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Twelve things Labour members thought about the general election campaign

NEC Report ABOn 8 May I mailed Labour Party members asking for feedback on the campaign and thoughts on the way forward. I received hundreds of messages from all parts of the UK which I collated and passed to the Learning the Lessons Taskforce.

The document runs to 231 pages and may be rather indigestible, so I encourage everyone who wrote to me, and indeed everyone else, to contribute directly to the taskforce as well. There is a survey at here which asks:

  • What do you believe were the main reasons Labour lost the election?
  • How could we have improved our campaign?
  • What do we need to do to win in 2020?

Longer contributions can be mailed to lessonstaskforce@labour.org.uk

Below are some key points. They reflect party views and not necessarily the electorate at large, though they come from the experiences and doorstep conversations of candidates and other activists. It is not a scientific sample, but there is no reason to believe that it is systematically biased. The taskforce will not report until the autumn, and it will be interesting to see if they reach the same conclusions.

ONE: There is overwhelming agreement that Labour lost the 2015 election because it failed to counter Tory lies about Labour’s role in the economic crash from 2010 onwards. Members have made this point repeatedly since May 2010, and indeed some re-sent the same mail that they sent to me five years ago. I and others have continuously reflected it on the NEC: for instance in March 2011 I reported

I and others raised, again, the need for shadow ministers and MPs to respond to the Tory mantra “we have to do this to clear up Labour‘s mess” with equal discipline, and snappy rebuttals and clear positive statements of our own.”

Many attribute this failure to the four-month leadership election through the summer, and fear that we are falling into the same trap again, with shadow ministers distracted from their jobs. This time perhaps the party should listen to its members.

TWO: More generally, we should stop apologising for everything, and highlight Labour’s achievements in government and in opposition. It appears that we have nothing positive to say about 1997-2010, nor about 2010-2015 either. Ex-ministers and senior party figures should stop trashing Labour’s record.

THREE: On overall positioning, the largest group believe that the manifesto platform was broadly OK but not put across adequately, with a lack of clear messages and an overarching vision. Substantial numbers think that we did not appeal sufficiently to the centre (including some who are personally on the left but recognise that voters may not be), and almost equal numbers argue that we should have challenged austerity directly. Others think that we fell between two stools and appealed neither to our core vote nor to the “middle classes”, and a further group want policies which are not easily defined as left or right, but are radical and different, with climate change and the environment featuring strongly. There is a preference for principles and convictions rather than deciding policies only on the basis of focus groups. For instance:

I am aspirational, I aspire to live in a country with no food banks, nobody sleeping rough and a decent living wage for all. Further afield I aspire to a world where nobody goes to bed hungry and nobody lives in fear. I believe these are real Labour values and we must not lose them. “

FOUR: Members write warmly of Ed Miliband, and some believe that he should have stayed on as leader. Around twice this number say, often with regret, that he was a negative factor on the doorstep. There is considerable praise for, and trust in, Harriet Harman.

FIVE: The SNP damaged Labour not only directly in Scotland but also in England, where Tory attacks did influence voters late in the campaign, though this was not enough to explain all the differences between opinion polls and results. There is pessimism about the future of Scottish Labour and the impact on the rest of the UK.

SIX: The Edstone was symbolic of the campaign, and not in a good way.

SEVEN: Many members praised their local parliamentary candidates. The NEC only becomes aware of the few candidates where there are problems, but should collect positive comments as well.

EIGHT: Many people also wrote about local election successes and, sadly, losses. Council elections were disregarded in the national campaign, and this was a mistake. They provide motivation in the 85% of seats which are not targets, and enable members in Tory constituencies and regions to exercise some political influence through their elected representatives. They also build a base which will be needed for the fightback and, for instance, in the Euro-referendum.

NINE: This linked to perceived over-aggressive targeting, with members discouraged from any local activity in non-key seats. Some assignations involved hours of travel on public transport and were sent to members in their 70s and 80s, who felt devalued and might have done useful work closer to home. Much would have been forgiven if more target seats had been gained, but telling members that Labour is within 200 votes of winning, when the Tory majority ends up at 8,600, means that they will not believe central messages next time. Others were sent to key seats which were won easily, particularly against LibDem opponents, rather than seats which Labour might have held with more help. In fact the results in target seats seem, in some cases, little different from those in next-door non-key seats despite huge differences in resourcing.

TEN: Some members doubt the value of millions of “conversations” which repeat an unconvincing message; the accuracy of voter ID given that chunks of the Labour promise did not vote Labour; and, more fundamentally, whether the air war and sophisticated direct mail will, from now on, outweigh the ground war. Veterans with decades of campaigning experience are beginning to question sacred cows. Is superb organisation sufficient if the problems are primarily political?

ELEVEN: There is significant sympathy for electoral reform and some form of proportional representation, mainly based on principle rather than immediate electoral advantage.

TWELVE: Finally I liked this quote:

Laughter and joy in being a member of the party needs to return so that this is reflected in talking to the public.  I know it is a serious world with loads of awful things going on but let’s have some lightness sometimes.”

Unless members are offered something beyond blood, toil, sweat, tears and arguments, how can we attract people who have more enjoyable ways to spend their time?

Ann Black
annblack50@btinternet.com / 07956 637958

19 Comments

  1. jeffrey davies says:

    still nothing then blairites rule thuss keeping the party out in the cold nothing learned

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Pretty much sum it up, seldom have I read such a load of complete and utter twaddle.

      That old saw that; “if they have to ask, then they’ll never know,” springs somewhat, Harman and the rest of nasty little Blair clique have still got their jobs and their positions and the rest of can get stuffed.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Point 12 by the way has to the most completely crass insensitive and repellent comment that I’ve heard from any politician in decades.

        Tell that crap to this country’s increasing numbers of politically dispossessed; those being evicted from their homes, unemployed and unable get even their basic benefits or who are disabled or who depend on the NHS and so on…………

        Sick.

  2. swatantra says:

    We failed on a disastrous Foreign Policy, which still lingers in the public’s mind and everyday we have a reminder that Bush-Blair caused the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism. And its on our streets, and will increase with time.
    To borrow a phrase: Its wasn’t the Economy stupid, it was our wretched Foreign Policy.
    That special relationship with the USA must end, and we must remember that we are no longer a superpower but just another European Nation, like Germany and France.

  3. John P Reid says:

    Agree pet from 4 and 5′ 4 yes Harman was great but Ed no, disappointed by him

    Agree about the target seat thing being wrong, I spent several hours in Ilford north, and a few in Thurrock, because region said ,it was obvious we were gonna walk it in Ilford due to the demographics of the area changing, as Ilford South did 23 years ago,
    In the fifties,sixties, Ilford South was a test seat if we won in we won the election, but we got it in 92′ didn’t win the election

    Thurrock the epitome of white flight and Essex man ( it’s took parts of basildon now) saw a huge Ukip. Vote,some from ex labour. Would have like to have canvassed there more.

  4. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Labour lost because the leadership are not Labour and everybody outside the movement know this except the party members.

    Having spoke to fellow members of the party after the election I am reminded of the constant reference to the NHS as that we have always had private sector involvement in the NHS.

    Meaning that the private sector can do a job in the NHS, in reality these people support the failing private sector and therefore uncritical of it.

    There is of course a huge difference between purchasing toilet rolls from the private sector the outsourcing of a hospital such as Hinchinbrook, selling off the Laboratories, the bloodbanks, property, sections of the ambulance service, the insane 111 service that is wreaking havoc with our ambulance service. I could go on.

    If the Labour party wants to remain a major political force it needs to drop it’s Neo-Liberal agenda and return to it’s real roots or end up where the Libdems are today.

    When politicians tell us that “we are broke, that the country has run out of money,” they are lying to us. We have the money, we have the people, what we don’t have is a real Labour Party working for people.

  5. Sue says:

    re number 1 —- given that the Tory mantra re Labours mess was never tackled I sometimes wonder if Labour actually wanted to win in 2015? It baffled me at the time and still does. And we’ve never had an explanation for this. It was obviously deliberate? It seemed to me that Labour were sort of confused in 2010 and didnt come out against anything until forced to? One example is the bedroom tax! And now one of the first things we hear Harmen saying in parliament is that Labour are sympathetic to a benefits cap?! Why? Polls only show it is popular because people misunderstand what amounts are actually paid out in benefits. We shouldnt just come up with policies because of the polls should we? If we are going to do that we might as well just ask the Daily Mail to write the manifesto! Very frustrated with Labour!

  6. Robert says:

    The Tories are back they are now well and truly over Thatcher and Major.

    But sadly labour are now trying to get over Blair and Brown, so this is the problem a strong Tory party and a weak labour party.

    Labour has to find a reason for being and with agreement with so much of the welfare reforms it hard to see why the hell people would want to have a copy in power when the real thing is far better.

    But I love the idea of a learning the lesson task force.

    bet it will come up with just hard luck really.

    1. Mervyn Hyde says:

      What those that support the Blairite faction of the Party forget, is that Thatcher said “Blair was her greatest political achievement,” and that Brown was himself a Blairite. Both in fact made it their first act to invite Thatcher to downing street to demonstrate to the City that it would be business as usual.

      Members of my local party complained that there were to few troops on the ground and that the loyal few were the only ones doing anything.

      There are no longer wards of any substance, the vast majority have had to merge into two groups, that is out of 13 wards in the city.

      General management meetings consist of a group averaging between 8 and 12 members, I can remember in the 1980s that being around 80 to 90 members at a time.

      The committed have all disappeared and it should be obvious why; to those that seem not to see it.

      1. Sue says:

        I agree. This is certainly the case in my constituency!

      2. John P Reid says:

        Of course had we not had Blair,and labour had been out of power ever since, thatcher could have asked what her greatest achievement was and said labour never winning again, I think she would have been more proud of that,

        1. Chris says:

          Labour would have won the 1997 general election under John Smith.

          1. Robert says:

            Of course John would have won, the question would be what type of labour party would he then have put forward, for the life of me I do not think it would of been the same as Blair.

          2. john says:

            the democrats won 5 election on the trot in the US, 1932-1948, and one pooll a week before John Smith died the Tories were one point behind us and we had been 20% ahead of the tories in 1981 and 1990, i accept im in a minoirty but if we dcouldnt iwn in 1992 with Thathcer the recession an dthe poll tax, i didnt think we’d win ever again

  7. Mukkinese says:

    “There is overwhelming agreement that Labour lost the 2015 election because it failed to counter Tory lies about Labour’s role in the economic crash from 2010 onwards. ”

    It is so staggeringly clear that the perception of Labour being less economically competent than the tories was probably the single biggest factor in the loos of the election.

    So why the hell do leadership wannabes seem to be playing with the idea of capitulating to the tory lies?

    Kendal seems to have accepted it completely Burnham is dithering, but weakening and Cooper, who actually defended Labour economic policies, is not focusing enough on this massive issue.

    Who is going to vote for a party they believe is not economically competent?

    Get up of your backsides and fight or be flushed down the pan again next time.

    I despair, with Labour, I really do. A twelve year old could explain what they should be doing now; acting as though they are in a real fight.

    Chief among their goals is to show that Labour are, at least, no less competent than the Tories.

    If Labour spent too much why did George Osborne promise to match that spending “penny for penny”?

    The Tories supported both the bank bailout and Q.E.

    Brown and Miliband both said that Labour should have regulated the banks more, at that time the Tories were advocating less regulation.

    Osborne inherited a recovering economy with modest growth. Economist after economist, including several Nobel prize winners, warned him that his austerity plan would probably slow down that recovery. He ignored them and last year the OBR confirmed that Osborne’s austerity plan was the biggest factor in the slowdown which gave us eighteen months of costly flatlining.

    In five years Osborne has not met a single economic target.

    cock up after cock up have been ignored by Labour and the Tories not only got an easy ride, but were free to tell their own story of what happened, with little or no dissent from Labour.

    I waited and waited for Labour to start fighting back, but that fightback never came. they just laid down and rolled over.

    This new lot look to be going the same way. Only Harman seems to be paying attention and no one is fighting to reestablish Labour’s credentials.

    Pathetic…

  8. Barry Ewart says:

    Some in Labour it could be argued are in a Neo-Liberal straightjacket and those at the top don’t appear to have a vision of the type of an ideal society and World that many of us would like.
    And why we are in a mess I would argue is because over the last 20 years or so power has been taken away from the grassroots members and we have had top down managerialism by an elite who unfortunately from the evidence seem devoid of original ideas.
    15.9m people did not vote (the largest group) and millions of these would have previously have been Labour but they probably now see the main parties as all the same.
    Yes we want to win these to vote for us but ours should also be a political crusade via political education to try to build a society in the UK (and World) of critical citizens and to empower people.
    The more critical thinkers there are the stronger we all are.
    But we got Timid Labour offering a few crumbs.
    Yes they should have countered Tory propaganda re blaming Labour for the financial mess and I was trying before the Tories hired a US Democrat social media guru (with the resources) to flood social media with fake comments to drown out our voices as some of us tried to do their job!
    Yes we should have also banged on more about our successes like the minimum wage etc.
    Miliband’s final TV debate performance was a car crash although he was ambushed by some Tory business people (some of whom it is argued got on the programme by claiming to be ‘undecided’) but if you are a democratic socialist first and passionate about your beliefs then you should be able to counter anything thrown at you – he failed miserably.
    I also warned Labour in Scotland, elect Murphy and its oblivion and it would probably costs us a UK majority, but all may not be lost there if we can get a more democratic socialist Labour Party to take on the SNP social democrats.
    In the election, Labour canvassers were not asked to have political discussions with people on the doorstep but like robots were to just assertion their voting intentions and what is clear in future is that CLPs need to run their own campaigns as well as choosing their own shortlists and candidates.
    I would also argue for more working class positive action with at least 2 working class democratic socialists on every Parliamentary shortlist (social classes 3-6) then from a diverse range of 5/6 candidates may the best democratic socialist win.
    This hopefully will help to make us more representative.
    I did like in my CLP that they put on occasional music nights for the local community during the campaign and perhaps we need more of this and comedy nights and art etc.
    But fundamentally our best hope is to get power back to the grassroots with members making policy via annual conference and more autonomy for CLPs in campaigns and no more top down.
    We also need a Leader who is also a facilitator for grassroots opinion and to re-empower members and only Jeremy Corbyn in my view may offer this.

    1. Sue says:

      I agree with every word you say. And if Jeremy does get elected I believe we will see a very different style of leadership! We’d see our Labour leader at the head of marches and on picket lines for a start. Jeremy Corbyn has always lived his socialism. It is odd how life works out sometimes. Jeremy never had any ambition to be leader but it may be thrust upon him. If it is he will be one of the great ones!

      1. Mervyn Hyde says:

        Heartily agree.

    2. Robert says:

      Lets hope those that think Corbyn must have a chance, then backs him up with donations, I just gave my few quid . Without funds he will not win this battle, I’m sure the right wing Progress group will be backing it right wingers.

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