The Tory trouncing of Labour in Britain’s general election has shocked many people and rendered many more unemployed, save the professional pollsters who predicted the result so badly they will no doubt be rewarded with every opportunity to do so again. Three party leaders have resigned in disgrace, looking like dogs who’ve just gone through a car wash in a convertible. This includes Ed Miliband, once warily considered the least likeliest human being to ever become the head of a first-world government, who has now confirmed the wariness by delivering Labour its worst defeat in 30 years. The party’s Hindenburg has left its loyalists in a state of despair and confusion, though behind the dejection is the mounting awareness that they really have one but themselves to blame.
The scale of democratic reversal is hard to overstate. A mere 48 hours ago, a Labour loss meant failing to navigate the House of Cards-style vagaries of a hung parliament and assembling a tenuous and mutually suspicious coalition with the Scottish National Party, a leftist and populist faction which eight months ago could not convince its constituency to quit the United Kingdom—thanks in no small measure to Labour’s counter-campaign against secession. Today, it means having fallen to an outright Tory majority by about 2 million votes nationwide and 99 seats in a definitively unhung legislature. The SNP, meanwhile, has awoken to find itself still ensconced within the empire but in possession of a near one-party statelet in Scotland (birthplace of the two previous Labour prime ministers). Last night the kilted brass rightly toasted Nicola Sturgeon, a shrewd cross between Elizabeth Warren and Margaret Thatcher, and spoke ecstatically of a Caledonian rout on par with the staving off sci-fi apocalypse in the movie Independence Day.
Well, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander might as well feel like a space alien just done in by Randy Quaid. He succumbed to SNPer Mhairi Black, who is, notably, three things all at once: a 20 year-old still awaiting her university degree, the first non-Labour pol to hold a seat from Paisley and Renfrewshire South in Scotland since the 1920s and the youngest person to be elected to parliament since Milton hawked Paradise Lost. Also scalped in the Labour cull was Scottish party leader Jim Murphy and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls (who lost in England to a Tory by a few hundred votes). So even before Red Ed blew the election, he’d already lost much of his prospective administration.
Labourites on social media have begun to speak darkly about the “destruction” of their parish and the impossibility of a comeback in 2020, when Cameron plans to cede the leadership—most likely to Boris Johnson, the Conservatives’ uncombed and impervious Falstaff, who is now so popular in London that he gets to be both mayor and MP for a few weeks. At all events, for a party that formerly governed uninterrupted for 13 years, its brightest moment in this race may have been seeing George Galloway, who once donned a leotard and sipped milk at the foot of a 1970s prime time actress on national television, lose his seat to a Zionist-hyena conspiracy orchestrated by Pakistani Muslims.
How can it have come to this the party faithful now ask? The better question would be, how didn’t they see this coming?
In the end, this election had little to do with the merits of zero-hour contracts, austerity economics, mansion taxes, overflowing food banks, phone hacking scandals, “non-dom” foreign sheikhs and oligarchs living it up tax-free or Russell Brand’s belated (and swiftly repudiated) endorsement of parliamentary democracy. It had everything to do with the fact that while many Britons looked at Cameron and saw an empty suit, far more looked at Miliband and saw someone who still shops for his in the Boys Department.
He was simply too weird to win, and even his admirers knew it. Miliband spawned an eleventh-hour election day hashtag on Twitter, #JeSuisEd, which exhibited his supporters posing for all manner of imaginatively “awkward” photographs with food in an act of solidarity with the tabloid press’s favorite hapless muncher. Consider: the man who stood within reach of becoming Britain’s first Jewish premier since Disraeli presided over a mass defection of British Jews to the Tories—and it wasn’t even for trying to look “normal” by eating treif.
Jeremy Paxman understood this far better than the columnists in the Guardian. Britain’s one-man id-and-ego combo called Miliband a “north London geek” last March in a broadcast townhall-style debate, which Labourites thought their man had (surprisingly) won handily. “You know what people say about you because it’s hurtful but you can’t be immune to it,” Paxo carried on. “A bloke on the tube said to me last week: ‘Ed Miliband goes into a room with Vladimir Putin, the door is closed, two minutes later the door is opened and Vladimir Putin is standing there smiling and Ed Miliband is all over the floor in pieces… You understand what the point is here, people think you’re just not tough enough.”
Miliband’s meme-worthy reply to this was to say that “hell, yes” he was tough enough (never a good sign). As proof he offered the example of standing up to Barack Obama in the decision to bomb Syria after Assad’s chemical attack—a decision Obama was never going to take in the first place and the cancellation of which actually did put a smile on Vladimir Putin’s face. (Quite distinct from Hugh Grant’s Love Actually moment in picking a quarrel with a haughty commander-in-chief, Miliband actually looked like a pupil desperate to seem transfixed while sat across from the American president in the White House.)
By notable contrast, the worst Paxman had to say about Cameron’s personal shortcomings was that he was quite chummy with the mega-rich. The Tories’ man was thus reduced to a composite of all his party’s perceived and real excesses whereas Labour’s man was lampooned as an inimitable oddity whose rise to national prominence no one could quite account for. If the Tory massacre proves one thing, it is that it’s better to be a gray blur than a high-def bumbler.