This polarised leadership contest is ignoring the key lessons from our general election defeat

by Daniel Charleston Downes

A common complaint made by public service workers about governments is that the manner in which decisions and policies made are is entirely hegemonic. The secretary of state for health, education or defence rarely has first-hand experience of those sectors they represent and if they do it was often a while ago. Added to which, politics is placed above pragmatism and the experience and knowledge of workers at the coal-face that could give a detailed account of what the problems really are.

In any analysis of the 2015 general election defeat it would follow logically that the best accounts could be given by those that fought and lost marginal seats. Thankfully this is exactly what the Fabians have done in their collected essays Never Again edited by Sally Keeble and Will Straw. This collection gives accounts of seven regions around England where Labour underperformed. It gives insight into what the successes were of CLPs directly involved in their communities and the issues that national policy and leadership were giving candidates on the doorstep.

Whilst the existence of the document itself is cause for much cheer, it appears as if the leadership contenders are coming to the wider debate about the future of the Labour party with their direction already established. Corbyn for example has in his analysis inevitably come to the conclusion that Labour were too right wing and did not provide clear opposition to austerity. This seems counter to all evidence, the near 80% of the electorate that supported a pro-austerity party and the experience of many accounts on the doorsteps. Further it completely ignores the conclusions of the Trades Union Congress survey that showed Labour were generally perceived to have been too soft on both welfare and immigration.

However the conclusion that Labour were not right wing enough is also false. It is clear that the blueprint provided for an ‘austerity-lite’ was not felt to be distinct enough for the public. The ‘controls on immigration’ mug will forever be a scourge on the Miliband leadership and should always be recalled when considering how to communicate our position on that most sensitive of issues. Whenever Balls or Miliband talked about the economy it spoke too much of numbers and costing and not enough about the human aspect of family and individual finances.

One common theme in the analysis of 2015 is that Ed Miliband tried to make the election too much about Ed Miliband. He was not perceived as a strong enough leader to carry the whole campaign; there was not the ownership of policy for the membership or the array of talent delivering their own policy visions for their shadow departments to present a government in waiting. This leadership election should be about the analysis of the election; a debate on what style of leadership is required and how the members and grassroots can be given greater control of the party.

Further to this disconnect with the membership is the severing of the current Labour Party with its immediate past. With Blairite now a dirty word used as a casual and dismissive insult, it suggests that the party has by no means come to terms with the legacy of its most electorally successful leadership. Those giants of the New Labour era that should be providing a much needed source of advice and energy are instead pushed to the fringes of the party.

Apart from the experience of three terms in government, there are still a great number of members who feel strong affiliations with that philosophy within the party. What has been allowed to happen during the leadership election is that one movement within the party has dominated the coverage and go almost unchallenged in their branding of everyone but Corbyn supporters as not ‘true Labour’. Insults such as this that are directly targeted at other leadership candidates, their campaign teams and a large section of the membership and are a worrying sign of things that could be to come.

The worrying trend is that this spills out to contaminate the relationship that the party has with the electorate. It is clear that Labour has a lot to learn from the election and that we haven’t been listening clearly enough to the fears or the hopes of the British people. This ‘heart’ or ‘head’ division that has been provided as the only framework from which to analyse political discourse is an empty declaration. What is important is to listen to the public and to interpret that within the framework of our values. For example we absolutely want to ensure that those that need the support are given financial backing by the state, but it would be remiss of Her Majesty’s Opposition, let alone a government, to neglect those dejected by what they feel is an unfair welfare system.

The calls to delay the leadership election until some of these questions were answered is proving to have been a shrewd judgement. Labour leaders are no clearer on what the role of the membership is for the policy making progress or what is best practice for the grassroots to embed themselves within their communities.

The leaders of the party are still no closer to reconciling its future aims with its immediate past in the form of New Labour. But of greatest concern is that our relationship with those that we seek to represent is still being analysed through pre-existing ideological frameworks such as the ‘Old’ or ‘New’ Labour labels. Whilst we understand that the electorate were not impressed by what we presented during the election, too much emphasis is placed on the leader, campaign mishaps and a lack of a clear ‘vision’. Whilst all of these are major contributing factors is neglects the stories of individual seats situated within their regions. The new leader should come to terms with these stories in order to build from it the narrative of Labour’s future.

Dan Downes is a Labour campaigner, a secondary school teacher and blogs at 

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11 Responses to “This polarised leadership contest is ignoring the key lessons from our general election defeat”

  1. Metro Elite says:

    Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but more votes!

  2. Tafia says:

    It isn’t polarised at all.

    There are four candidates – Corbyn, Burnham, Cooper, Kendall. Within the Labour Party they represent (in order) left, centre left, centre right, right.

    To the outside voter usibng the full political spectrum they appear left, centre, right and right.

    The problem isn’t Corbyn. The problem is the other three. They aren’t attacking each other and as a result aren’t comning across as anything other than anti-Corbyn. For example, if you want to win you have to be anti all the other candidates and rubbish their position – and they aren’t doing that and as a result appear lack-lustre and shallow, without any beliefs, aims or ambitions.

  3. Landless Peasant says:

    Labour lost the election because they were seen as too similar to the Tory scum. They sat on their arse for 5 years and did and said sweet FA whilst the Tories waged the most brutal Class War ever against us.

  4. “…. that Labour were too right wing and did not provide clear opposition to austerity.”

    It’s a mistake to allow anti-austerity to be the sole preserve of the left. America in the post war period, for example, doesn’t have particularly good left wing credentials but neither is it known for economic austerity.

    Politically, it is a perfectly legitimate to argue for smaller government. So, how best to achieve that? As the experience of the both Germany and USA shows, a smaller size of government doesn’t go hand in hand with a smaller budget deficit. The former has a larger government but smaller deficit, or even a budget surplus, the latter a smaller government but larger deficits.

    So why is that? The key difference is their respective trade patterns. Germany is a net exporter. The USA is a net importer. Euros enter the German economy as payment for their net exports which are removed in taxation revenue , so as not to cause too much inflation there. On the other hand dollars leave the US economy to pay for net imports and have to be replenished by deficit spending.

    So the key to reducing the size of government isn’t the same as reducing the deficit. All that is likely to achieve, in itself, is the creation of recession and high levels of unemployment. Yes, Government spending should be reduced but so should levels of taxes. The deficit stays approximately the same but government ends up smaller.

    If the UK wants a smaller govt deficit and smaller government too then the trade pattern has to be addressed. Trade needs to be brought into balance by a significant devaluation of the pound.

  5. John P Reid says:

    Landless peasant we lost in Emgland and Wales as we were too close to the Tories,and. You feel the public want a more left alternative,so why did more people vote Tory,instead of Respect TUSC,green

  6. Tafia says:

    John P Reid Landless peasant we lost in Emgland and Wales

    Labour didn’t lose in Wales. There vote is in long term decline anyway and has been for several decades but they remain the largest party at Westminster.

    The result was Labour 25, Conservatives 11, Plaid Cymru 3, Liberal Democrats 1. Labour lost one seat in Wales, to the tories – Vale of Clwyd, a border seat in Central/North East Wales where it appears that the Lib Dem vote swung Tory possibly as a reaction to Labour’s handling of the NHS in Wales, particulalrly the Betsi Cadwaladr health board and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. This ‘in-filled’ the voters the tories lost to UKIP. There was also a small splintering from Labour to Plaid.

    It’s a very strange Constituency. The majority of the electoral base are English, and many of them only reside there (cheap housing) but continue work in Chester and the Wirral back across the border in England. In addition it contains the infamous ‘Costa Geriatrica’ – the coastal strip of Prestatyn, Kinmel Bay and Rhyl which contains a huge grey vote of retirees mainly from north west England.

  7. David Walker says:


    Burnham, Cooper and Kendall aren’t attacking each other, as they all want big jobs in the shadow cabinet. They will all get them, so long as Corbyn isn’t elected.

    Then they can start laying into one another and dripping poison into the ears of Westminster reporters.

    This is all you will ever get with career politicians. They just want to rise to the top and this becomes such an obsession that the concerns of ordinary people soon stop interesting them. They are consumed by the game.

    If Labour doesn’t get Jeremy Corbyn, it will just get more of this.

  8. @John P Reid,

    “You feel the public want a more left alternative,so why did more people vote Tory,instead of Respect TUSC,green”

    That’s a fair question. The answer is that you and I may think in terms of left and right but that’s because we are both interested in politics. Most people aren’t. The youngsters who are turning up in droves to Jeremy Corbyn’s meetings like what they hear but would they consider themselves left wing? If it all turns to dust by the time of the next election, how many are likely to vote for TUSC or Left Unity?

    I suspect not that many. They may not vote at all or they may vote for one of the right wing parties if they can get up enough momentum in 2020.

    I’d say it is likely to be the same story everywhere. The working class will give the Left the first opportunity when things get tough. But if the Left let them down, like Syriza have let them down in Greece their next choice won’t be at all to my liking or your liking.

  9. Landless Peasant says:

    Labour lost because theyve alienated their core voters with their Tory Lite / Blue Labour middle-of-the-road bullshit.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    Now that useless twat Sheerman is throwing his dummyout of the cot. It’s great to see the Labour Elite shitting their pants at the thought of Corbyn derailing their cosy little heavy train. Lol

  11. john P Redui says:

    landless peasant I know Sheerman said he[‘ll just walk away, not all those who left labour in 83 went to the SDP ,some just retired from politics, the idea he’ll lose his seat wouldn’t bother him would it bother you if labour lost another 4 million votes in return for you start voting labour again, and then 40 years of tory rule?

    by the way Blue labour isn’t tory or middle of the road it goes back to labour of the 40’s and Labour lost as we were too left wing there wasn’t a great deal of support for the greens unless you know everyone who didn’t vote would have voted labour had we been more left wing, it didn’t happen in the 80’s

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