The Conservative campaign mainly focused on three themes: how inadequate Ed Miliband would be as Prime Minister, how bad Labour’s macroeconomic policies had been when they were last in government, and how Labour would be ‘held to ransom’ by the SNP. With all three of these, the arguments were not based on clear objective facts, but on political spin.
A minority Labour government backed by the SNP would have been unusual, but would it really have been so much more unstable [than] this government will be, given how split it is on the EU? This question was never asked in the popular debate, which instead managed to galvanise English nationalism against an imagined threat from north of the border. The Labour line that there would be no deals was inherently defensive, as well as being unconvincing.
The distortion on economic policy was perhaps the greatest of the three pieces of spin. In a post written before the election entitled ‘UK election: it was mediamacro wot won it’ I ended with the following line: “if the coalition government remains in power after this election (or if the Conservatives win outright), then the title of this post will have rather more justification than the Sun’s original headline.” Harvard historians writing macroeconomic nonsense in Financial Times op-eds after the election shows that the mediamacro problem is not about to disappear.
What the Conservatives achieved was to turn at best half-truths into apparent facts, which then became the talking points of the media’s coverage of the campaign. The Conservatives won because their spin was so much better than their opponents. That is the lesson of the 2015 election, and not anything to do with actual policies.
A few of the post-mortems on Labour’s defeat that I have read suggested they should have tried to counter the myth of Labour profligacy much earlier than 2015. Having written for some time about this myth, I could hardly disagree. I suspect within the Labour hierarchy the view was to look forward rather than go over the past, but you cannot abandon the writing of history to your opponents. However that was not just one mistake among many successes: instead Labour’s political spin appeared to be consistently amateur compared to their opponents.