3 things we learned from the inquiry into why Labour lost

Labour did not lose the election because it was considered 'Tory-lite'


1) Labour did not lose because it was considered ‘Tory-lite’

On austerity, Labour did not lose because it was ‘Tory-lite’, rather it lost because the voting public believed a Labour government would not live within the country’s means. This is invariably a hard pill to swallow, but there it is. As John Cruddas, chair of the report, writes on Labour List today: “58 per cent agree that, ‘we must live within our means so cutting the deficit is the top priority’. Just 16 per cent disagree. Almost all Tories and a majority of Lib Dems and Ukip voters agree.

“Amongst working class C2DE voters 54 per cent agree and 15 per cent disagree. Labour voters are evenly divided; 32 per cent agree compared to 34 per cent who disagree.”

The anti-austerity thesis is, I think, a persuasive one; the problem is that the Labour party lost that argument in the previous parliament. Simply shouting the same thing louder this time around will not, I suspect, produce a different result. Why would it?

2) The idea of a grand anti-austerity alliance with the Scottish National Party is a fantasy

As Cruddas puts it, “The idea of an anti-austerity alliance with the SNP is unacceptable to a majority of English and Welsh voters.” According to the research, a majority (60 per cent) agreed that they ‘would be very concerned if the SNP were ever in government’. This compared to 15 per cent who disagreed. A majority of Conservative, Lib Dem and Ukip voters agreed where almost half (40 per cent) of Labour voters also thought so.

And anyway, the argument that Scotland sits significantly to the left of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is not a convincing one. UKIP policies to cut overseas aid, reduce immigration and barrel down on benefits claimants are backed by a majority of Scots, according to a massive survey commissioned last year by Dundee University. Meanwhile according to the recent British Social Attitudes Survey, a third (36.4 percent) of voters in England and Wales wanted tax and spending to rise, compared with 43.8 per cent of Scots – a 7 percent difference, but hardly a yawning chasm.

3) There is still hope

Don’t despair, for there is a good deal of encouragement to take from the inquiry. There was strong majority support for the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor (43 per cent to 22 per cent), and a majority (60 per cent) agreed that ‘the economic system in this country unfairly favours powerful interests’. Among Labour voters this figure rose to 73 per cent and amongst UKIP voters to 78 per cent.


In sum, then, there is ample scope for radicalism from Labour; but only if the party first wins back trust on the economy. Voters are largely with the left in viewing the current state of Britain as unfair and unequal; however but in order to see inequities tackled they want to see some evidence that Labour can run a tight ship economically. That doesn’t sound like a particularly unreasonable demand.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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47 Responses to “3 things we learned from the inquiry into why Labour lost”

  1. Michael Carey

    No critical engagement at all with the many debilitating flaws in the research design here?

  2. Tom_Webster

    No attention paid to the impact of the scare tactics of the press in demonising the prospect of a working relationship between SNP and Labour by the press, a coalition that was ruled out by Nicola Sturgeon a full week before Miliband ruled it out? No attention paid to the critical attention paid to Labour spending when in power with the implicit and inaccurate thesis that this caused the recession while the same press failed to apply the same analysis to the failure of the coalition to reduce the deficit and to oversee a huge growth in absolute and relative poverty? The section supposedly analysing Scotland is slightly absurd. The argument has been more about how far SNP social and economic policies have been or have become further to the left than those of Labour. The survey was taken in the middle of the build up to the European election when the BBC basically followed David Coburn round, offering him a rostrum without providing any critical engagement (without offering a single opportunity to the Green candidate who, nonetheless, came close to beating him). Plus the comparison between England and Scotland is relating to different issues, not comparing like with like.

    Finally, it is heartening to see the suggested support for a more redistributive economic policy in the public and Labour members. It would be more heartening to see support for such policies expressed by the opposition at Westminster.

  3. George West

    Wow, James. The utter lack of analysis here is shocking. Read Seymour’s thoughts -http://www.leninology.co.uk/2015/08/polls-do-not-win-political-arguments.html

  4. stevep

    “Labour lost because the voting public believed a Labour government would not live within the country`s means.”
    The vast majority have no idea as to what those means are. The media had no interest In enlightening them either, except for scaremongering and simple household economics.

    Britain is a wealthy country. It`s just that the cake is not evenly sliced. Or anywhere near evenly.

    There`s plenty of figures out there that tell the tale, LLoyd`s Bank`s recent analysis suggested that the UK`s richest 20% have one hundred times the wealth of the poorest 20%. In fact if the combined household wealth was evenly distributed, each family in Britain would have an annual income in excess of £326,000.
    That one didn`t sneak out before the election, did it.

    The electorate as a whole don`t understand the scale of inequality in the UK, or understand that change to a more progressive system of taxation could benefit them.
    Labour should get it`s brightest economists and media experts to explain economics and taxation in layman`s terms, just as the Tories have done over the years.

    It needs to get the message across that Britain won`t collapse into the North Sea or your granny`s leg fall off if the wealthy are taxed a good deal more.
    In fact, once the electorate realise they would be a good deal better off, they might just vote for a Party that proposes such a measure.

  5. Jennifer Hornsby

    Perhaps a fourth thing learnt is that a campaign should aim to disabuse people of their false beliefs rather than to panders to their opinions as revealed in opinion polls / focus groups. Labour won’t be trusted on the economy so long as the assumption that what goes for households goes for governments isn’t challenged. More generally: progressive change has never been built on simple acceptance of what right-wing politicians have encouraged people to find acceptable.

  6. leftfootfwd

    Thanks. When we want analysis on how to win elections we’ll be sure to listen to a Trotskyist.

  7. Jacko

    Translation: voters who don’t want socialism are either evil or ill-informed. We can’t do anything avout the evil ones (that’s anybody with money, no matter how acquired) but for everyone else we need to speak slowly and patiently, in simple words, as you would with a rather dim child, until they understand the simple truth that socialism is only for their own good.

  8. charlie bley

    The Cruddas Reseach is not impressive. It seems the survey questions weren’t as neutral as they could have been and I would question how many respondents differentiated between the deficit and the debt. I suspect that few faced with a survey question have time to appreciate that deficits and debts are a feature of many economies – the issue being the purpose and size of these deficits and debts, NOT their existence. Even if we put aside these concerns there is still a huge leap in the interpretation of the research findings. As it happens, I (and a good few respected international economists) believe the deficit should be reduced BUT that this could be achieved by increasing tax revenues by collecting a greater proportion of tax and increasing tax rates for the highest earners; by reducing spending on defence; by investing in the economy in such a way that we increase the number of full time well paid jobs so increasing consumption and tax revenues and reducing the human and economic waste that is unemployment, casual working and low pay (etc). In other words, it is entirely possible to be in favour of cutting the deficit AND opposed to the Tories austerity polices. If the Cruddas research persists in assuming that tackling the deficit can only be achieved by the kind of austerity politics offered by the Tories and that those who oppose austerity measures are deficit deniers the Labour Party really is dead. Surely, Labour needs an analysis and a vision that goes further than a fairly modest (and obvious) piece of polling and a conclusion that, broadly, current economic policy is more or less inevitable? If the Labour Party can’t conceive an economic strategy that is different to the increasingly failing austerity politics and a strategy that will create a stronger, fairer and better economy for all then it will fail to re capture those who have deserted Labour.

  9. stevep


  10. I'm very cross about this.

    Despite what ‘working class C2DE voters’ think labour lost the election because its policies didn’t match the aspirations of the electorate, Ed Milliband was and remains a liability and Ed Balls alienated the vast majority of voters with his childlike gesturing while sat on the Labour front bench. Labour will lose again; and in even more dramatic fashion, if Jeremy Corbyn is elected leader.

  11. Selohesra

    In the world scheme of things the British poor are not really that hard up at all – much better than most in the third world. I wonder if this popular support for redistribution of wealth extends to the British poor transferring benefits to Sudan etc or whether the support is conditional on the recipients of the wealth transfer being themselves.

  12. Lewis Mughal

    This poll is farcical! The questions were so much of the leading kind that people were almost ushered into providing the desired response.

  13. Kevin Lomax

    But therein hangs the issue. Socially radical voters willing the ends but not the means to the end. People rail against inequality but also oppose trade Unions and the collective bargaining that increased the wage share of the national income to over 60% by 1979. Look what has happened since. Collective bargaining made effectively illegal, real wages fall, profits rise to taking 50% of GDP. Throw in the rise in the share of the NATION’S income going to the top 1% and we have the basis of the problem. Unlocking it needs government action. Free markets have no dynamic and no will to alter the poor distribution. Mention government action in the form of tax e.g. mansion tax and the scream is one of capping aspiration. Mention Robin Hood tax and the accusation is of Communism. Labour is squashed between doing the right thing and making the case for actions to tackle income and wealth inequality BUT losing OR doing the wrong thing and appeasing balanced or surplus budgeting in which case essential services delivering public and merit goods are obliterated. Apocalyptic I feel. Make no debate however, Labour isn’t the problem for 90% of working households.That accolade falls fairly and squarely on unfettered free market Capitalism and its agents in Britain ;the Tories.

  14. stevep

    Nicely put.

  15. AlwaysIntegrity

    Shoot the messenger!

  16. CHRIS215

    Well said Jennifer. What is required is some Leadership capable of engineering and maintaining a dialogue with ordinary citizens. Love him or hate him, Corbyn is Leading.

  17. stevep

    Winning elections is only half the battle. If you have won on a right wing ticket and aspire to deliver left-of-centre policies, you have deceived the electorate. They will remember, as New Labour found out.
    The Labour movement is generally broad and inclusive. Left-wing views are important to keep a balance, lest we drift further to the right in search of an illusory formula for election victory.
    Don`t forget, Karl Marx was voted the greatest thinker of the last millennium.


    Most people will vote for what is in their economic interest. The Scots voted SNP thinking they can be shielded but that aint going to happen. Labour would still have made cuts more slowly but with the same end result. Corbyn and the SNP if in power would still make the cuts just like the Greeks. Corbyn and the SNP are not and have no intention of ditching capitalism so they can say what they want from the sidelines. Anyone who embraces capitalism has to balance the books. When the faceless international lenders lend they want it paid back with interest. So really it does not matter if the Tories are in unless you want to smash capitalism and start over.

  19. Gerry

    The presentation of this feedback is selective. The lead questions are not the ones answered. On the Tory-lite issue, apart from being a dubious concept, the statistics are focused upon ‘living within our means’ [whatever that is, whose means?]. We can all agree with that ‘kitchen economics’ concept and still avoid being a ‘tory clone’. No serious response would suggest anyone can live beyond their means. More gibberish from credulous ‘westminster types’. Dishonesty in analysis will firmly nail you into your coffin.

  20. AlanGiles

    Cruddas knows how to ask questions to elicit the answer he wants.

    I am afraid I have never been as convinced of his great intellect as he seems to be.

  21. Jennifer Hornsby

    And something we learnt from the breakdown of voters in 2015..
    It helps Corbyn’s case to note that the UK electorate (like everyone else) is aging, and that Corbyn will attract young voters who haven’t previously turned out. Consider these 2015 figures:

    Age Cons Lead % of voters who
    overLabour turned out
    18-24 -2 44%
    25-34 4 55%
    35-44 4 66%
    45-54 6 69%
    55-64 10 73%
    65+ 13 76%

  22. David Davies

    It DID lose my vote because it is the `same. but slower’ party of tory posh boys and girls.

  23. Ian

    “1) Labour did not lose because it was considered ‘Tory-lite’”

    Yes it did, largely.

    “2) The idea of a grand anti-austerity alliance with the Scottish National Party is a fantasy.”

    No it isn’t. Labour just don’t want to try it, largely because it’s infested with neoliberals like this author.

    “3) There is still hope”

    Agreed, but not in the way you think. Certainly Burnham, Kendall and Cooper don’t offer any hope for most.

    How do you write this with a straight face? Do you feel no shame when you write self-serving, spurious, disingenuous arse like this?

    Do none of you at LFF actually believe in what the genuine Labour party stands for? I mean genuine as opposed to the right wing arriviste Blairites et al?

  24. RoyB

    This is a very poorly designed piece of “research” which should shame Jon Cruddas. The question of austerity as the road to deficit reduction is not put, so it is not possible to support the view that the electorate is pro-austerity. It is quite possible that the electorate wants to see the deficit reduced but by growth not austerity. The question as put is simply worthless.

  25. RB2

    Very interesting.

    Not of course the article or the research, the conclusions
    of which are obvious to any non-tribal or wilfully blind observer*, but the
    response in these comments.

    Have you guys seen the episode of Father Ted where Ted is
    using a small plastic cow to explain to Father Dougal the difference between ‘small’
    and ‘far away’? Well someone needs to explain the difference between ‘the way
    it is’ and ‘the way I want it to be’ to the Labour party. Otherwise it will be
    finished as a political force; I think that this would be a shame, though many

    *Witness the stunning finding that ’Labour did
    not lose because it was considered Tory-lite’ – no of course it f#ck1ng didn’t,
    it lost because it was considered Labour. Sorry people, this idea makes no

  26. Norfolk29

    Are you suggesting that Labour have still not learned that the leader must be seen as a possible PrimeMinister? Neil Kinnock and Ed Milliband both failed this test so the lesson should be learned well.
    What about the lesson that the majority of the voting population should be catered for sufficiently to encourage them to consider voting Labour. All the competency in the world is useless if the people do not believe in your message. Enough of the simplicities, John, and get down to the business of winning.

  27. SimonB

    Are you sure you’re not still fighting the last election?

  28. Will Douglas-Mann

    Cruddas research simply shows the voters didn’t like Labours policies, it doesn’t mean that the policies were ” wrong” just that a very bad job was made of selling them. Now is the wrong time to try and adopt the “Tory Light” policies some advocate, in two years time this government may well be unpopular if there is a down turn with rising unemployment. Deficit spending may well be seen as a good policy by the voters long before 2020.

  29. Booksurfer

    One major reason the Tories won is simply not addressed by the research – austerity has fallen heavily on particular social groups, whereas others have benefitted from low interest rates, high property prices, and falling real wages. Osborne has been careful to keep the core conservative vote insulated from the effects of austerity, while the press and Tory propaganda highlighted political issues which effectively split the opposition into competing factions.

  30. Namaa Faisal AL Mahdi

    I was with a group of Labour activists giving out NHS leaflets on Chiswick High Road, a Tory Cllr approached us, asked for one of our leaflets, he looked through it, returned saying we are the same, just on different sides. Labour wasn’t just Tory Lite, it was Tory Like to the point that even Tories couldn’t see the difference

  31. mightymark

    Enough already with the “austerity” thing. Its has become a slogan and obscures more than it enlightens. We should concentrate on different views on the deficit and whether, and how, to deal with it. You can do what Corbyn does – ignore it and eventually pay the price Greece is now paying (i.e. even more cuts). You can also use the excuse of the deficit to pursue the ideological goal of cutting the state – step forward Mr Osborne.

    OR you can accept that the deficit needs to be dealt with and spending put on a sustainable footing. It isn’t a “happy medium ” or “Goldilocks option”. Its just responsible politics and what the electorate expects.

  32. RB2

    absolutely right on the point re slogans. British politics has a tendency to get obsessed with single words or phrases and repeat them until they lose any meaning they once possessed. (remember ‘double whammy’?)

    People shouldn’t talk about ‘austerity’, but should identify specific spending policies or levels of public spending they support or oppose.

    Another good word to lose would be ‘neoliberalism’, which just sounds like a first year undergraduate trying to be clever.

  33. mightymark

    The last point is interesting.There is an interesting essay to be written as to exactly when (where?) “neo-liberalism” used as an insult by the left (and first year undergraduates who should know better!) replaced “neo-conservatism”

  34. jacko

    But that is how you think, isn’t it?

  35. David Morton

    Whilst interesting no doubt, the research methodology does seem to be very poor. And does the evidence really allow the conclusion to be drawn that the public accepts the necessity for ‘austerity’? They want the deficit to be brought down, but that’s not the same thing is it.

  36. Ross Folcard

    Surely if you use the ‘common sense’ term of ‘living within one’s means’ you are bound to get a majority in favour. A state’s finances are not the same as personal budgeting though and the chances of getting the great British public to think with any degree of sophistication are minimal. This survey seems flawed in that regard.
    Labour lost because it allowed the Tories to tell a pack of lies about the economy to an ignorant electorate. Labour should have challenged the Tories on economics every step of the way. I believe that the mistake the leadership candidates are making (except Corbyn) is to try another shot at the election just past, and to use the same strategy of ‘austerity-lite’. They are following the Tories lead yet again.

  37. mightymark

    Are you sure he wasn’t just humouring you?

  38. mightymark

    “in two years time this government may well be unpopular if there is a down turn with rising unemployment”

    Or it may well be popular if there is an upturn with falling unemployment – and if so, who in their right minds would want to risk a Corbyn led Labour Government?

  39. mightymark

    The press have used scare tactics in virtually every election since 1945 and earlier if you go back that far. It hasn’t stopped Labour ruling for 31 of the past 70 years, and it could have been 36 (i.e. a majority of the era) had the talks with the Lib Dems gone differently after the 2010 election. The “press scare” thing is just a left wing comfort blanket. Labour can and does win when it appeals to the majority of the British people. Those who think it will manage that with Corbyn as leader are simply deluding themselves. The more honest of his supporters of course don’t delude themselves in that way accepting that the chances of his wining are non existent and admitting that they prefer ideological purity to power.

  40. Will Douglas-Mann

    If that’s the case then I wouldn’t be that bothered either if the Tory’s get back in, but I fear the worst.

  41. Michael Carey

    Yep because if a Trotskyist points out obvious flaws in shitty research it makes them disappear, good call LFF, you’re totally winning at ‘evidence-based analysis’.

  42. Matthew Blott

    It chimes with my experience speaking to voters.

  43. Paul Bunting

    The idea that Labour was responsible for the deficit and therefore is not trusted by voters is a gross Tory lie. The Deficit was caused by the Banking crash and the necessary bailout of the Banks which was inescapable because letting the Banks go to the wall would have lost all their customers’ current and savings account monies and their access to their money at the ATM “holes in the wall”. The last Labour Prime Minister was widely praised throughout Europe for his handling of the Banking crash. There was cross party support for the recapitalization of the Banks and I have a letter from Philip Hammond from when the Tories were the opposition saying that the Conservatives had supported the recapitalization of the Banks. The deficit grew to more than twice the recapitalization cost because of the additional social security payments to the 3 million workers laid off as a result of their employers no longer being able to get credit from the banks. Up to the time of the crash, the Labour Government had in fact reduced the public deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product. So the idea that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy is ridiculous when Cameron and Osborne have achieved the largest ever negative Trade Deficit (-£97.9bn) because they thought all they had to do was to shrink the Public Sector when this has no effect at all on the Trade Deficit and when they ought to have concentrated on reindustrializing the Private Sector and got it exporting like mad. Even the Director General of the Confederation of British Industries has criticised this Trade Deficit and opined that the Government is travelling in the wrong direction. So it is not necessary to accept any Tory criticism of Labour when one can award the Conservatives 0/10 for economics.

  44. Colin Lawson

    You forgot to mention that during the General Election, and even now, during the party leadership campaign, little effort has been made by Labour party leaders to counter the barrage of lies and false statistics from the Tories and their friends in the media. In fact it appears that those on the right of the party actually believe that Labour caused the financial crisis and that austerity targeted at the poorest is the appropriate response. And then they wonder why the rank and file flock to Corbyn. I despair. http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=4137

  45. madasafish

    Having read the comments, I am amazed by the depth of knowledge of the subjet most readers have, So deep and broad is their knowledge they can dismiss written research with their own views . Views which have neither been researched nor written down.

    “One more heave” strategies tend not to work..Obviously many commentators here disagree.

  46. Robert

    We did not need labour, we had the Tories, they were offering us austerity and labour did not even speak about it at conference, ha,ha,ha,ha, the leader forgot.. When we needed to protect the real people in poverty from the so called bedroom tax, labour went missing and paired up with Tories so they could go off drinking or what ever.

    When labour were in trouble in Scotland they joined the Tories to get a no vote the most hated group of politicians in Scotland and Brown joined them and now the Tories have one and labour have one MP’s that is.

    Labour lost the last election because they were unelectable and people trusted the Tories rather then a labour party which had so very little to offer, except to agree with caps.and so called bedroom tax, and caps on wages of course.

  47. rex

    There is a way to raise enough money for the UK to have it all and still encourage new businesses and without punishing existing businesses. I have sent the plan to our so called leaders of the labour party since April 2014 but no reply not even to say what a load of rubbish, is there any way of getting a reply?

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