Smug self-satisfaction blinds Corbyn’s Labour to the reasons the last election was lost

by David Talbot

As the Conservative party trudges towards Manchester and its party conference this year, fresh with Boris Johnson’s timely four thousand word intervention, you would be forgiven for thinking the conventional wisdom of politics has been suspended. The Conservatives, wrought with angst and anger over the general election, are pouring over why its seemingly insurmountable political prestige crumbled over seven tumultuous weeks. The Labour party, meanwhile, is becalmed in glorious general election defeat. Its third, in a row. A better than expected defeat, but a defeat nonetheless. Not that this fact has seemingly been acknowledged by the body politic of Jeremy Corbyn and his fervent supporters.

For the Conservatives the post-election fog is only just lifting, but the gloom remains. The Times reported at the weekend that Sir Eric Pickles and Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, are set to release their report on why the Tories lost their majority on the first day of the party’s conference. The scale of its findings have levelled criticism at the traditional boogeyman and woman of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, but it is also highly critical of the party’s data operation. Jim Messina, no doubt hired at ludicrous expense, devised a target seat operation that saw May visit 43 ‘marginal’ constituencies. The party went on to win just 5.

As if this wasn’t enough, Sir Mick Davis, the Conservative’s chief executive, is conducting his own review and is plundering Conservative donors for an additional £6m a year so that the party can learn from its past mistakes and keep in place scores of campaign managers in marginal seats.

In marked contrast, the Labour party is content in itself – satisfied that it defied expectations but still lost. Of course Jeremy Corbyn did better than anyone, himself, no doubt, included, expected in the election. But there has to be some realism about this. Labour lost the election, and lost it badly. Much of the Corbynite analysis – and his own self-declared post-election remark that it was “pretty clear who won this election” – ignores the fact that Labour did not actually win.

It is not as if the party is without practice of analysing defeat. Labour has been here before just two years ago. The Beckett Report was an utter whitewash that fundamentally failed to analyses in any great detail quite why Ed Miliband lost so convincingly. Indeed, Beckett, or whoever wrote it on her behalf, gifted just 127 words to the many failures of the Miliband leadership – less than was assigned to attacking, of course, the media. For Beckett, allowing her name to be attributed to the report ranks as almost a great a folly as signing Corbyn’s leadership nomination papers.

Thus far Bridget Phillipson MP, in the pages of the New Statesman, is the only senior Labour figure to have publicly provided a thorough, well thought through and coherent analysis of why the party lost. That this is the case is simply a disgrace.

Avoiding the existential threat that a devastating result, which was long in the offering, would have left the Labour party in should not shield it from reality. The postmortem should already be well under way. The “tortured navel-gazing” of the Conservatives, as Phillipson notes, is somewhat different to the Corbyn “the boy” narrative swirling around Labour as if it was still basking in the Glastonbury sun.

To win in Canterbury and Kensington were stunning results, and much vaunted, but much less so were the losses in Mansfield, Middlesborough and Derbyshire North East, which had been Labour since 1910. Little to no central analysis has focused on Corbyn’s Labour stockpiling ridiculous majorities in already safe seats but its failure to broaden its potential coalition of voters. Super majorities in London and Merseyside are all well and good, but the loss of Stoke South – Labour since its creation in 1950 – will always prevent a Labour government.

Before the snap election was called extensive plans were drawn for a two-year review of the party’s purpose and policy platform. The danger is that the election result, with a narrative now firmly detached from reality, will be used to shelve such plans and disguise Labour’s manifest shortcomings. But it should not be an excuse for the Labour party to deny the need for a formal review of the 2017 election. If the Labour party is to deserve to return to power, it requires more than the current misplaced elation.

David Talbot is a political consultant


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11 Responses to “Smug self-satisfaction blinds Corbyn’s Labour to the reasons the last election was lost”

  1. buttley says:

    Meanwhile the membership has quietly been getting on with re-claiming the party.

    Of the 1,155 delegates chosen by CLP’s to attend conference, 844 back reforms proposed by Momentum while 236 are opposed & the views of 75 are unknown.

    The “right of the party” who are so good at prescribing reform to other peoples lives, all for the common good you understand. Well lets just say they “are not that keen on the taste of their own medicine”.

    At next years conference the membership is finally going to foist some proper reform on the party, whether it likes it or not.

  2. For Beckett, allowing her name to be attributed to the report ranks as almost a great a folly as signing Corbyn’s leadership nomination papers.

    I get it! If only we had stopped the membership from voting for a leader they actually wanted. Thanks David, I can see clearly now.

  3. wavertree red says:

    I 100% agree that labour need to broaden their appeal in monoethnic white areas of the north and midlands. But I don’t think those places are crying out for strong and stable centrist leadership to keep us in the EU. I would bet that the party is working on it, but I think the most counterproductive thing that we could do is go back to the dark times when we got 35% and only formed a government because the tories were totally hopeless.

    I think this blog underestimates just how popular Brexit is among the northern working class, and the tories delivered it. Their plan to massacre us in Wakefield and Doncaster was actually sound, but they didn’t realise how totally we would dominate the ethnic minority vote and the “modernised” working class. If you send 50% of people to uni, you can’t then depend on them to think like their parents.

    Where we are in the polls is absolutely astounding. You might say it won’t last, but who can see the tories holding on to 42% of the vote? It would be absolutely unprecedented.

  4. Tafia says:

    Wavertree Red

    I 100% agree that labour need to broaden their appeal in monoethnic white areas of the north and midlands. But I don’t think those places are crying out for strong and stable centrist leadership to keep us in the EU.
    Correct. And you can also add to that a Labour government that panders to minorities and allows – no encourages – them not to integrate, won’t gurentee not to put their taxes up (direct and/or indirect), doesn’t support nuclear weapons, doesn’t like the monarchy and refuses to condemn the filth of the IRA. The white working class in the north and the east midlands are traditonalist to say the least and are very very patriotic.

    I think this blog underestimates just how popular Brexit is among the northern working class
    Correct again. And as a result it woefully underestimates how much support there is for the full-on hard BREXIT and sod the consequences, the sun will still rise the following day.

    Where we are in the polls is absolutely astounding. You might say it won’t last, but who can see the tories holding on to 42% of the vote? It would be absolutely unprecedented.
    I wuld suggest that it’s far more likely in the medium term the tories remain above 40% than Labour do unless Labour remains true to it’s promise of out of the EU, Single Market, Customs Union and all

  5. paul barker says:

    Does this blog still operate or is it another archive site ?
    As Buttley points out above, Momentum have taken Conference. Dan Hodges descibed it as a “Surrender Ceremony” for the remains of The Labour Centre. What is the point of this Blog ?

  6. steve says:

    “a narrative now firmly detached from reality”

    This is what happens when the LP connects with the membership and the electorate generally.

    Time and again the electorate have misunderstood our predicament and voted for the wrong candidates. Just think of Jim Murphy’s success in Scotland – he nailed his colours to the mast and stood defiantly against traditional Labour Party values.

    Unfortunately, erroneously, the idiot electorate gave him the old heave-ho.

    Only when democracy is suspended will a return to the sensible policies of Tony Blair be possible.

    Fortunately, David, we have people like you ready, willing and able to lead the charge.

    Well done!

  7. Anne says:

    Speaking as a person from the north – yes I believe that the white working class (mainly male),from the north, did predominantly vote to leave the EU and still hold this position, but there is concern about leaving the single market and jobs – they did not vote to make their families poorer. Also, this position is not held across the north – for example Manchester predominantly voted to remain.

  8. buttley says:

    The vote splits from conference, were 90/10, so it is now clear to see how the ground has shifted.

    The elephant in the room remains the squatters in the PLP.

    Michael Meacher wrote in 2010 about the composition of the PLP at that time.

    “Out of the 258 members, there is perhaps a militant Blairite core of up to 60 who are quite prepared to cause trouble (as was shown over the challenge to Nick Brown as Chief Whip) plus perhaps a similar number with more moderate Blairite sympathies, still representing nearly half the PLP. In addition there are perhaps some 80-90 members of the former Brownite faction. Only some 50 members could be described as centre-left. (and Far Left? no mention)

    The chronic right-wing ill-balance within the PLP doesn’t reflect at all the wider membership of the Labour Party throughout the country, particularly now that party opinion is clearly moving left. It reflects the cloning of the PLP by the Blair political machine which used every manipulative device (usually contrary to party rules) to achieve the selection of pro-Blairite candidates for every parliamentary vacancy after 1994. That included telling party officials who are meant to be impartial to drum up support for the preferred candidate, handing over local party membership lists weeks or even months earlier to that candidate, and manipulating the postal votes.”

    On the ground, the right of the party, perhaps represents 20% of membership, in the PLP that figure is probably inverted, this democratic deficit needs to be addressed.

    Michael Meacher made some well considered proposals in 2013 regarding this process. which i post in full as i think they are a useful starting point for discussion…..

    Progress, which favours professionalising the Labour Party, held a surprising seminar today with the above title. It deserves to be discussed since Parliament is packed with lawyers, accountants, businessmen, PR executives, academics, ex-Students Union careerists, and men (the vast majority white) – but extremely few representatives of the working class. Since 57% of people, according to one recent poll, self-label themselves ‘working class’, yet of the 650 MPs little more than 5% come from these origins – virtually none in the Tory parliamentary party and less than 10% in the PLP – class misrepresentation in the seat of government is quite an issue which should be addressed. Labour has tried to counter the paucity of women by all-women shortlists, but what about the far greater paucity of working-class activists?

    If Labour is to take this seriously, 4 main reforms are needed. First, in the nominating process ward parties and affiliated bodies should interview parliamentary candidates face-to-face and not via CVs alone, which extraordinarily was the case till very recently. Second, the panel from the CLP Executive tasked with drawing up the shortlist should include at least one-third women and one-third drawn from trade union representatives. Third, those candidates chosen for the final shortlist, which should normally number 6 to ensure a reasonable range of choice, should similarly be at least one-third women and at least one-third working class, as judged by their current job. Finally, those entitled to attend the final selection conference should include all members within the constituency, both affiliated members as well as fully signed-up party members. Nor is this a particularly novel or radical suggestion as affiliated members already elect the party Leader and the Mayor of London.

    Even this would not entirely eliminate the advantage of those who have well-off parents who can fund them, networks and social contacts who can open doors, and a job which allows them to take time off to canvass and make their presence felt around the constituency. Perhaps one further rule which might assist a level playing-field is a limit, a fairly low limit, on what a person can spend to promote their candidacy, with the deterrent that if they over-spend, they could be disqualified.

    This is not an esoteric or arcane matter. If Labour doesn’t significantly change the composition of the PLP, then it will not regain its core support in the D and E classes who deserted the party in droves at the 2010 election because they felt that Labour no longer represented them. But it would be equally wrong to think that this exercise is simply about getting more working class activists into Parliament. It’s more than that. It’s about training tomorrow’s leaders from all sections of society and making sure they have an equal chance of achieving the role of MPin a manner that does credit both to their party and to their country.

  9. buttley says:

    the title of the seminar he was referring to “how to make Parliament more like Britain?”

  10. NickT says:

    “the membership is finally going to foist some proper reform on the party”

    So, are we talking about moving the deck-chairs on Corbychev’s Titanic, or could something as radical as painting the bunting red be in prospect?

    Neither the Tories nor Labour are able to govern, nor do they have any sort of party unity. Corbyn’s put off paying the Brexit bill – and it’s going to come due and split Labour into pieces in the not so distant future. Whatever emerges from the wreckage of Team Red and Team Blue, it won’t be an appetite for turning Britain into Venezuela, that’s for sure.

  11. Tafia says:

    Anne from the north, did predominantly vote to leave the EU and still hold this position, but there is concern about leaving the single market and jobs

    If ypu took the time and trouble to talk to them, you’d actually find the exact opposite. They’d have quite happily voted to Remain in the EU if we could leave the Single Market.

    It’s the Single Market – especially Freedom of Movement, that was and still is the bedrock of the Leave vote.

    And as for being poorer, most Leavers – including me, expect to be worse off for 5-10 years and expected that before we voted.

    NickT – Neither the Tories nor Labour are able to govern, nor do they have any sort of party unity. Brexit is tearing both parties to pieces (and Plaid and the SNP to a lesser extent). They are all singularly failing to deal with it. In reality, neither Tories nor Labour should have Remainers as part of their front-bench teams anymore – their idealogy is no longer relevant. We are leaving and the politicians running the show should be leavers. The party that wins GE2022 will be the one that re-adjusts the fastest.

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