Labour's Election Defeat Inquiry Blames Media, 'Crash Myth', And Winning In 'Wrong Places'

Labour's Election Defeat Report Says Little About Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings during last year's General Election campaigning
Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings during last year's General Election campaigning
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Labour has published its post-mortem into the why it lost the general election - and spelled out why victory in 2020 is an unlikely prospect.

While blaming the “exceptionally vitriolic” media and the Tory “crash myth”, the inquiry acknowledges Ed Miliband and his party failed to win votes “in the centre” and struggled to “convince” on key issues including benefits and immigration.

While also pointing to the rise of the Scottish National Party and the collapse of the Lib Dems, there was limited criticism of Miliband himself, despite even his own MPs considering him an electoral liability.

The 'Learning the Lessons from Defeat' taskforce report, produced by a committee led by former cabinet minister Dame Margaret Beckett, concludes by warning the party needs 94 seats for a majority in four years, which means overturning large majorities held by the Conservatives and the SNP.

Here are its key findings:

Labour targeted 106 “key seats” but only managed to win 10 of them. There was a small swing nationally to Labour - of 1.5% - but not where it mattered. In the 100 most marginal Conservative seats, it only gained only 0.6% while the Conservatives gained 2.5%.

The report says: “We lost the election decisively, not only because our small gain in votes was insufficient, but also because our votes were in ‘the wrong places’. Critically,

in term of converting votes to seats, we gained votes in seats where we are already strong. We went backwards where we needed to go forwards.”

A major part of the problem is Labour being popular among a certain demographic: “In very simple terms we did well: amongst the BAME communities, amongst liberal professionals, among younger people – especially younger women - and amongst the most disadvantaged. We went backwards amongst older voters and stood still elsewhere.”

That this means London is underlined by the fact the swing from Conservative to Labour was 3.4% in the capital, the highest of all 10 regions.

The Beckett report looked at four reasons for Labour's defeat

The “we were too left wing” theory - a criticism levelled repeatedly at “Red Ed - is “not a simple discussion”, the report suggests. These kinds of policies, best represented by forcing energy companies to cut bills, were “expected from Labour”, it says, and natural supporters would have been ”less likely to (vote Labour) had they seen us as less left-wing”. The SNP and Greens rise came despite being “to the left of Labour”.

But there’s a big “but”.

“We did fail to convert voters in demographic groups who are traditionally seen as in the centre, we lost voters to UKIP, failed to win back Liberal Democrat voters in sufficient numbers in the right places, and lost a small number of voters to the Tories,” it said.

That Ed Miliband “wasn’t judged to be as strong a leader as David Cameron” was one of four reasons for the defeat most often cited by pollsters and on the doorstep, it said.

When dwelling on “the leader” briefly, it acknowledged polls consistently rated David Cameron above Ed Miliband when asked if “this man could be Prime Minister”, but blame was largely apportioned to the media. Moreover, Ed Miliband got it worse than his predecessors, it claimed.

It says: “It is the fate of every Labour Leader of the Opposition to be the target of ferocious attack from partisan sections of our media.

“Tony Blair was called ‘Bambi’, and described as too young and inexperienced to be up to doing the job.

“However, Ed Miliband faced an exceptionally vitriolic and personal attack.

“Even before he courageously took on the public concerns that led to the Leveson enquiry, elements in the news media seemed determined to try to destroy him.”

The report says very little about the ex-Labour leader beyond the media attacks, and other than when the “public had more of an opportunity to see Ed Miliband for himself, his standing markedly improved”.

The Sun's front page on 6 May

From well before the 2010 election, Labour was blamed playing for the financial crash, undermining its economic reputation

The report notes sardonically the Tories “assiduously fostered the myth that US, German, French and Japanese financial institutions had been brought to their knees by the overspending of a profligate Labour government.”

But it concludes ominously: “This myth took hold.”

The report records how the party decided “not to concentrate on countering the myth of ‘Labour’s crash’”, and later argues this was a mistake: “We must take the global crash myth head on, which we can now see dogged us throughout the last parliament.”

This will be music to Conservative ears.

Labour failed to break through on the touchstone domestic issues, it suggests. An “inability to deal with the issues of ‘connection’ and, in particular, failing to convince on benefits and immigration” was again one of the four oft-cited problems.

The Beckett report says while the policy agenda was “well constructed” it was “not always easy to communicate”.

It went on: “On issues such as immigration and benefits we rightly stuck to our Labour values, but this meant that our policies were nuanced, compared to the brutal simplicity of either the Tories or UKIP.”

The report makes no bones about the mountain to climb: needing to gain 94 seats to secure a majority of just two, with only 24 Conservative seats boasting a majority of less than 3,000 over Labour, and only two seats in Scotland where the SNP majority over Labour is less than 5,000.

Add to the mix a boundary review likely to favour the Tories, an ageing population and little sign of recovery in Scotland, and the future looks bleak.

“However, we have reasons to be positive,” the report continues, hailing the surge in the party’s membership following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader.

Can Jeremy Corbyn learn the lessons of 2010?

“Labour’s new leadership have already drawn on some of the lessons identified during our review,” it says.

“For example, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign rightly focused on trust in politics, mobilised young people, and engaged more directly with the electorate.

“In addition we should remember that the Tories only secured a small majority, despite a favourable global economy and the benefit of incumbency.”


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