Lessons Learnt and Time to Look Forward

20162015 comes to an end but still a torrent of articles flows forth explaining why Labour failed so badly in the General Election. All set out as if producing something new to read; but essentially they boil down to three areas of vulnerability.

The first is that Labour never recovered economic credibility after the crash of 2008. It is hard to win in such circumstances. Of course, we can challenge the assumption that our part of a World crash might not have been the fault of the Brown Government. The sad fact is that those at the top of the party never took up that challenge.

Secondly, it is now common place to point to the fact that voters never quite took to Ed Miliband as a plausible Prime Minister. Those of us who spent much of the previous 5 years knocking on doors knew that this was a major problem, and so surely did the party’s strategists. There is a commendable habit in the Labour Party to elect a Leader and then to give him or her complete support. This is fine except the history of the Labour Party since the Second World War has seen us going into a number of elections with leaders who we knew were not going to be winners in their own right.

With the tremendous media bias against Labour, it is far too sanguine to go into elections with unelectable leaders. The reality is that only 3 Labour Leaders have won General Elections since World War 2. Attlee and Blair did it with landslides and Wilson at least had a good majority in 1966. So the Tory press doesn’t always win it.

The other problem for Labour in 2015 was the story around migration, the failure of our party to develop any kind of narrative, the loss of working class support to UKIP and the feeling that we have left many traditional Labour areas behind us. This is not just about migration but a failure too to understand that many ” natural” Labour supporters have socially conservative views on a number of traditional cultural issues. It is something that Attlee, Wilson and Blair did understand.

Outside these three consensual points, there are two other matters that are less discussed. Firstly, the support for Labour was profoundly undermined during the campaign by the media focus on a potential Labour/SNP coalition. This was despite Ed Miliband’s constant denial that any such thing would occur. It played all over the Tory press but it was the lead on BBC, ITV and Sky. Personally I found it very influential over the last few days, even with strong Labour supporters.

The other point I would make is around campaigning. Our strategists determined on a key seat strategy. It didn’t of course include us. Money was levered in to pay for paid agents and each of the key seat candidates was charged with the task of getting their teams to make targeted door to door contacts. All over the social network we saw, week by week, the claims that so many houses had been visited in this or that constituency. Our strategists were totally convinced that this would outplay the Tories use of mail shots in these marginal seats.

Well, it didn’t work and the money was partly wasted. If you are not credible on the economy, on leadership and on migration, you aren’t going to reverse these problems with a single knock on the door. Knocking on doors in such seats is only productive if it establishes real links between Labour and voters on issues locally of concern. It is impossible to sustain such links if you are under pressure simply to beef up the number of contacts made. Lastly, dare I say, if a voter’s sole contact with Labour is one canvasser, for a brief encounter on the doorstep, it matters that the canvasser presents well. That may need training.

Any way, it’s over now. We must move on. The Government is not good and needs a coherent and convincing opposition. People who know the history of the party know that it is a broad church, in which different parts must work together. The homeless, the poor, the young, our public services, our elderly and disabled, our environment and our economy need Labour to hold the Tories to account. No-one else will.

Councillor Roger Truelove

Comments are closed.