About UK politics, but raising some general issues about politicians and popular prejudices
Paul Bernal has a powerful post (HT Chris Dillow) where he says Labour lost the election long before 2015, by pandering towards three big myths: the myth that Labour created a huge deficit which required austerity in the midst of a recession, the myth of the ‘scrounger’, and the myth that Labour made a mistake in allowing excessive immigration. I obviously agree about deficits, I’m appalled at the hostility to welfare recipients stoked by the right wing tabloids and the harm done by inept reform, and I’m dismayed that politicians shy away from putting the positive case for immigration. For that reason I should agree that in England at least one of the three major parties should be standing up against all these myths. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats helped manufacture the first myth, and the Conservatives contributed to the second and pander to the third (although some of their supporters would not favour costly immigration controls). Labour failed to combat all three.
The media have, predictably, reached a consensus about why Labour lost: it was too left wing, it was anti-business, it failed to be aspirational (it wanted to raise some taxes on the rich) blah blah blah. But as Peter Kellner and others have pointed out, there is no clear evidence for these assertions. Instead, they just happen to represent the things that much of the media dislike about Labour’s policies. Watching at least some of Labour’s potential future leaders, who the media as a whole describe as ‘modernisers’, fall in line with the media’s diagnosis makes the Parliamentary Labour Party look pathetic. Perhaps it is?
And yet, Peter Kellner also points out that being tough on scroungers and immigration is very popular. And these issues mattered for many voters. In a tweet about Bernal’s post, I asked was it better to lose telling the truth than lose being complicit in a lie? But it would be better still if a political party could tell the truth and win! Yet that seems a hopeless task. Jonathan Portes has championed the evidence on immigration, but as the BBC’s Nick Robinson put it, he would not get elected in any constituency as a result.
It is tempting at this point to blame the media for this state of affairs. In one sense I agree: I think newspapers should have a responsibility to tell the truth, rather than pander to prejudice when it suits their owners to do so. But in terms of practical politics this does not get you very far. One of the depressing conclusions that will be drawn from the election result is that it is fatal to stand up to Rupert Murdoch. 
Is it also true that cutting the deficit is widely popular? Here I think the evidence is less clear. I agree with John McDermott that perceived competence is vitally important, and not only in relation to self-interest. That is why Labour made a strategic mistake in not challenging with more force the coalition’s blatant myth making on the deficit issue. As Jonathan Hopkin and Mark Blyth point out, it is incredible how the blame for our current problems has so easily been transferred from the finance sector to fiscal profligacy, and not just in the UK. (But not so incredible if you follow the money, and take media power seriously.)
Perhaps I can also make a very personal point here. As one of only a few academics who have written an academic paper on the Labour government’s fiscal record, which concluded that Labour profligacy was a myth, you might have expected Labour at some stage to have used some of the many words I have written on this to support their case. As far as I know they did not. Perhaps they were put off by some of the my criticism of other aspects of Labour’s programme. But this didn’t put off Alex Salmond, who was happy to quote my support of the SNP’s line on austerity, suggesting it had all the more force because I was not an SNP supporter.
Talking of which, I think there is one more piece of received wisdom that needs exposing, and that is Scottish exceptionalism. As I hinted at the beginning, there was one major UK party that did campaign against austerity, was pro-immigration and supportive of welfare. No doubt other factors also led to the huge success of the Scottish national party, but their position on these three issues didn’t seem to do them any harm, and in some cases probably helped a lot. This example suggests the answer to the question posed in the title is a clear no.
It is generally presumed by the media, both sides of the border, that this is all because Scots are inherently more left wing than the English. But the evidence suggests differences in social attitudes between Scotland and England is not that great. The question Labour (or at least somebody) should be asking is why the SNP can avoid pandering to these three myths and win decisively, when the consensus is that doing the same in England would be electoral suicide.
 Some people who comment on this blog say that when I voice concerns like this I’m being a bit passé, but on other occasions I’m accused of being anti-democratic! Somehow a politician choosing to delegate macro policy to experts reduces democracy, but allowing rich media barons to control the information that much of the electorate receives, and as a result have a considerable influence on politicians, is just fine.