The 37 million reasons why Labour lost in 2015. And who should pick up the pieces.

There are 37 million reasons why Labour lost the 2015 General Election. Or 37,006,893 reasons to be exact. That’s the total number of eligible electors who chose not to vote Labour. Right now, the Party should be reaching out and listening to them. Instead, we’ve wasted months on a never-ending, but rarely interesting, Leadership election.

Leadership elections are the worst possible time for considered thought. People demand snappy, persuasive answers. Instead of listening to the millions of people who chose not to vote for us, we’ve egged on the Leadership candidates to provide diagnosis by soundbite. First it was a failure to understand aspiration, then it was a failure to inspire non-voters. All the more frustrating is that stimulating research is going on behind the scenes, but no-one is listening.

In the absence of a real understanding of why we lost, the Leadership contest has been vapid and uninspiring. It has at least been enriched by Jeremy Corbyn.

I initially wrote-off the Corbyn campaign as a retrograde throwback to the 1970s – but this brilliant blog opened my eyes. Corbyn has given a voice to the frustrations felt by millions. Frustrations kindled by the injustices and unaccountability of global capitalism – and inflamed by the apparent return to business as usual after the 2008 meltdown.

These are the same frustrations that many of us share at career politicians with media training instead of integrity – and focus groups instead of values.  Corbyn’s alternative approach has started to reconnect the Labour Party with principles which we didn’t necessarily lose, but which we lost the habit of championing.

We've all had enough of this. Steve Bell brilliantly lampoons automaton politicians.

We’ve all had enough of this. Steve Bell brilliantly lampoons automaton politicians.

The problem isn’t Jeremy Corbyn. The problem is his policies.

I’ve written in detail about how his economic policies, whilst well-suited to 2008, are completely inappropriate to today. His plans to massively increase tax revenue by cutting down tax avoidance have been discredited, leaving huge question marks about he would fund policies such as universal childcare and the abolition of university tuition fees. The rest of his programme ranges from the hopelessly romantic (reopening Welsh coalmines) to the downright naïve (leaving NATO).

Labour needs a Leader who can unify the Party and land blows on the Tories. That’s why I voted for Yvette Cooper.

Me with Yvette Cooper, my choice for Labour Leader

Me with Yvette Cooper, my choice for Labour Leader

Yvette has recently come to the fore for her superb response to the refugee crisis – not simply attacking the Government, but initiating a credible plan to settle refugees in Britain. It is extremely rare to see such national leadership from the Opposition benches and it showcases Yvette’s decisive, practical and principled style – exactly what the Labour Party needs in the difficult years ahead.

In a disappointingly introverted Leadership campaign, Yvette has been the candidate of the real world. She has big ideas like universal childcare – but these are properly costed. She has economic policies which engage with the world as it is, rather than the world we wish existed. And she has constantly reminded the Party that, as we argue amongst ourselves, we need to continue to hold the Government to account.

This Leadership conflict, sorry contest, has spread division and anger where we need unity. 2020 is likely to be the first General Election since 1987 where Labour is in Opposition and the economy looks positive. We need a Leader who can match George Osborne in defining a clear Labour strategy – and who can match Boris Johnson in articulating it to the public. I believe that Leader is Yvette Cooper.

As for Deputy Leader, it’s become traditional to elect someone with an interest in campaigning and Party organisation. So this vote was a no-brainer: Ben Bradshaw. Labour now has only three seats south of Wimbledon: Hove, Southampton and Bradshaw’s Exeter.

South of the Trent and East of the Avon, Labour constituencies sit surrounded by blue – like tiny pockets of resistance, forlornly resisting an invading army. And it’s getting worse. In two-thirds of Labour’s target seats, we actually lost votes to the Tories in 2015. This includes my beloved home of Lincoln where a superb Labour candidate lost to a particularly unpleasant Tory.

This cannot continue.

There is absolutely no reason why South and Central England should be no-go areas for Labour. Places like Nuneaton, Peterborough, Bedford and Thurrock aren’t the Surrey stockbroker belt: they are former industrial towns which have evolved to become service centres and commuter hubs.

South of the Trent and East of the Avon: spot the red dots...

South of the Trent and East of the Avon: spot the red dots…

Their story is the story of modern Britain. If their voters reject Labour, we desperately need to understand why. I believe that Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw is the best person to lead that process.

And finally … London Mayor. After eight years of Boris Johnson cynically using London as his job application for Leader of the Tory Party, we urgently need a Mayor who actually wants to work for Londoners. For me the most important thing is to have a candidate with energy. London faces so many challenges that we need someone reaching their political peak, rather than someone with their best years behind them. For this reason I chose Sadiq Khan.

It’s also about time that London had a Mayor reflecting its own population. London is the most diverse city on the planet, but every Mayor and every single Leader of both the Greater London Council and the London County Council has been white. It’s time for that to change. At a time when the evil of Islamophobia is on the rise, we need to show that Islam and modern Britain are completely complementary. What better way than electing a Muslim Mayor of London.

So it’s Yvette, Ben and Sadiq for me.

Can we get back to those 37 million reasons why we lost now?

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3 thoughts on “The 37 million reasons why Labour lost in 2015. And who should pick up the pieces.

  1. Well written and incisive with sufficient humour sooo lacking nowadays with Labour politicians. As an occasional Labour voter it is sad to see Labour reduced to inner cities in the main. Means it can be described as a SIUL, Shrill Intolerant Urban Left. Actively discarding working class white men in particular has cost Labour many votes. Many see the dominance of University think tank student debate type policies as a backwards step and a turn off. Focus groups a no no.

    The race to a cosmopolitan/metropolitan/gender stereotyping by local authorities and Labour councils especially is an affront to long cherished values of fairness, equality and respect for all. Disrespect for traditional family values and a determination that the state will replace the parents has echoes of Eastern European countries during Communist era.

    Middle England has traditional conservative values and all elections are won or lost there. Corbyn has identified so much of traditional Labour values which have become lost or silent as your article eloquently notes. Y Cooper demonstrates much of what I portray above and is a major reason why so many traditional Labour or floating voter put nein against the party at the ballot box. Learn or lose is the message, the voter decides when the occasion calls.

    • Vincent, intelligent posts like this seriously jeopardise your carefully cultivated reactionary hooligan image 😉

      I agree with a lot of what you say, particularly “the dominance of University think tank student debate type policies” in the Miliband era – but I’m not so sure Corbyn really does reflect a return to traditional working class values. I think he’s closer to the liberal, politically correct Councils you decry.

      I agree that Yvette has flaws too, but I think she’s by far the best of the four.

  2. Dear Mikey… this is a good article, and I respect your arguments. But if in the 1920s, John Maynard Keynes had “engaged with the world as it is, rather than the world he wished existed”, we might not have had Roosevelt’s New Deal, the post-WW2 settlement, the welfare state and a host of other positive and influential developments. Conversely, if Margaret Thatcher didn’t have a vision which was rather different from the world that she inherited, we might not have had some of the ravages whose consequences we are still saddled with. I’m sorry, but I just don’t accept this view that we must be bound by an orthodox notion of economic reality. If we do that, the Labour Party, and social democracy in general, will be destined for irrelevance and then oblivion. It takes a huge intellectual effort and a leap of the imagination to achieve what the Keynes of this world accomplished. With all due respect to Yvette Cooper, she doesn’t have those qualities (I still put her in second place, mind you). Nor do Andy Burnham and Liz Kendal. I don’t know whether Jeremy Corbyn has what it takes either, but at least he may be capable of generating the sort of thought processes that are indispensable to maintaining the credibility of democratic socialism. Well, we’ll find out from Saturday onwards, I suppose…

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