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

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.

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