Labour's anti-austerity message cost it the general election, the party's MP leading a post-mortem into its defeat has warned.
Against a feverish mood among sections of the party at the rise of anti-austerity candidate Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP Jon Cruddas said: "The first hard truth is that the Tories didn’t win despite austerity, they won because of it."
Mr Cruddas, the coordinator of the party’s 2015 manifesto, who is seen as being in touch with grassroots supporters, has led an independent review into its failure. However some left-wing commentators have questioned the polling underpinning the report.
Its survey found that 58% of voters agreed cutting the deficit was the "top priority", with just 16% disagreeing.
Even among Labour voters, 32% agreed with the importance of the deficit, with 34% disagreeing. Almost all Tories and a majority of Lib Dems and Ukip voters agree.
The conclusions he draws are clear: the public thinks "anti-austerity is a vote loser" and the Tories are "trusted to manage the country's finances, Labour is not".
However, Guardian columnist Owen Jones has led the criticism of the phrasing of the question, which asked: "We must live within our means, so cutting the deficit is the top priority.”
Yeah, Labour needs a thorough debate about its future. But on the basis of almost farcically leading pollster questions? I don't think so.— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) August 5, 2015
I can play that game too. "Do you think public services need more resources?" "Should rich people pay a fair amount of tax?" And so on.— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) August 5, 2015
And so too Labour MP Diane Abbot, a Corbyn supporter.
Anti-austerity unpopular with voters. Not true. This poll did not ask votes about austerity. http://t.co/WaTVz7gEQG— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) August 5, 2015
In any case, writing for the LabourList website, Mr Cruddas says:
"The first hard truth is that the Tories didn’t win despite austerity, they won because of it. Voters did not reject Labour because they saw it as austerity lite. Voters rejected Labour because they perceived the Party as anti-austerity lite.
"The Tories won because voters believed they will cut the deficit, even though a majority understand that the economic system is unfair. The Tories message on the deficit was clear, Labour’s was not. The Tories are trusted to manage the country’s finances, Labour is not.
"On the basis of the data, the public appear to think anti-austerity is a vote loser – we cannot ignore that. We can seek to change the views of the public, but it’s best not to ignore them."
His findings come as Mr Corbyn's leadership bid, on a ticket that pledges to reverse cuts and a swathe of re-nationalisation, has prompted a huge outpouring of support.
A rally in North London on Monday underlined what is dubbed "Corbyn-mania" as the veteran left-winger was forced to deliver an address from atop of fire engine in the street as the main hall was sold out.
Critics warn he is only appealing to Labour's core vote, however disenchanted, and as leader he would would discourage Tory floating voters from switching to Labour - essential to win in the 2020 general election.
Some 60% did agree the economy unfairly favours powerful interests and 43% said they would vote for a party that would redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.
But Mr Cruddas said: "The message I take from our poll findings is that the electorate in England and Wales is both economically radical and fiscally conservative. But first comes fiscal responsibility, then economic reform."
He went on that Labour's crushing defeat in Scotland to the anti-austerity message of the SNP "does not set a precedent for its leftward shift in England".
The Dagenham and Rainham MP said: "The SNP's anti-austerity politics simply increased the risk that Labour represented to English voters.
“The response to the SNP amongst Welsh and English voters reflects the increasingly federal nature of the UK, and the growing political salience of a politics of identity and belonging.”