Last week saw the much-anticipated release – in Labour circles anyway – of Margaret Beckett’s report into why Labour lost the 2015 election. Everyone already knew the reasons for the defeat which were outlined in the report. Ed Miliband wasn’t seen as a strong or credible leader, people were afraid of Labour having to kowtow to the SNP, Labour weren’t seen as strong enough on the economy, immigration or welfare etc. However, what should deeply worry people is that not a single person in a position of power in the party will pay the slightest bit of attention to these conclusions.
not a single person in a position of power in the party will pay the slightest bit of attention
If one thing is clear from the report, it is that Labour’s defeat in 2015 was not due to being too left-wing nor insufficiently so. The public agreed with increasing the minimum wage, with scrapping the bedroom tax and with Miliband’s proposals for a ‘mansion tax’. Likewise, polling shows that renationalising rail and utility companies – policies Corbyn has adopted – proved popular with a majority of the public. However, the report also found that voters believed Labour could not be trusted with the economy, were too generous with welfare, and too keen to tax personal success. Perhaps most crucial, however, was the perception that Labour were too soft on immigration, an issue cited as the most important issue facing the country by a large majority.
I was a staunch defender of Ed Miliband throughout his tenure as leader, and am still prepared to ruin first dates by enlarging upon his numerous merits, yet it cannot be denied that he was a drag on Labour’s ratings. However, as the reality of a Tory majority without the Liberal Democrats dawns, it cannot be denied that Labour’s platform in 2015 was not only a decent, centre-left platform, but the most left wing the country had seen since 1992. The shouts of ‘Red Tory’ and attempts to paint Labour as ‘the same’ as the Conservatives from the hard left – including the Green Party – were as lazy and fallacious as they were deeply irresponsible. At a time when the British Left most needed unity, these and the siren voices of nationalism cleaved it in two, leaving the most right-wing government since the 1980s – possibly even more so – to pick the flesh off its carcass.
Fast-forward to the present, and the party has reacted to its catastrophic defeat in the worst way possible. Rather than attempting to branch out and reach the areas of the nation it struggled to reach in 2015 – the South, the self-employed, homeowners and, increasingly, working-class voters – the party has retreated into itself, electing a man whose views have not changed since 1983. There was never any reason to believe that heading further left would win Labour more votes, but when you begin to examine the maths, the true scale of both the challenge facing the party and its error in electing Corbyn become clear.
the party has retreated into itself, electing a man whose views have not changed since 1983
Make no mistake, the party is on course to be hammered in 2020. Research shows that four out of every five votes the party needs to win in five years will have to come from people who voted Conservative in 2015. Blair would struggle to climb this mountain, let alone Corbyn. Boundary changes will instantly deprive Labour of 20 seats, and leave the party needing a swing of 9.6 per cent to gain a majority of just one seat – in 1997’s landslide the swing was 8.8 per cent.
If this weren’t bad enough, we have the problem of Corbyn’s dire personal ratings. He is the first Labour leader ever to have negative approval ratings on his election, being a whole 22 points behind that titan of public affection, Ed Miliband, and these ratings now rest at a staggeringly low -39 per cent. Even worse, 71 per cent of people do not trust Corbyn with the UK’s national security. Unsurprisingly, the party hasn’t seen any of the customary poll bounce after electing a new leader, instead averaging around 7 per cent behind the Tories.
If even only half of the above were true, alarm bells should be ringing in the heads of Labour policy makers and members. I am not going to pretend, even for a moment, that Labour is headed for anything but a wipeout in 2020 if it does not deviate from its current course, and this is why I must call the morality of Corbyn and his top team into question. They simply cannot believe that indulging in needless gesture politics such as refusing to sing the national anthem or sanction a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy in the event of a Paris-style attack, let alone appointing a man who defended the IRA’s campaign of ‘the ballot, the bullet and the bomb’ to Shadow Chancellor, will do anything but bring electoral ruin on the party. The course of action Corbyn has taken is at best wilfully delusional or, at worst, self-indulgent.
If this were a campus debate or a sixth-form election, none of this would matter. But it is not and it does. Jeremy Corbyn, his aides and the majority of Labour’s increasingly middle-class membership can afford a Tory victory in 2020, but there are too many in the country who cannot. Council-house residents, the disabled, the low-waged, victims of the bedroom tax, and even students desperately need a Labour party that is both a credible opposition and a government-in-waiting. It is for this reason that the party needs to change direction before it’s too late, and the window available to do so is fast diminishing.