. And there are plenty of problems to be identified, undoubtedly, but doing so takes our attention away from the root of the problem, and it goes across the parties, which is that we promoted a message of fear, and then totally lost control of it.
This isn't surprising. The right leaning media led a scaremongering campaign about how the SNP are a blight on Scotland and would be awful with influence in Westminster, and that the public needed to vote to keep them out. Labour followed. So did the Liberal Democrats. And, crucially, so did the Tories. In a sense, everybody was campaigning about how bad the SNP are - local scraps between Labour and the Lib Dems saw 12 seats change hands, but both parties lost seats to the Tories so that the 'Coalition of Chaos' would never materialise. This came despite both Labour and the Liberals quietly accepting they'd probably need to work with at least one or the other, potentially even the SNP, to form a government. And what does that tell us?
That the politics of fear have failed the left. Moreover, they will never work for us. The fear of a future that doesn't exist plays right into the hands of the Conservatives. They happily ate their former coalition partners, who were pushing broadly the same message without any independent achievements on show, and Labour didn't pose a serious challenge since they also represented a pro austerity voice, which gave ground to reasonable complaints that the big parties are all the same. This was critical in persuading the vast majority of undecided voters to vote Conservative and keep everyone else out. Conservatives are, after all, the status quo party - a vote for them is a vote to keep things broadly the same. With the electorate convinced that any other combination of parties would undo the Union, it is no surprise that they did the previously unthinkable and increased the vote of the governing party.
If the left is to seriously compete again, it must abandon these desperate and artificial divisions between parties. No matter what shade we are, none of us are blue. Our differences with Labour/SNP/Liberals/Greens are nothing compared to our collective grievance with the Tories, and instead of campaigning on fear of one another, we must push towards a brighter vision. A future without the Conservatives.
A majority for any one of our parties is surely now a pipe dream. If we are ever to see a left leaning government again, we have to build it together - Labour should spend less time trying (and failing) to 'decapitate' Clegg and more time trying to defend Balls against the Tories, for one example. Or, more proactively, reinvigorate the working class that it supposedly represents. The Liberal Democrats should spend less time arguing that they'd be a moderating influence on the 'extreme left' or the 'extreme right', as if their participation in government is a foregone conclusion, and more time explaining what their own party actually stands for. 27 seats went from yellow to blue on Thursday, and the confusing and confused vision from the left was a massive factor in that. We ultimately create more Tories when we attack our natural allies, because negatively campaigning among ourselves is not endearing to the electorate.
What the left must do is go beyond partisan platitudes and actually inspire us. Why would we vote for parties that break or maintain a broken country? What can we learn from the SNP, who for all their faults are genuinely inspiring the Scottish to see an alternative that is within their grasp? Why didn't we put our stock in a positive campaign to show an alternative to the austerity that has already failed so many? These are tough questions to answer, and make no mistake - they're more important now than ever.