How Labour prevented a Tory majority

Labour's election defeat was severe. But incumbency, the length of the campaign, and a handful of paid organisers made the difference between a Tory majority and a hung parliament.

Our guest writer is Douglas Alexander, Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South

The Labour Party must learn from history and from its mistakes before it can move on. I gave a presentation on the 2010 General Election campaign at the Party conference last week, which aimed to highlight some of the key organisational lessons Labour must learn from our defeat in May.

Importantly, we must first recognise and accept the scale of our defeat. We lost 91 seats at the election, and suffered a national swing away from us of 6.5 per cent. Outside of our heartlands we were comprehensively rejected, holding only 10 seats out of 197 in the Southern regions in England. But the erosion in our support was not confined to these voters. Even where we retained seats in our heartlands we saw Labour majorities slashed.

However, amidst all the enveloping darkness there were also some points of light. Labour out-performed the national swing in Scotland – where there is still a strong cultural antipathy towards the Tories and a weak and discredited SNP government – and in London, where we benefited from the strength and the return of the BME vote in addition specific organisational factors.

While Labour began this campaign against the odds, after thirteen years in government, against a backdrop of difficult political circumstances and under challenging staff and funding constraints, we fought a campaign that denied the Conservatives the majority to which they felt entitled.

A big part of the answer to this paradox lies in the fact that effective organisation meant our share of the seats comfortably exceeded our share of the vote and while there is no single blueprint for effective campaigning there are lessons we must learn and adapt.

Despite even the expenses scandal, incumbency matters. In seats where our candidate was the Labour MP re-standing for the area the average swing away from Labour was two per cent lower than in seats where we did not have an incumbent MP.

Second is the strong correlation between local election results and electoral performance at the general election. Where we were less than five per cent behind our main opponent within the constituency boundaries at the last set of local elections, we went on to win 65 per cent of those Parliamentary seats.

The significance of the long campaign too must be accounted for. Between January and May this year, party members had spoken to 3.5 million voters on the doorstep and on the phone. In the top 100 seats for Voter ID, the average swing away from Labour was nearly two per cent lower than national average while in our top 10 seats for voter ID there was actually a swing towards Labour. If the long campaign matters in building relationships, the short campaign matters in maintaining momentum. In the final weeks of the campaign, our activists spoke to over 500,000 voters.

Given that 37 per cent of the electorate only made up their mind in the last week of the campaign and 15 per cent of those remained undecided until the final 24 hours it was those undecided voters that we managed to reach with our message in the final days that helped to prevent a Conservative majority.

Finally, the general election has given us statistical evidence about the enduring importance of paid organisers. In battleground seats where we had a paid organiser, there was a 2.73 per cent reduction in swing away from Labour. In seat after seat this was the difference between victory and defeat.

Our activist base is our strongest foundation on which to build for future which is why the Labour Party have launched Project Game Plan, to promote investment in membership training and sustained campaigning. Whilst the result in May was not what we hoped, the fact that we held so many of our most marginal seats and actually made gains is testament to our organisational capability and we can take great heart from a central insight of this campaign: that committed and engaged volunteers, campaigners and candidates still hold the key to victory.

50 Responses to “How Labour prevented a Tory majority”

  1. Claire Hazelgrove

    Worth a read (& check out the presentation!) 'How Labour prevented a Tory majority' – @DAlexanderMP: //bit.ly/9vuZDw

  2. Tim Montgomerie

    Interesting piece from @DAlexanderMP on how Labour prevented a Tory majority //j.mp/cGWeoZ

  3. Vijay Singh Riyait

    RT @TimMontgomerie: Interesting piece from @DAlexanderMP on how Labour prevented a Tory majority //j.mp/cGWeoZ

  4. Simon Cooke

    RT @TimMontgomerie: Interesting piece from @DAlexanderMP on how Labour prevented a Tory majority //j.mp/cGWeoZ

  5. Indy Johar

    RT @TimMontgomerie: Interesting piece from @DAlexanderMP on how Labour prevented a Tory majority //j.mp/cGWeoZ

  6. Tweet4Labour

    RT @leftfootfwd: How Labour prevented a Tory majority //bit.ly/9vuZDw interesting article from @DAlexanderMP with some excellent stats

  7. yorkierosie

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  8. A

    RT @TimMontgomerie: Interesting piece from @DAlexanderMP on how Labour prevented a Tory majority //j.mp/cGWeoZ

  9. Ruth Hammond

    RT @Tweet4Labour: RT @leftfootfwd: How Labour prevented a Tory majority //bit.ly/9vuZDw interesting article from @DAlexanderMP with …

  10. Praguetory

    Scare-mongering is how you kept your majority.

  11. torieboy

    How Labour prevented a Tory majority, by Douglas Alexander.
    OR as Baroness Warsi say’s
    LABOUR ELECTORAL FRAUD COST TORIES THE ELECTION.
    yes that’s more like it.

  12. John Nor

    RT @leftfootfwd: How Labour prevented a Tory majority, analysis by election coordinator @DAlexanderMP: //bit.ly/cGWeoZ

  13. Andy Furlong

    RT @leftfootfwd: How Labour prevented a Tory majority, analysis by election coordinator @DAlexanderMP: //bit.ly/cGWeoZ

  14. Cllr. Niall Kelly

    RT @leftfootfwd: How Labour prevented a Tory majority, analysis by election coordinator @DAlexanderMP: //bit.ly/cGWeoZ

  15. Marcus A. Roberts

    Today's must read: @leftfootfwd: How Labour prevented a Tory majority, analysis by election coordinator @DAlexanderMP: //bit.ly/cGWeoZ

  16. Jessica Asato

    Essential reading from @DAlexanderMP on importance of paid organisers, grassroots campaigning, incumbency in elex 2010 //bit.ly/alxLRu

  17. Adam White

    RT @Jessica_Asato Essential reading from @DAlexanderMP on importance of paid organisers, grassroots campaigning //bit.ly/alxLRu

  18. jaqi

    RT @leftfootfwd: How Labour prevented a Tory majority, analysis by election coordinator @DAlexanderMP: //bit.ly/cGWeoZ

  19. Guido Fawkes

    Wee Dougie, you do realise you lost?

  20. Chris Horner

    RT @leftfootfwd: How Labour prevented a Tory majority, analysis by election coordinator @DAlexanderMP: //bit.ly/cGWeoZ

  21. Kevin McKeever

    Essential reading from @DAlexanderMP on importance of paid organisers, grassroots campaigning, incumbency in elex 2010 //bit.ly/alxLRu

  22. Chuka Umunna

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  23. Artemis

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  24. Sara Beremenyi

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  25. Lucy Johnson

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  26. John Dempsey

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  27. Karin Christiansen

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  28. Stephen Curran

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  29. David Eyre

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  30. David Taylor

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  31. Shamik Das

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  32. Hazico_Jo

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  33. SadButMadLad

    Sounds like Gordon Brown. Naval gazing and producing loads of statistics, but not actually looking at the real reasons. In this case why Labour lost the election.

  34. Fred

    To day I hear labour is to back the Tories welfare reforms the cuts and one benefit to make people go to work, but at the moment I’ve done everything possible to find a real job, not the so called Jobs the NHS have for people you know take this folder from here, then six hours later go collect that folder, and it’s in the same place you left it.

    But sadly employers do not want the disabled, as one employer said to me, if you can do the same as other people I will employ you? can you? answer is of course no I cannot hence my disability.

    I will not vote Tory or the Tory look alike Labour.

  35. Wyrdtimes

    Take a better look at England. Desperate to get Labour out. Is it any wonder? It’s been one insult to England after another from Labour. Representation for all except the people of England. All we got was the balkanisation of England into regions – no consultation required. You also rammed us further into the European Union – no consultation required. We will remember.

    You starved the people of England funds. Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales all get more funding than the English. How does it work? Scotland – sparse population – special needs more money. London high population density – special needs more money. Just England outside London – the perfect population density to pay them £1600 less per person, per year than if they lived in Scotland.

    On the ground this means English students leaving uni £10000 more in debt than Mr Alexander’s constituents. It means old folk in England having to sell their homes to fund residential care – that would be free in Mr Alexander’s constituency. It means English old folks having to pay (£150 a week) for visiting care that is free in Mr Alexander’s constituency. It means paying £7.20 for prescriptions (£3 in Scotland), paying for eye tests, paying for dental check-ups. Paying hospital parking fees. All free in Mr Alexander’s constituency.

    Plus of course there’s the biggest debt in our history and insults like the Royal Bank of “Scotland”. 70% owned by the English taxpayer. A couple of weeks ago they announced new jobs in Scotland on the same day announced thousands of job losses in England. The same RBS that previously helped fund a hostile takeover of Cadbury.

    That’s English taxes being used to lay off English jobs. We are being robbed. Not a peep from any MP.

    No-one speaks for England and this is clearly why England continues to get the worst deal in the “Union”.

    The Tories are no better of course. So expect more an more people demanding an English parliament. You will not deny us a voice forever.

  36. Chris

    Thanks Wyrdtimes, the community mental health team will be round tomorrow to carry out a psychiatric assessment. Remember to pack an overnight bag in case they do have to section you.

  37. Wyrdtimes

    Chris. Which part of the post do you factually object to? England gets less per person funding – fact. It really hurts people – fact. England has been denied a voice – fact. Support for an English parliament is rising – fact.

    I’m pretty sure the mental health dept is well underfunded round here too btw.

    You keep your bonce ensconced in the sand Chris – I have no desire to ever see Labour back in power.

  38. James Walter Gash

    ENGLAND OUT OF THE EUROPEAN UNION NOW.

  39. SheffieldSteel

    Pathetic response from Chris. When a voter is telling you reasons why Labour has massively lost the English vote you should listen. Keep on dismissing England, (where the majority of the population and seats are), and England will dismiss Labour – leaving us stuck with the loathesome David Cameron until we can find a better alternative.

  40. Red Ed

    Perhaps the real lesson is that postal voting is our friend.

  41. Chris

    @Wyrdtimes

    England makes up 84% of the UK population and English MPs make up 85% of the HoCs – it already is an overwhelmingly English parliament. You bleat about prescription charges, etc but why do the Scots and taffs pay less? Because they elected centre-left Labour governments. You talk of England subsidizing the jocks, yet all our oil wealth is in Scottish waters; if they’d been independent they would be wealthy than the Saudis.

    If by sticking my head in the sand, it blocks out your deluded and demented ravings its almost the right thing to do.

    @SheffieldSteel / sockpuppet

    LOL! Have you ever spoken to a voter? The English Parliament bollocks hasn’t ever been raised by a voter to me and I’ve spoken to over 500 in the last 2-3 months. Immigration was the biggest issue but since the tories started blaming and vilifying single mothers, disabled and jobseekers the scroungers issue has been mentioned a lot – same old nasty party stamp on those at the bottom of the pile really hard to make those slightly better off think they’re getting a good deal.

  42. Aaron Peters

    @WyrdTimes national debt was around 150% of GDP in 1815 (when Britain was, after victory in the Napoleonic wars at its Zenith) that is well over twice where we stand in 2010, and about double what it will be when debt peaks in 2015 at about 70% of GDP.

    Indeed public debt was considerably higher than the current figure for pretty much the entire 19th century when Britain was the world’s only political and military hyperpower and was a leader in both technological innovation and economic dynamism.

    Don’t slag off your own country which you claim to love when you appear to have little grasp of substantive fact – what an absurd comment to throw about.

  43. Wyrdtimes

    Chris

    “You bleat about prescription charges, etc but why do the Scots and taffs pay less?”

    Because they can afford to subsidise them – due to higher levels of funding.

    “You talk of England subsidizing the jocks” Do I? Did I even write that? Reading not a strong point Chris?

    As for the sockpuppet comment I’m sure the moderator will have noticed any duplication in IP addresses. Perhaps the folks in white coats should be paying you a visit.

    @Aaron “what an absurd comment to throw about” Even if it’s not THE highest debt in our history it’s up there isn’t it? The cuts that so far have fallen almost exclusively on England are directly due to Labour incompetence. Brown was at the helm, his I’ve “abolished boom and bust” complacency is what led us down this road.

  44. william

    Has somebody noticed we lost the election,and are irrelevant in most parts of england? Come to think of it, our new leader who wrote the manifesto does not even enjoy the support of the majority of either the PLP or the membership.

  45. Chris

    @Wyrd

    ““You talk of England subsidizing the jocks” Do I? Did I even write that? Reading not a strong point Chris?”

    “You starved the people of England funds. Scotland, Northern Ireland & Wales all get more funding than the English. How does it work?”

    Ermmm, yeh…reading, logic, in fact any higher level thought processes seem to be beyond you, Wyrd.

  46. Mr. Sensible

    ‘Praguetory’ I don’t think we’ll take lessons from Conservatives about scaremongering.

    Talk about ‘Fixing the Finances to Fit the Budget!’

    And, ‘Toryboy’, I notice that Lady Warsi did not want to answer questions about her alegations on the Politics Show today. If she has evidence for such serious alegations, she should tell us what it is, and she should be going to the Electoral Commission and the Police, not the New Statesman.

    I think Dugless Alexander is entirely right; whilst Labour looks over the election and the past, this is something it should not lose sight of.

    The only reason the Tories are in government is because the Lib Dems are propping them up, and they are suffering for it.

  47. Red Ed

    If a bit of dodgy postal voting can keep the tories out of government then I think we should go for it.

    Are you really happy to see millions of families and an economy destroyed for the sake of a few bits of paper and a stamp?

  48. Chris

    @Red Ed

    Yawn, grow up! Which party did the six activists convicted of postal ballot fraud in Bradford West belong to? Warsi’s comments are just smear tactics designed to undermine faith in the electoral system to allow the tories and their LibDem chums to force through the most blatant attempt at gerrymandering since Build Stable Communities.

    In reality, postal ballots have enfranchised god knows how many voters too old, too sick or too disabled to easily exercise their democratic right.

  49. Anon E Mouse

    The reason Labour stopped the Tories is because they cheated in numerous seats by enacting election fraud. Won’t happen next time though…

    Chris – Grow up it’s pathetic.

    You must have been told more times than you can remember now. Remember what people say about the compulsive and obsessive side to your nature and pay heed young man. Pay heed.

  50. Chris

    @Mouse

    LOL, they let you out of the secure unit on day release? Or did you escape again? Its seems despite your extensive treatment your still unable to stop yourself from pathologically lying about Labour. Now, you’ve reached a new low – peddling the unadulterated shit vomited in extra large quantities from Warsi’s gob!!!

    Now go play with your sock puppets.

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