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The Public Are Telling Us Something - Labour Must Listen and Act if We Want to Win Back Their Trust

31/08/2015 21:13 BST | Updated 31/08/2016 10:59 BST

One of the many conversations I remember from the General Election campaign was on a doorstep in Swindon. It was with a father and son - two self-employed decorators covered in paint and plaster from a hard day's work. We had a long and difficult discussion.

"I used to vote for you lot," said the dad. "Not anymore".

We talked through their frustrations about a range of different issues: low pay, a lack of affordable housing, few decent apprenticeships - all issues Labour had policies on. But they simply didn't believe we were the answer.

After 15 minutes we both had to move on. They were voting Ukip.

Many Labour activists will have similar stories to tell from doorsteps across the country. Ukip may only have retained a single seat on 7 May, but they cost Labour many constituencies that we needed to win and contributed to our defeat in several communities we never expected to lose.

That's why Andy Burnham asked me to look into how Labour can reconnect with those who have left us for Ukip. Over recent weeks I've travelled to Ukip hotspots across the country and received hundreds of submissions from party supporters and members of the public to my consultation. I have now published my initial findings.

The rise in Ukip's support is effectively serving as a barometer for Labour's shortcomings. Our party has lost our connection with millions of people. Too many no longer trust us, are unsure about what Labour stands for and do not believe we are on their side.

There were three broad trends in how this damaged Labour's prospects across England and Wales.

First, Ukip challenged us in our traditional heartlands. Some 63 of the 100 seats where Ukip made their greatest inroads were Labour constituencies. In seats like Heywood & Middleton, Dagenham & Rainham and Hartlepool they won swings as great as 30%. This helped them achieve 44 second place results in Labour seats - including many we have represented for generations.

Second, Ukip blocked Labour from making progress in key marginal battlegrounds. There was a Ukip swing of 10% or greater in more than a third of the 106 key marginals Labour was targeting in order to form a government. Even small gains in particular wards were enough to make the difference in crucial contests like Croydon Central.

Third, UKIP entrenched Labour's southern discomfort and forced us into retreat in many communities we need to win back to form a majority government. In extreme cases they succeeded in pushing us into third place in constituencies that had Labour MPs as recently as 2010. In places like Basildon and Sittingbourne & Sheppey, Labour is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Altogether, it shows why any idea that Ukip posed no threat to Labour or that they were a greater problem for the Conservatives was complacent and misguided. Nigel Farage has not only made good on his promise to park Ukip's tanks on Labour's lawn - he has driven them through the front door and crashed them into our living room.

There are no quick fixes or silver bullet solutions that will reconnect Labour with the people we have lost. We need to look at what story we want to tell, how we express our values through policy, and how we do our politics. These points are equally relevant to the important task of regaining the trust of swing voters who supported the Conservatives.

More than half of people surveyed do not think it is clear what Labour stands for - a view held by as many as three out every four Ukip voters. Labour needs to develop a positive narrative about who we are as a party, what we are about, and the kind of country we aspire to build.

We need to offer voters reassurance on issues like work and immigration. Otherwise we risk not winning a hearing for anything else we have to say. The same can be said of economic trust. The TUC's research has shown that Ukip supporters shared the same fears as other voters that Labour would spend too much.

Labour also needs to show how we will extend opportunity to parts of Britain that feel forgotten. This is especially relevant to the coastal communities that often provide a cocktail of the factors fuelling support for Ukip - including higher proportions of older and blue collar voters left behind by economic change.

And we need to tackle Ukip on the ground. We must revitalise our constituency parties and give Labour campaigners the capacity, confidence and flexibility to effectively respond to the issues on their doorsteps and rebuild trust at a local level.

Overall, I hope my findings will serve as a useful starting point for a wider debate across our movement about how we can overcome Ukip's pessimistic brand of politics and return Labour to government.

The public are telling us something. Our duty is not only to show that we are listening, but to act. If Labour cannot produce a vision for our country's future that is more attractive, credible and optimistic than that offered by Nigel Farage, then we won't defeat David Cameron or whoever comes after him.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central. You can read his 'Reconnecting Labour' report in full here: https://t.co/jLCKHKwOrH