Labour used to know how to win elections. We need to re-learn. Fast.

by Ian Moss

We, who came into the Labour party in the late 80s and early 90s thought we had built an invincible election fighting machine – after laying the foundations to get Labour back in contention and become an electoral force again the New Labour project embraced the changes in society and was the only party that looked in touch with modern Britain.

In reality, when we look back in 2020 the last 41 years of our endeavours will have seen only 13 years of Labour government. Labour is back into its natural state – as a party of opposition. The only virtue to make of letting the Miliband leaderships run its course to the election is to say that the left had another go, and again it failed. We have tried this plan enough in my lifetime now and it needs to stop.

Cameron has now got the opportunity to be PM for as many years as leader as Blair was, although I suspect he will happily retire after 2 or 3 years. Think about that. Blair, the all-conquering, was PM for 10 years. Cameron could do the same, happily, given this election result.

But he won’t find it easy. The majority is thin and his party will only stay becalmed for a while before its inevitable tensions start showing – over Europe and social liberalism – and he’s not a man noted for knuckling down to the hard business of government or has the soft skills of wooing back benchers. His style of party management means he could be in for a rough ride.

Labour has the power in opposition given this result, to make life difficult for the government, but only if it joins forces with exactly the political groupings that the public were frightened it would. If Labour spends the next 5 years voting down measures in alliance with the Greens and SNP it should prepare itself for a long time in opposition.

The Labour party should not see the way out of this result as building a coalition of Green voters, left wing Liberal Democrats and various fringe campaign groups. The only connection to the non-metropolitan world they have is as they drive through it on camping holidays. Labour does not need to appeal to the drivers of motor-homes; it needs to appeal to the car mechanics that fix them.

The Labour party core vote is urban and liberal. It also needs to be suburban and blue collar. People who run small businesses, work in trades and, yes, drive white vans. Empathy with their issues was notably absent from the team around Miliband which was full of the types of people who spent their Saturdays in Fabian Conferences. Real people don’t spend their weekends in seminars. Labour need to appeal to aspirational and entrepreneurial voters.

Labour needs to champion policies to help access to loan finance, tax simplification, regulatory relief, keeping fuel prices down – and a better sense that it understands the day to day problems of running small businesses.

I went to a CBI meeting where a long conversation amongst small and big business trade associations was kicked off by someone asking “First they came for the energy companies – which one of us is next”. It was June 2014 and none of the people in the room had been contacted by Labour’s business or economic team. They didn’t know what it would do in government, and everything they had heard had scared them. Miliband had given them no comfort on that score.

The thing about big businesses is that a lot of people work in them. If Labour targets their “bosses” or their companies, they target them too. Miliband spent 5 years setting himself against big business, and then seemed to think a desperate appeal about the EU Referendum would get them back. The policy was wrong, the politics were wrong and the people around him didn’t help – anyone who met the business advisers to the leader knew that they should never be put in front of actual businesses, which is just as well because they didn’t seem to feel the need to talk to them either.

Now that the referendum will happen, Labour needs to use the opportunity to talk to hundreds of businesses that rely on the EU, build up a relationship, cling them tightly and never let them go. Forget the silly language about predators, just talk about the producers. Stop threatening to meddle in their governance and focus on promoting them as exporters and the real engines of growth that support public service investment.

There are plenty of issues – easing the visa system to get high skilled migrants and overseas investment back flowing, a positive engagement with Europe that supports UK interests instead of the interests of Conservative party unity, supporting investment in vital infrastructure, skills and competitiveness that will be cut under a government that believes in a small state and low spending.

Of course there are problems with aspects of business –the huge inflation in boardroom salaries is an indicator of weak corporate governance. Pension funds – stewards of your and my money – are not effectively bearing down on remuneration at the top because the people running pension funds also benefit from this inflation. Low wages are subsidised (for the moment) by tax credits, and job security is weak – itself helping to press down on wages at the bottom. Productivity is also a huge problem, and the economy is acting well below its capacity.

Focus on the problems of productivity, of course look at the insecure, low wage economy, but frame it in a way that supports business, not blames them. Put forward a clear, business friendly regional development strategy and reclaim the Mandelson approach to industrial strategy and championing UK companies.

Above all start with the fundamentals – economic competence. Osborne spotted the Labour party in 2010 was busy breaking up into discussion groups and used that moment to hammer Labour on the economy. Devoid of a leadership, or an economic narrative, he filled the vacuum with a narrative of his own and Labour never recovered.

The Conservatives got away with the real economy, just, and there are troubled times ahead.  The recovery is fragile, and it was painfully slow. Real wage growth has been poor, and family incomes have suffered from this and from reductions in childcare support and the withdrawal of tax credits. Labour got this, but could not convince the public it was the right vehicle to fix it. The next round of cuts will be terrible for low wage families. Labour has to capitalise this time – and make that endure as the inevitable give-aways start from year 3 of the Parliament.

The 2010 approach to economic management was very damaging and we are still suffering from it. But in the last five years sensible economics were beaten by political rhetoric – of course there should have been a fiscal stimulus in 2010, of course the government should have borrowed at negative interest rates to invest in infrastructure, but the debate was lost in 2010 when Labour was busy in caucuses working out the electoral college numbers.

A language needs to be found for support for investment in infrastructure – it is incredibly difficult to explain to the lay person, in the face of the false analogy of a “credit card” or household budget.

The one constancy with Conservative governments is that they always under-invest. Every time Labour comes to office it has to fix the roof, rain or shine. One of the reasons Labour did spend too much in the 1997-2010 period is because the public infrastructure was knackered by the time it came to office. 18 years of systematic under-investment in roads, rail, schools, hospitals. It will happen again.

People have to be reminded when the shine comes off all the new buildings Labour financed that it is because they won’t be looked after. Every rail journey that is delayed can be traced back to cutting investment in signalling and track maintenance.

Labour has to lose its attachment to spending other people’s money – often unwisely. With Ed Miliband standing down and Ed Balls losing his seat, Labour can move on from the personal attachment of those two with the over-spending in the Labour years and the lack of contrition for it in opposition. It gives scope to a new generation to disown the Brown/Balls record and chose an economic narrative for the future based on sound fiscal control that allows sensible, affordable, public investment.

In The Black Labour” is the place to start, and start now. In 10 years time the Tories should have to defend their own record, not get by on caricaturing Labour’s. Labour needs to ensure it has the right message – “fiscal conservatism” was the phrase the authors of the “In the Black” document offered.  I’d start using it now.

Ian Moss has worked across government and is now in public affairs

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21 Responses to “Labour used to know how to win elections. We need to re-learn. Fast.”

  1. John P Reid says:

    As someone in the right of the party, the reason I didn’t vote for David in 2010 was David Mliband didnt understand how unpopular we were, at the 2010 election, Ed did,not because of Iraq, but among mainly public sector workers in the NHS education, civil service, Andy Burnham understood it, but Eds view was to go back to being Old labour,as Both a John Mcternan and unbelievably Job Cruddas said don’t try in 2915 to win the skilled working class that Mrs T, Blair loved, but look at other special interest groups, like Women, as away of winning this time, Basically we had to get back the Teachers,NHS staff, while concentrate on Keeping the socially conservative working class, something Ed miliband didn’t understand

    As Such Burnham would have been the best leader we never had in 2015′ but should t stand now, for 2 reasons

    1 Len Mcklusky would be calling the shots and Burnham isn’t enough of an attack dog, to stand up to his ‘we lowt as it wasn’t left wing enough’,

    2 Burnham is still associated with the coffee drinking middle Class liberal elite of islington.

    At the same time Chuka shouldn’t stand,he’s a up and coming star, but as Alan Johnson said it’s going to take 10 years to rebuild,he’s only 37’if I was him,I’d wait 5 years and see if we lose in 2020 as becoming ?PM in 2025 age 47 isn’t too bad.

    But hams other problem,like Harold Wilson and Jon Cruddas before him,he makes out he’s left wing,he’s no more left wing than me, a Burnham has managed to make us forget, he was A blairite,

    The new generation of people who aren’t part of the westminster bubble, Emma Reynolds,Dan Jarvis,Gloria Deperio, may make great leaders, but would they be able to control certain factions, they’ll need a strong deputy,
    Lone Simon Danczuk, or John Mann,may back,and even though I just slated him, Cruddas could be good, although whoever stands may have to decide it’ll be a 10 year project to get a majority, as both Cameton and Kinnock found,

    It was interesting hearing Charles Clarke on any questions, people like him, journalists, Dan Hodges, Rod Liddle, lord Glasman, or former NEC member Luke Akehurst,are the sort of people labour needs of its going to regain, Essex,Kent ,Scotland, The West coast,

  2. Ian says:

    You will only “move on from” attachment with Labour’s past if you pick a leader untainted with such – Mr Ball’s wife or the health secretary during South Staffs isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid.

    If the Labour Party had a brain, someone like Dan Jarvis would be the correct choice. As for the Labour Party in reality, well, time will tell…

  3. Tafia says:

    Anthony Wells over on the number-crunching anorak site UK Polling Report has done a bit of an article on new boundaries. Basically, now the tories have a majority they will press on with the new boundaries of 600 roughly evenly populates constituencies. The plan would have been in place for this election just gone but the LibDems thwarted it. So using the plan and this elections results, he has made the following calculation. The missing 24 seats are Plaid, and Northern Ireland etc etc.:-

    Anyway, a couple of people have asked me how this election would have looked had the revised boundaries proposed in the last Parliament gone through. I’ve done a rough rejig of my provisional boundary calculations using the result of this election, and had the new boundaries gone through the Conservatives would have won 322 seats, nine fewer than they did but enough to give them a healthy majority of 44 in a Commons of 600 MPs. Labour would have won 204 MPs (28 fewer), the SNP 50 seats (and would have pushed Labour out of Scotland entirely) and the Lib Dems just 4.

  4. David Mathers says:

    ‘1 Len Mcklusky would be calling the shots and Burnham isn’t enough of an attack dog, to stand up to his ‘we lowt as it wasn’t left wing enough’,

    2 Burnham is still associated with the coffee drinking middle Class liberal elite of islington.’

    From mocking someone for having a working class accent to attacking the evil ‘liberal elite’ for being middle class in two lines. Beyond parody.

  5. Robert says:

    Labour lost 40 seats to a party that seemed more left-wing, so I am not sure how moving to the right will help.

  6. David Mathers says:

    Islington, of course, actually has areas of huge poverty. The ‘elite’ in the UK live in Kensington and Chelsea. Poor people don’t cease to be poor just because they’re not white, or not bigoted, or live near the centre of big cities, or were born abroad.

  7. John PReid says:

    Where did I mock his accent

  8. Tafia says:

    As I said on the earlier article, if Labour moves right it will lose Scotland forever and the steady decline in Wales & northern England will accelerate. They will not accept or vote for Blairism or anything similar ever again. But if it moves leftwards it will lose southern England and the English east midlands because they will not accept a more traditional form of Labour. One way out may be to split the party and create totally independent Labour parties for Wales and Scotland along the lines of Northern Ireland’s SDLP. But they would have to be totally independent, including policy, membership, funding & policy otherwise it would quickly be seen as just more spin. Four Parties in a Coalition – Labour England, Scottish Labour, LLafur Cymru & SDLP.

    A rock and a hard place. A worse problem to solve than a Rubiks cube. If you were drunk. And blind. And only had one hand.

  9. DB says:

    Basically, Labour needs to appeal to voters in England more than in Scotland.
    At this election they were trying to please everyone, and giving out mixed messages all over the place.

    It’s time to accept Scotland needs Devo-Max. The demand is never going to go away, and to pretend otherwise is pointless. Different areas just have different priorities.
    The SNP will be dominant in Scotland for many years unless there is sufficient home rule.

    The weakness of the Smith commission proposals seems like one of the reasons for Labour’s collapse in Scotland. It looked like a broken promise.
    There was vague wording with ‘the vow’ and associated campaigning, but the PERCEPTION was that Labour – along with Gordon Brown – had offered Scotland far more if they voted No and trusted Labour. People expected maximum devolution, and felt let down by the party.

  10. Landed Peasant says:

    Robert – Labour could’ve wiped out the SNP, and Plaid and the greens and they’d still have lost the election, left wing policies were overwhelmingly rejected by voters, moving further left will just harden Tory support in England and hand over the keys to No 10 for another decade, especially as the 2017 EU referendum wil flat out kill UKIP.

  11. John p reid says:

    The Borth of England,with the exception of Rotherham, rochdale, can’t be easily explained, Liverpool, has always been labour but Newcastle Dudley, Doncaster,Chester Cheshire, the wet Boast Bristol, or the Midlands, Birmingham,Leeds all saw seats go from Labour too the Tories,

    As this manifesto was Too the left of the last two labour stood on,even if people include the Ex Libdems voted Labour view, it wasn’t clever enough to keep votes going to the greens or pLaid or staying at home ,then,

  12. Madasafish says:

    Experience says denial in defeat leads to more defeat. What I read on LL and here suggests there is a lot of denial about…

  13. Dave Roberts. says:

    A good article which puts its finger on the problem. Labour’s core vote is now ethnic minorities and the liberal elite with a section of the white working class who will just never vote anything else. It is clear from the make up of the party at every level that small business people and white van man are not only excluded, they are despised.

    It’s not a case, as was recently floated, of having quotas for working class people, it’s a case of actually having them in the party at all! The Labour Party is now all Emily Thornberry. Hypocritical barristers who buy housing association properties at knock down prices for their portfolios, live in multi million pound houses in expensive parts and mock the white van and the Union flag. Until this culture is changed the Labour Party is going nowhere, except oblivion.

  14. Andy says:

    Labour needs to provide a coherent response to the driver that affects everyone in Britain today, and that is Globalisation. Globalisation has resulted in offshoring of jobs, offshoring of capital and business receipts and vast increases in inequality.

    Our systems of corporate and individual taxation are simply not fit for purpose in a global economy but offering solutions outside a clear narrative about why they are needed is doomed to failure e.g. The non-dom pledge in isolation.

    Labour needs to be the party that promotes and sustains small business and entrepreneurial activity whilst making sure that global business rewards our country properly for the profits it gets from entering our market, enabling us to sustain the infrastructure from which it benefits. That needs root and branch reform.

    We need an honest debate about the NHS which is frankly a bottomless pit. It needs to be run differently and with absolute clarity over what is available free at the point of service and what is not. These standards need to be consistent for all, but if that means we can’t fund some treatments, then let that be made absolutely clear.

  15. Madasafish says:


    Your NHS point “debate about the NHS which is frankly a bottomless pit. It needs to be run differently and with absolute clarity over what is available free at the point of service and what is not.

    Is very valid.

    We are told the NHS needs £ billions but is spends £000s giving a “model” a free boob job..

    (Link to Mirror not Sun where she is err topless).

    And of course Mr Farage talked about hospital tourism and all the luvvies horror… the thought of stopping free treatment for non residents!

    The NHS is of course spending £billions on poorly drafted and very expensive PFI contracts but Ed claimed Labour did not waste money..

    Any person looking at UK lifespans and ageing population will know what you are saying is correct.. That includes Ed and Andy Burnham..

    But then they seem to lack the courage to say so…

    I’m an OAP and shall be in my eighties when the problems really mount up in the 2020s . I don’t want to live a life as a near vegetable.. a burden on family and state…Nor does my wife..

    I suspect some very hard decisions will have to be made and future generations will curse ALL current politicians for not grasping the nettle now..

    We should be saving money for the future , instead we are giving our children massive debts to repay…

  16. John P Reid says:

    Many so called Blairites ,have took to the media, to say Eds mistake was turning his back in new labour,

    Eds appeal being too both the Emily Thornberrys and those who were part of the Comedy Charity,Stand up for labour,who were the Angry young people of the 80’s returning to labour from Socialist groups, after deserting us in 1997, Too Students, with lefty views they got at University, A assumption these people are all middle class who’ve never had a proper job,

    If true they are keen,and Put a lot of work in, what their political opinions are could range from Former Stalinists,like Andy Newman,too Blue Labours Rowenna Davis, the Red Princes, parachuted in like Kier Stammer, or new Labour,but crossed over like Wes Streeting,over the last year, maybe some of their candidates got elected,

    Seeing the Blairites blame Ed for junking new labour, I have to ask,how many of New labour were working class who’d done a proper job,

    Apart from Prescott and Alan Johnson, maybe David Lammy, being classified as A Blairite, at one stage. They were. All just the same as the Islington Coffee drinkers.

    Having been a Former agent , Constituency secretary,and given the Labour Party 17 years of my life,canvassing, and having took a back seatin the last year, only really coming back to canvassing this month, looking at or gaining a decent Campaign for East London, for the next mayoral election.

    I have to say the Blairites in the media, may well be right, BUT, saying Ed junked new labour so we lost,it’s only going to draw away, the so called,student style politic,or middle class liberals who return to labour,having voted Socialist in the 80’syes we didn’t need those people in 2001, but the next generation of labour leaders,need to aspire to ,the Skilled Working class,Blairites, that we got in 97,2001,2095, our core vote,which has moved from being classified as Working class,to being called lower middle class
    As well as those who ran the campaign last week,and may desert us, if they take the criticism,of their campaign,to roughly,

  17. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Landed Peasant……

    ” 2017 EU referendum wil flat out kill UKIP.”

    The EU referendum will have 2 possible outcomes:

    1. We leave the EU – UKIP vote rises.

    2. We stay in the EU – by 2017 UKIP will be leading the push for electoral reform in Britain.

    By 2017 UKIP will have representation in the Welsh Assembly.

    UKIP are: in touch with the electorate, dynamic, vibrant and they are on the up – alas poor Labour I knew them well………

    As the main supporters for electoral reform and a voice that supports representation for minor parties. UKIP would gather support and alliance from the Libdems and the Green party.

    Dynamic UKIP could then change its name to the United Kingdom Inclusive Party.

    By 2017 there will have a new leader:

    Suzanne Evans , Paul Nuttall, Steven Woolfe, or Patrick O’Flynn .

    There is also the possibility of course of Douglas Carswell.

    “But let’s not rush into anything. We all need to catch up on some sleep.”:

  18. Landless Peasant says:

    Greens & SNP got votes cos they’re more Left wing than Labour

  19. Landless Peasant says:

    We won’t vote for Tory Lite. Labour need to be much more Left wing if they want to be re_elected

  20. John P Reid says:

    Landed peasant, funny monicker, I thought you were landless peasant for a moment, and he’d swung from the left too the right quicker than the libdems did, when they saw the keys to Downing street in 2010

  21. madasafish says:

    Landless Peasant says:
    May 10, 2015 at 3:37 pm
    Greens & SNP got votes cos they’re more Left wing than Labour

    So you think chasing Greens with 3.8% of the vote and the SNP with 4.7% of the vote makes arithmetic sense? Bearing in mind you’ll do well if you win half them..- about 4%.

    And ignore the poetntial UKIP voters 12.6% and Tory voters 36.9% – a total of 49.5%.. potential gains up to a third or 16%? looks as if you are striving not to win but to obtain political purity.. becuase your strategy sure is NOT going to win..Numbers don’t lie..

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