General Election Feedback, June 2015
Thank you for the hundreds of messages, which I’ve found tremendously useful in giving an idea of where we are as a party, and where we should go next. I collated them into a single document, removing names and details which would identify individuals, and passed it to the Learning the Lessons Taskforce. However it is 231 pages long and may be rather indigestible, so I’d encourage everyone who wrote to me, and indeed everyone else, to contribute directly to the taskforce as well.
There is a survey at http://action.labour.org.uk/campaign-feedback 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Below are some key points. They reflect party views and not necessarily the electorate at large, though they come from the experiences and the doorstep conversations of candidates and activists. It is not a scientific sample, but there is no reason to believe that it is systematically biased.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. “
- 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.
- 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.
- The Edstone was symbolic of the campaign, and not in a good way.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- There is significant sympathy for electoral reform and some form of proportional representation, mainly based on principle rather than immediate electoral advantage.
- 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?