The Labour party is responsible for this defeat. It’s our fault. Nobody else’s

by Atul Hatwal

Labour lost the election for the same reason that parties always lose elections – mistrust on the economy and leadership.

Defeat turned to utter disaster though following a grossly inept campaign.

As parliament was dissolved at the end of March, for the start of the short campaign, it was clear that Labour was going to lose. Just as it was clear at the start of the year and has been so for a number of years.

For the entirety of the past five years, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls trailed David Cameron and George Osborne in terms of who the public trusted to best manage the economy. At the start of April the deficit was 25%.

Econ lead

And for the entirety of the past five years, Ed Miliband also trailed David Cameron on the public’s preference for prime minister. In April, the average deficit was 15%.

PM lead

Two numbers. 25% and 15%. These are the reasons that Labour was going to lose to the Tories, no matter what type of campaign the party ran.

These are also the reasons that Labour was always going to lose to the SNP in Scotland.

The SNP pitch was only possible because Labour was evidently weak and Nicola Sturgeon could portray her party as the best route to stopping the Tories.

If Labour had been comfortably ahead in England and held the confidence of Scottish voters on the economy and leadership, this would not have been possible.

In the cacophony of polls, statistics and data journalism, this is the signal. All else is noise.

Whoever replaces Ed Miliband faces a startlingly simple task: move the needle on the economy and leadership and Labour will be headed in the right direction.

Move it far enough so that Labour is ahead in at least one and within the margin of error in the other, and Labour will win.

Fail to close these twin deficits and another loss in 2020 is assured.

The willful manner in which Labour’s departing leadership ignored the importance of voter perception on the economy and leadership was their strategic downfall.

However, if defeat was coming at this election, it did not need to be the rout that Thursday became.

That was the product of Labour’s campaign. A campaign widely written-up as a success at the time but that played into the Tories hands at every turn.

The Tories dominated the air war while Labour’s fabled ground operation collapsed in on itself.

The Tory air attack was focused on the issues that mattered most, what else but the economy and leadership.

The tartan scare combined both in a single package to devastating effect.

McLabour was a left-wing, over-spending caricature, defined by the Ed Miliband’s weakness in his relationship with Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP.

The audience for these messages was crystal clear – English Lib Dems and Ukippers – and from the moment the Tories started running these attacks, Labour was in serious trouble.

In Scotland, the Tory attacks had the complimentary impact of boosting the SNP. Labour was the establishment party, forced to push back saying it would give a lower priority to Scottish concerns – not a good look when already facing an SNP tsunami.

Labour’s failure to respond adequately to these attack was pivotal.

While it is doubtful much could have been done in Scotland during the short campaign, in England it was the difference between Labour vying to be the largest party and humiliation.

Labour neither targeted Ukippers and Lib Dems, to rebut the Tory assault nor identified other groups to bring into the party’s tent that might counter-balance the rising in Tory support.

Its own messaging was haphazard and seemed to lack targeting.

For example, the party executed the roll-out of the non-dom policy well but did this win over a single voter who wasn’t already going to back Labour?

The impact of the Tories air offensive was compounded by Labour’s flailing ground operation.

This was meant to be the party’s competitive advantage. Our secret army.

But in practice, the legions of Labour canvassers and organisers resembled the Russian army in World War One: numerous yet too defensive, of variable quality and directed into crazy engagements.

Up and down the country, in the key marginals, Labour’s canvassers were sent to sweep Labour’s core wards to drum up extra support.

Apart from a few notable exceptions – and they are obvious because they’re the new seats that Labour won – the party retreated to its heartland redoubts.

In too many marginals, wards with Tories and Lib Dems became no-go areas. Labour’s lack of ambition in gaining Tory and Lib Dem switchers critically limited the pool of votes in which the party was fishing.

At the heart of a successful ground operation lies effective canvassing. It is only possible to quantify and target support at a local level if canvassers accurately categorise the responses from the doors that are knocked.

Too often, Labour’s activists were content to mark down voters who had no intention of backing the party as Labour supporters. This had a catastrophic impact on party planning skewing intelligence and how resources were deployed.

In one seat, which the party ultimately won, the local campaign team soon worked out that it needed to do its own training for canvassers coming in from other constituencies, particularly those where there were big Labour majorities, who simply did not have the skills to listen and understand what wavering voters were saying.

Historic data, before the new training had been put in place, had to be scrapped and only canvassers that were sufficiently competent were sent out.

Perhaps the most serious failing on the ground though was the inexplicable manner in which activists were directed to constituencies where the party was never competitive to the detriment of those that could have been won.

For example, if Ed Balls’ Yorkshire seat of Morley and Outwood was under threat, what were all of those activists doing trying to unseat Nick Clegg – who had a 15,284 majority – in Sheffield Hallam? Ed Balls lost by 422 votes but Nick Clegg survived with a 2,353 majority.

In London, Battersea was never a target seat but hundreds of activists poured into it. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP actually increased her majority, from 5,977 to 7,938. Meanwhile, 15 minutes on the train south of Battersea, in Croydon Central, Labour’s Sarah Jones lost by 165 votes.

These types of decisions cost the party seats and are the reason David Cameron now has a narrow majority rather than being the leader of a minority Tory government.

It is tempting for Labour to push out blame. To blame the media, to say the defeat is because of Scotland, to talk about the iniquities of voting system.

But this is futile. The defeat is our own fault.

Ignoring the fundamental importance of the economic competence and leadership was an appalling misjudgement.

Prosecuting a short campaign that failed to address the Tories’ key attack-lines in these areas was always going to end badly.

And deploying finite ground resources both too defensively and on quixotic quests to win seats that were never ever going to turn Labour, set the seal on electoral disaster.

These are not difficult lessons to learn. They do not require months of introspection and soul searching.

Labour desperately needs a leader that understands the party’s role as the author of its own misfortune. Only then can something be done about it.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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14 Responses to “The Labour party is responsible for this defeat. It’s our fault. Nobody else’s”

  1. Catherine Pope says:

    Where can I find out more about the successful canvassing training ( I’m an educator and want to learn so I can help take back Itchen!)

  2. Ros Dunn says:

    Sorry, but this is doing exactly what we did, with catastrophic consequences, in 2010. Of course the Election result was terrible, and no doubt there were strategic errors along the way, but we absolutely play into the hands of those who want to keep us out of power forever by telling everyone that we think we were crap. The biggest post Election mistake of 2010 was to allow the Tories to get away, largely unchallenged, with saying that Labour “broke the economy” which gave them an excuse to unleash draconian and ideologically driven reductions in public spending and services in the name of “austerity”. This is why we remain untrusted on the economy even now, whilst most sensible economists will tell you that the truth is very different.
    So let’s be more positive. Around half the people who voted did not support the Tories, and millions of people voted for us, on the basis of Ed Miliband and a progressive reform agenda. Do we now tell them that was all wrong, especially when we know that we were massively financially outgunned, and that the right wing press, controlled by a handful of people who had much to fear from a Labour victory, blitzed the public with stoked up fears of Armageddon? And it remains the case that many people, particularly young people, didn’t vote at all. All in all hardly a ringing endorsement of the Tories.
    So do not behave as if we have to start all over again. We have core support that beloved in our 2015 agenda. We should be seeking to win over the people, especially young people, with a clearer narrative based on a thorough debunking of the myths that have been perpetuated about Labour’s record in office, a compelling case for our own policies coupled with a convincing story about the disastrous effect of Tory policies. And when it comes to choosing a new leader, please can we learn from this Election that it’s people who have the fire and flair of Nicola Sturgeon that win elections and make our own choice accordingly.

  3. Mikeb says:

    Perhaps no one wants archaic, left wing, 1970’s Marxist clap trap any more?

  4. Madasafish says:

    Ros Dunn

    Your post is so good I suggest you present to the entire Labour Party. As it is written, I cannot fault it. It is classic.

    Classically wrong of course.

    Target people who are notorious for not registering let alone voting – the young.

    Blame the press – when the press who supported Labour were lukewarm at best as the cause was obviously lost.

    And choose a new Leader modelled on Nicola Sturgeon – in effect Neil Kinnock Mark 2. I forget how many General ELections he won.

    And finally – only target half the electorate who did not vote Tory/UKIP.

    I assume your aim is permanent Opposition followed by oblivion.. as the path you are choosing will achieve that perfectly.

    The Tories tried it under Hague, Howard and Ian Duncan Smith. Look how successful it was.

    Sorry to be so rude but your post epitomises all that is wrong with Labour’s approach…

    Read the Guardian (!) and reconsider..

  5. Harry D says:

    I don’t think you give enough credit to the ground operation.

    Labour definitively won the ground war, and were talking to literally millions of people over the campaign, including non-Labour voters

    It’s not the activists fault that the public didn’t want to hear what they wanted to say. The campaign was lost at a national level, not a local level

    As for Ed Balls losing his seat, that’s less because of resources put into Hallam but more into resources put into other Leeds targeted seats like Dewsbury and Pudsey

  6. swatantra says:

    @ Catherine Go to the LP website, and they have a ‘Library’ on ‘Training’ for every event The Webinars are excellent and last an hour. Pity is so many in the Party think they know it all and don’t bother with basic training.
    We lost the election on the Economy and Welfare EU Immigration, and the underlying current of terrorism and extremism running through society, which the Party is not willing to address head on.

  7. When they add to “the list of things wot went wrong,” it’s worthwhile adding to it the fact that most labour members and MP’s didn’t vote for Ed Miliband. Only a completely insane Party electoral system got him in at all and the reality is that for many of us the outcome of the 2015 General Election was sealed at that moment.

    In their fanatic zeal to be rid of Blairism, elements of the Party connived to create their perfect idea of a traditional left-wing Labour leader from the negligible few on offer.

    Many at the heart of the party and members of it, became blind to choosing a Labour Party leader who could lead to a standard recognised by voters nationally as being worthy of election – their own selfish needs and desires trumped that. Learn from it or fail again for crying out loud.

  8. Landless Peasant says:

    It was nothing to do with the economy, Labour lost because theyre.too Right wing.

  9. AnneJGP says:

    Ros is right to suggest that positive thinking is needed. It’s right to identify what went wrong before, but it’s more important to start thinking about the audience you’re trying to win over. What do they find attractive? What are their mental habits?

    At least one thing is a much more fundamental problem than either policies or campaigning. It’s left-wing behaviour. The behaviour of some left-wingers.

    There’s nothing some left-wingers enjoy more than a good old-fashioned protest, and boy does it let off the steam of frustration. They hate the Tories and it’s good to let everyone see how hateful the Tories are. And it gets them on the telly.

    Unfortunately the audience you want to attract isn’t left-wing. Mostly they don’t care for aggression, violence & throwing stuff at police & buildings. It puts them off.

    The message those people sent by their protest the other day is two-fold.

    First, in the short-term, that they’d like to over-turn the result of the GE. That Labour hasn’t any use for democracy unless it suits them. That Labour ought to be in power irrespective of what the nation has only just that minute decided.

    Second, for the long-term, that Labour is a party of hate. Most people don’t find people who hate others very attractive.

    You may kid yourselves you only hate Tory policies, but these protest actions shout an awful lot louder than words. You may think you’re showing the public how much the Tories are hated, but you’re also showing the public how much hatred is inside you and that you’re only too ready to let it all hang out.

    Many of your activists weren’t even born in the Thatcher years, but they apparently speak & act as though their own minds are scarred by the experiences. That is learned behaviour. Their elders in Labour have taught them to hate a myth.

    I would respectfully suggest that the Labour party needs to recognise as failings the collective tendency to indulge hatred, the active teaching of its youth members to hate, and the readiness to express hatred in violent action.

    Ordinary people don’t do these things. They aren’t attracted to people who do.

    I really do want to be able to vote for Labour, but even if its policies ticked every single one of my boxes I’d be very wary of voting for people who either indulge in such behaviour themselves or condone such behaviour in others.

    Sorry and all that, but these are home truths from a friend.

  10. John P Reid says:

    Landless peasant you vote green because labour was too eight wing, so did quite a few Scots who voted SNP, but to add the 4% who voted SNP the 4% who voted Green over looks the fact that had Labour been on 40% to the Tories on 34% in the polls a week before the election, it would have seen 10% of Ukip,supporters, gone back to the Tories through fear of labour winning.

    You assume that had Labour stood on a manifesto like the SNP or the greens, that those who held their nose voted labour, last week, would have still done it, many on the electorate who’s views are labour ,but like the old right of our party, wouldn’t have voted labour had it swung towards the left, some Ed Miliband backers like Luke Akehurst, pointed out, if Diane Abbott had win the leadership in 2010 we would never win again.

  11. Harry Steele says:

    Atul is spot on, unfortunately. Ros, until now I was of the opinion that tin foil hats had gone out of fashion.

  12. David Walker says:

    AnneJGP, that’s one of the best comments I’ve ever read on any site. You’ve absolutely nailed it there.

    People will not vote for hatred. People are afraid of hatred. The left is regarded as angry and shrill.

    This may go some way to explain why Labour tends to do better in pre-election polls than on voting day.

    There will be some people who will presume that the person asking them how they will vote is some form of activist. For many, when they think of an activist there is a presumption that the person is left-leaning.

    If people regard the left as being full of hate for those that don’t agree with them, there will be some that are simply inclined to tell the person what they think they want to hear.

    By and large, people also don’t want to spend a long time talking to a political canvasser at their front door. What is the quickest way to get a canvasser to leave? Obviously, it is to tell them that their vote can be relied upon. This doesn’t mean that canvassing is a waste of time, but it surely asks for a more intelligent approach?

    If a canvasser speaks to someone who tells them that they will be voting for their party, they should not just thank them and walk away. They should ask them what their concerns are. How do they think that the party could improve? What mistakes do they feel the party is making, if any. People don’t feel they are being listened to and a genuine wavering voter might well respond positively to being canvassed in this way.

    The Labour Party just seemed to want to talk about things that don’t affect people’s lives at this moment. Hardly any voters use a food bank, or work on a zero-hours contract. The NHS is a much bigger concern, but it is worth remembering that most of them are not ill either.

    Most small ‘c’ Conservatives are perfectly reasonable and decent people. They just want to vote for a party that implements the lessons they have learned in their own lives.

    Many will have had genuine Labour sympathies, when they were younger. Now they are older, they look back on that time and just think of themselves as being unworldly and naive.

    That is the impression they have of the Labour Party. They feel it comprises only young people and older people who have never really grown up. This is the problem Labour faces, when it comes to getting their votes. Without their support, Labour can never win a General Election.

  13. AnneJGP says:

    David Walker, thank you.

    Sadly, people will vote for hatred, but to make them vote for you, you need them to hate the same thing as you. A common enemy is one of the greatest bonding factors going.

    So pushing reasons for people to hate the Tories (or other entities) is indeed a vote-winner, provided the people you’re drip-feeding are susceptible to your influence.

    But in order to win votes that way, what you are actually doing is simply – ratcheting up the hatred. We all find anger slips into hatred easily enough even without being deliberately nourished. If violent demonstration is OK because some people have different opinions to you, why is it not OK to punch another driver on the nose if he cuts you up – a difference of opinion about driving etiquette?

    There’s enough hatred & violence in the world without major political parties in a democracy encouraging more.

    All that is the perspective of someone who believes hatred should be defused rather than fuelled.

    But we’re talking here about winning & losing votes.

    Labour’s traditional heart-lands are heart-lands because initially the people there were won over by the positive things that the Labour party offered them – real chances to improve themselves & their lives.

    That provided a legacy of deep & profound loyalty to Labour, which has continued to hold sway through generations.

    But through the modern age Labour has been taking these groups for granted. At first the rhetoric of Tory-hate could keep them in the fold through the ‘common enemy’ bonding. With the wider personal experiences of the modern age and the rise of modern media, however, those groups are becoming aware now of just how distant from them & their concerns Labour leaders have become.

    The Labour party has long since started using that same rhetoric of hate against the people of their heart-lands; even though they aren’t ‘evil Tories’, a longish list of hate-cults has grown up which is aimed at them (racism is perhaps the key one). I’m sure that Labour governments had excellent reasons for the dramatic increase in immigration but they took no account of the impact & response of the people most adversely affected.

    In Scotland the SNP found the Labour heart-lands a ready-made market for their ‘common enemy’ the Tories; in essence those heart-lands found another supplier offering better quality at a lower price.

    In England the effect isn’t showing up in such a concerted way way because there isn’t the same cohesiveness about their other options. But there was apparently a strong element of Labour to UKIP switching.

    Once a loyal-to-the-backbone supporter has been driven to the lengths of voting for another party, the loyalty link has been broken. It will be hard work to get them back.

  14. John P Reid says:

    The shocking thing today, was how many of the PLP were treating this as a defeat like 1970 saying we’ll be back next time, without real isn’t that we just lost the entire Private sector skilled white working class in England, as if keeping the public sector vote, the students, and traditional voters in Inner London and Wales is something to be proud of, as we, could be out for years, unless the Tories destroy themselves over Europe, or the savagery of the cuts result, in a collapse of the NahS, or crime going up, even then the Tories were still re elected when crime doubled 35 years ago, or the NAhS was destroyed then , the gathering of cliques to support the next leader doesn’t seem to be based in ability,but who can work with who, the real ability is not to fight of factions within the party, but to express among the electorate,where we hear what they’re saying,and what we can do

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