5 things to take from the IPPR’s ‘learning the lessons from Labour’s defeat’ report

Everything you've been told about why Labour lost the election is wrong

 

Labour was probably heading for disaster whatever it said or did in the last parliament

Considering how long it took for the Conservatives to recover their image of economic competence after taking Britain out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 (costing the UK £3.4 billion in the process) it was always going to be a big ask for Ed Miliband to win back power for Labour after the 2008 crash. Or more accurately, it was always going to be difficult to win power once Labour allowed itself to be tarnished with the big spender tag. As the report puts it:

“The economic crash in 2007/08 appears to have done for Labour what the exchange rate mechanism crisis did for the Conservatives more than 20 years earlier: it fundamentally altered the public perception of which party could be trusted on the economy. Given how long it took the Conservatives to recover a lead, it must be questionable whether Labour could have undone this shock to its ratings between 2010 and 2015.”

This, curiously, also resulted in the public blaming Labour for poor economic performance under the coalition; and perversely giving credit to the coalition when things went well. The argument made by the coalition that it was ‘cleaning up the mess left by Labour’ evidently struck a chord.

Ed Miliband was probably unelectable

None of us likes to say this as it seems so grossly unfair, but the public simply didn’t warm to Ed Miliband. Short of a personality transplant, it seems unlikely they would have been won over, either. As I said, grossly unfair. But here is how the report puts it:

“…by the three-and-a-half-week mark of the general election campaign, Miliband was seen as having a more successful campaign than Cameron, perhaps against low expectations. This rating of who ‘performed best in the campaign’ switched in Cameron’s favour shortly before the election, as figure 2 shows. In neither case was this reflected in like/dislike ratings for the leaders.”

However well Miliband did in the short campaign it made no overall difference – the public simply didn’t warm to him.

Labour did not lose because it was too left-wing – but nor would moving further left necessarily have helped

This probably goes against almost everything you’ve heard since the election, but members of the public were more likely to vote for Labour in 2015 when they thought the party was more left-wing:

“Generally, our data shows that people were more likely to vote Labour in 2015 when they thought the party was more left-wing, and less likely to vote Labour when they thought it was centrist…This suggests there is very little to the argument that Labour was too left-wing to attract voters. At the same time there is not much to support the argument that Labour was not left-wing enough.”

Fear of the SNP was a red herring

The researchers found ‘little robust evidence’ that fear of the SNP having a role in government resulted in gains for the Conservatives from Ukip or in vote losses for Labour from former Lib Dems.

“We find much clearer and more robust evidence that perceptions that there was going to be a hung parliament enhanced votes for ‘challenger parties’ overall: Ukip, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the Lib Dems and the SNP. This might have cost Labour votes, but not in the ways people may assume.”

Former Lib Dem voters who switched to Labour let the Tories in

Labour actually gained support in the 2015 election. It’s vote share in England increased by 3.6 per cent while the Conservatives increased their vote share in England by 1.4 per cent. And yet despite this Labour saw a net gain in seat of just 15 to a net gain of 21 for the Conservative. So what happened?

Well first of all, Labour won a large number of former Lib Dem voters – in fact Labour won the proportion of former Lib-Dems as the Conservatives, Greens and Ukip put together. However where Labour made gains from the Lib Dems it often let the Tories in:

“In Lib-Dem seats, two major factors were at play. First, the Conservatives were the second party in two-thirds of Lib-Dem seats, and these were the most vulnerable. Second, and relatedly, Labour’s gains in taking votes away from the Lib Dems helped secure Conservative victories against the Lib Dems in these vulnerable seats.”

And here is the killer line: “That is to say, it was Labour’s vote gains that helped to deprive Labour of an overall majority or largest party status.”

 

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

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