Labour’s campaign is a mess. So much wrong, so little right

by Atul Hatwal

Labour has achieved something remarkable this year. In the space of eight weeks the party has managed to focus the national debate on some of its strongest issues – the NHS, equalities and tax avoidance – and yet still failed to land a blow. The average of this week’s YouGov polls is a very small Conservative lead.

The NHS should be a campaign winner, every time for Labour. But when Andy Burnham decided to use the rise in NHS spending outsourced to the private sector, as his key evidence to prove the Tories’ privatising intent, he turned political gold to base metal.

Given two-thirds of the rise in outsourcing happened under Labour, with the rate of increase actually slowing under the Tories, it doesn’t take David Axelrod to work out why Labour was on the back foot almost immediately.

Then there was Harriet Harman’s pink battlebus. There’s nothing wrong with the bus being pink and the issues raised by the women’s tour are important, but when Labour frontbenchers have been campaigning vociferously that equating the colour pink with girls is sexist then, once again, who couldn’t have predicted disastrous headlines?

Most recently there has been Ed Miliband’s offensive on tax avoidance. It’s difficult to think of territory more uncomfortable for David Cameron. Yet by broadening the Labour attack onto the principle of tax avoidance, rather than the narrow specifics of the jaw-dropping appointment of HSBC’s Stephen Green as a Minister, even when government officials knew all about HSBC’s illicit activities, Ed Miliband blew it.

Cue embarrassing questions about whether shadow ministers collected receipts for every odd job or window cleaned and the circumstances in which Ed Miliband’s mother seems to have avoided tax on the house in which he now lives.

Individually, these incidents seem like discrete gaffes but a common thread runs through each failure.

Andy Burnham, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband all walked into such eminently predictable elephant traps because their moral certitude blinded them to the politically obvious.

For Andy Burnham, outsourcing operations to the private sector while he was Secretary of State for Health was not comparable to the Tories doing the same because he is Labour and they are Tories.

Harriet Harman was not being sexist in her choice of pink because she was Harriet Harman and could not be sexist.

And Ed Miliband’s minor domestic tax avoidance was morally different to what avaricious capitalists do. How could his mother be like them?

This mode of insular righteousness is nearer the behaviour of a cult than a party of government. It is not enough to believe we are right because we are Labour.

To assume is not to be.

Swing voters will look at these episodes and shake their heads. At the apparent hypocrisy, and the basic political incompetence.

What’s most frustrating is that it’s not as if the party has completely forgotten how to campaign.

The shadow Treasury team’s forensic pursuit of George Osborne, over what he did and did not know about HSBC’s tax avoidance, when Stephen Green was appointed, is exactly what Ed Miliband should have been doing.

And earlier in the month, Chuka Umunna gave a master-class in how Labour can win over business combining the right tone with a carefully calibrated attack on the Tories.

The manner in which he wove together his personal story – the son of a successful small businessman – with his experiences visiting upcoming small businesses as part of his Future Jobs tour was poles apart from the hectoring Junior Common Room poses that Ed Miliband strikes when he talks at business.

If Labour was a pressure group, the last two months would have been an unqualified success. Issues have been registered on the national agenda, the public’s ire raised.

But Labour must be more.

It’s meant to be a government-in-waiting. It is not enough to simply flag an issue in the debate and presume that Labour is right.

Labour must persuade. It needs to make the case for a compelling alternative.

Unfortunately, too many members of the shadow cabinet seem to think that moral outrage at the Tories, for being Tories, will be enough.

At some point before May 7th, they should go back and check the result of the last election.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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29 Responses to “Labour’s campaign is a mess. So much wrong, so little right”

  1. BenM says:

    This article is a bit of a mess too.

    In as much as it criticises Labour’s campaign – what else would you expect from an Hatwal piece? – it admits that Labour has managed to completely sytmy the Tory campaign too but sniffily refuses to pass on any credit for this.

    “At some point before May 7th, they should go back and check the result of the last election.”

    We do.

    We see a cocky Tory Party unable to garner a majority in the most precipitous of circumstances. Why the Blairite wing deluded itself that the 2010 result would turn into an easy Tory majority this time round will be one for the historians to pick through as they survey the rubble of Blairite assumptions left over after May 2015.

  2. Michael Worcs says:

    Much to agree with this article, there is also the massive open goal on immigration where Labour is waffling (Reeves agreed it would not reduce the numbers on DP). I hope that Labour will simply say ‘the numbers are too high and this is what we will do to reduce it especially for non-EU unskilled migrants where we have control’.

    I don’t think I am alone in disliking UKIP and Tory emphasis on membership of the EU and EU migration as I want free movement of people in the EU and want the UK to remain in the EU. EU migration is still the lower number and they contribute to society I think Labour should stress that this as it is the good sort of immigration

  3. Stephen says:

    I’m afraid that, deep in their hearts, too many Labour supporters believe “The Tories are Evil. We know they are Evil because they do evil things, and we know what they do is evil because it is done by Evil Tories”.

    It seems to follow from this that “We are not Evil Tories, therefore everything we do is Good”.

    I think we could call this the Polly Toynbee syndrome.

    I don’t think there’s much hope, really.

  4. Bob says:

    Burnham has been stitched up tight by the Association of Greater Manchester Councils. They have just signed up for devolution of their health budget to themselves. it is rumoured Burnham has been kept out of the loop ans is as we speak chewing the carpets with rage. Summonsed all the MPs to his presence and they basically told him were to go, just like the local authorities.

    This has two effects, Burnham should he ever be SoS for health, in effect has no control over this unless he scraps it and it leaves local councillors not the DoH in the firing line if and when it all goes wrong.

    Osborne has shot Burnham’s fox and the local councillors never even told him what they were up to, joined up thinking, don’t make me laugh. Looks as if some people could not run the proverbial in a brewery.

  5. Fred says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of Labour’s poor campaigning Atul. But the surprise for many of us is that Labour’s position in the polls is not quite as bad as might be expected. The average of all the polls (not just the YouGov polls you quote) shows the party retaining a stubborn, if tiny, lead over the Tories for the last 12 weeks. If things are as bad as you constantly point out surely the Labour poll collapse you so confidently predicted at the start of the year should be coming home to roost by now. Or is Ed Miliband going to defy gravity by winning (albeit narrowly) despite being behind on both economy and leadership polling? Maybe the thrust of your entire analysis is going to prove to be wrong.

  6. paul barker says:

    The polls over the last week have been a fairly equal mix of Labour, Tory & zero leads with an average Labour lead of about 0.6%. That compares with an average Labour lead of just over 1% before last week, a lead of 3% in December & one of 11% around 2 years ago. The Labour fall has been slower than many expected but it has been speeding up.
    The Election campaign so far hasnt really got the voters attention, which may partly explain why things havent moved faster.

  7. John P Reid says:

    BenM, I dnt know what these Blairites,in2010 you think predicted a easy Tory victory his time are, OK many people suggested in the media,it would take 2 election for the Tories too win in 2010, I recall many people saying the cuts would be so savage that whoever won, would be out of power for years after wards, Dan Hodges has been predicting a Tory win, but he backed David Miliband for leader, so he didn’t start saying this till 2012′ and the bonus of Ulip (allegedly) spitting the right wing vote and ex Libdems coming back to us,would have made a labour win,all the easier,

    You think these people who predict a Tory victory are wrong, Charles Clarke(who’s A Kinnockite,not a Blairite) I hope you’re right but you don’t give any proof of this, basically labour feel we can win by giving up on the white self employed working class, who we dismiss as,it’s no point chasing that vote,they won’t vote for us,go for the 35% vote strategy, try to get middle class, white collar workers, public sector ones, like Teachers, nurses who’ve had a pay cut,and get the women’s vote with slogans about extra maternity leave,well T-shirts saying, this is what a feminist looks like, won’t win the election,

  8. Blairite says:

    Has it occurred to some of the people commenting that the polls may actually be deceiving Labour. People talk about small Labour leads and how we are in hung parliament territory (6-party politics, ‘new era’ and all that bollocks). The reality is that if the Coalition Government was standing for re-election and that both coalition parties together have a strong lead over Labour. We’re losing the election and we have not shown that we deserve to win.

  9. John.P Reid says:

    Exactly Blairite the coalition got 59% of the vote at the last election, and as Blair and thatcher got smaller percentages of the vote in their second elections, mean that the 2 parties in power now, could get a smaller percentage of the vote next time, and a smaller percentage than 59% is still a lot

  10. TNL says:

    As a floating voter whose support for a political party is quite literally up for grabs I can honestly say that the Tory campaign (basically “it’s the economy being a bit better stupid”) has been utterly dull so far. Whereas the Labour campaign has been completely appalling. I actually struggle to remember a campaign this inept – even the Tories in 2001 and 2005 managed some sort of coherence with almost all key figures being on message, even if said message was electoral bromide. Someone needs to take control of the Labour campaign – someone effective – or they are going to drift into a position where the Tories win by default because they are just less incompetent at electioneering.

  11. 07052015 says:

    Atul never addresses the Helen Lewis question -if Ed is so useless and the economy so great why is tonights you gov 34labour -34tory and opinium 35 -34 .?

    What was atuls prediction labour 31 ,libdem 16 ,tory 35 yeah right.

    See clegg hinting no coalition if yes/no eu referendum.Tory campaign going well then.

  12. 07052015 says:

    Actually atul predicted labour 32,tory 36 ,libdem 16.still yeah right.

  13. Bob says:

    This is a Labour alternative :

    We have not forgotten Rotherham and the Jay and Casey Reports.

    or this

    or this

    or this

    or this In the constituencies of Miliband and Flint

    Plus others.

    Where were the Labour MPs in these constituencies, not wanting to ‘rock the community boat’ ala Dennis McShane.

    Where is the Labour leadership and its comments to the people., gone missing again. Many Labour voters in places like this will either sit on their hands come May or vote UKIP. Local politics in these areas stink worse than a sewer.

  14. BenM says:

    Today’s populus (published 2nd March) has Labour 2 points clear.

    12 months ago the Blairites were confidently predicting a sound beating for Miliband at this election.

    To their consternation (and that of the Tories of course but who really cares what they think) that is not going to happen now.

  15. barry milton says:

    If the Tories are going to achieve a four per cent lead over Labour then something will have to change pretty radically in the last 6 weeks of the campaign. For the last three months Tory gains on Labour have been miniscule and Labour still holds a 0.7 per cent lead. Even if the Tories hold a 2-3 per cent lead over Labour going into the election, Labour will be forming the next government not the Tories (unequal constituencies, lack of suitable partners for Tories in government etc). You’ll notice that much of the analysis on this site is not now about Labour losing the next election but on possible scenarios for Labour partnerships or coalitions following the election. Atul’s entire analysis is falling apart.

  16. Tafia says:

    2 points is not a lead. 2 points is within margin of error.

    A quick glimpse at UKPollingreport shows you are merely clutching at straws (incidentally your Populus poll was initially published on the 27th – see the list below).

    YouGov/S Times (20/2) – CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 6%
    Opinium/Observer (20/2) – CON 35%, LAB 33%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 15%, GRN 7%
    Populus (22/2) – CON 32%, LAB 32%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%
    Ashcroft (22/2) – CON 32%, LAB 36%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 11%, GRN 8%
    Survation/Mirror(23/2) – CON 28%, LAB 34%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 19%, GRN 4%
    ComRes/Mail (23/2) – CON 34%, LAB 32%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 8%
    YouGov/Sun (23/2) – CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 7%
    YouGov/Sun (24/2) – CON 35%, LAB 33%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 14%, GRN 7%
    YouGov/Sun (25/2) – CON 33%, LAB 33%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%
    YouGov/Sun (26/2) – CON 33%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 13%, GRN 6%
    Populus (27/2) – CON 31%, LAB 33%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 16%, GRN 6%
    Opinium/Observer (01/03) – CON 34%, LAB 35%, LDEM 6%, UKIP 14%, GRN 6%
    YouGov/Sunday Times (01/03) – CON 34%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 14%, GRN 5%

  17. fred says:

    What these UK Polling Reports show is that in common parlance the two main parties are “neck and neck”. And they’ve been neck and neck for three months. What is increasingly clear is that in May the results will show either Tories or Labour with a small lead in number of seats. In that situation, Labour is the only party that can sustain a viable government (with the support of the SNP, LibDems, Greens as well as the Ulster Unionists if the arithmetic shows they are needed). Such a coalition/alliance will be inherently unstable and destructive for Labour but its the only result that looks possible. The discussion has now moved on from the “Labour’s bound to lose because they’re so useless” narrative so beloved of Atul to what are we going to do in coalition and looking further ahead to future policy approaches such as Blue Labour. Essentially this site’s been barking up the wrong tree for the last four years.

  18. paul barker says:

    We have a bunch of new polls today, the first at 4pm, that may clarify the position. Right now the overall picture of the last week looks like a Labour lead somewhere between zero & 1%. That represents a fall of 10% over 2 years & a fall of 2-3% since December, an accelerating decline. Theres still 2 months to go.

  19. John P Reid says:

    The Council elections last year predicted Labour were 3% ahead,in the End Labour only got 1% more than the Tories, then there’s the public go back to the governing party,close too the election, then there’s the Ukip voters who are ex Tory,who go back to the Toeies,just before the election,thru fear of a labour government

  20. Tafia says:

    My apologies, Populus published another poll early today (probably the one to which you refer)

    Populus (02/03) – CON 32%. LAB 34%, LDEM 8%. UKIP 14% GRN 6%

    Which mirrors the poll of the 27th – ie Labour 2% ahead, but that’s within the margin of error.

    If you average all the polls above you come to CON 32.8, LAB 33.6. And if you knock out an outlier from each you come to CON 33.2, LAB 33.4. Labour’s lead has been declining overall for well over a year now. In fact of you look back to 2013, Labour routinely got double-digit leads April-August and occasionally for a few months after that.

  21. Selohesra says:

    EdM missed a trick when first elected – he should have got rid of those from previous administration that the public had so clearly got fed up with and come up with fresh team not weighed down by baggage of the Brown era. With Andy “mid-Staffs” Burnham & Ed “Always Wrong” Balls remaining in his team he was always going to struggle to be given a proper hearing

  22. paul barker says:

    The latest poll gives the Tories a 4% lead, another 3 polls tonight I think. Just to clarify, the small average Labour lead is recent, in December it was 3%.

  23. Fred says:

    So Paul, give us a clue. Are you actually saying that in the next 60 days or so, the polls are going to move so much in favour of the Conservatives that they will win the most seats? And that they’ll be able to stitch together enough other partners to run a government?

  24. Tafia says:

    First three polls of this week:-

    Populus – CON 32%, LAB 34%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 14%, GRN 5%

    Ashcroft – CON 34%, LAB 31%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 14%, GRN 7%

    YouGov/Sun – CON 35%, LAB 32%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 15%, GRN 6%

    So they are still within the margin of error of each other (+/- 2%) but I think this is the first time for a long time that two pollsters have shown a tory lead on the same day.

  25. john p reid says:

    I agree with paul barker

    BenM. The contempt the Labour party bubble at westmister has, for the white working class, is not only noticeable, it’s getting to the point where the damage will be so sever it’ll take a generation to undo.

    Diane Abbott and David Lammy’s view that the white working class were racist, due to the racism their parents suffered, since then Mr Lammy has redeemed himself, by realising this isn’t the case, but the anger that the Labour party felt 35 years ago towards the working class for voting Tory, in blaming the electorate for not voting for us, has never entirely disappeared and soon will boil over.

    From Sarah Champion MP laughing at the UAF blocking Ukip leader Nigel farage form opening his Rotherham office,depsite the fact that Ukips increase in support in Rotherham was due to the Child abuse scandal, and labour ignoring it’s smearing those who criticised the fact that labour tried to hide it, and then making capital by believing they were better than Ukip,because they alleged Ukip were trying to exploit it, despite Labour ourselves disgracefully hiding the scandal we’d caused.

    Then there was Emily thronberry’s white van man union flag council home snobbery tweet, and Now Jon cruddas has announced that labour should try to ignore wooing the skilled working classC1 ,that Maggie Thatcher and tony Blair loved. Suggesting that the women’s vote is an untapped vote, well, I accept that there are several young mums who can’t afford child welfare, their parents are too busy to be baby sitters, but having a Pink bus and Harriet wearing this is what a feminist looks like T-shirt, won’t win an election

    In the 80’s labour felt that if we appealed to special interest groups ,so called left behind in the thathcer revelution, gay people, Black people, save the whale brigade, it would be enough for us to win it wasn’t plus by assuming we had the gay and black vote, it ignored the fact the Black and gay people are concerned with the cost of their mortgage the price of their gas bill, and the rise in inflation,

    By playing this game ed miliband may have some sucsess, but this’ll be the last election that the working class in any number still vote labour due to the fact they always have done, this excludes the fact we ignored the working class at our peril in 2010,it being the first election we got more middle class votes than working class for the first time, and the 2008 mayoral election where the middle class vote stacked up quite well, due to the working class vote at that time going to the BNP,

    Some journalists who are in labour, Luke Akehurst, Rod liddle or (were in labour Dan Hodges) understand the views of Essex man and the working class, and how important their vote is,

    It may make sense to say we’re never going to get that vote so lets not bother, hoping the 35% strategy works, but when we keep losing election’s we’ll have to realise that appealing to the middle class public service academics, won’t be enough to win us back support and we cant’ keep on blaming the electorate for ever telling them they were wrong for not voting for us

    I recall one union leader saying that 1992 was the fort election that the unions had told labour what policies to have, forth election the unions had funded labour, and forth we’d lost, saying we shouldn’t be backing Labour, maybe he should have said to himself, maybe we shouldn’t blame labour for losing, if we’re telling labour what policies to have, when the electorate don’t want them

  26. paul barker says:

    Of the 5 polls taken over the weekend, 2 have Tory leads, 1 has no lead & 2 have Labour leads. The average is a Tory lead of 0.6%. Thats only 5 polls of course but there does seem to have been another shift over the last week with Labour slipping down again.

  27. Ex Lib Dem Voter says:

    Could Paul Barker clarify whether his own party are still regularly polling in single figures, vying for 5th place with the Greens?

  28. Carol says:

    I won’t vote Tory but I can’t vote Labour. Even if, occasionally, I start to think about voting Labour, I remember the grooming scandals and the indifference of the Labour elites to the suffering of those children and well, no. I can’t help such people gain power.

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