Just two months ago Labour suffered the worst general election defeat in a generation. While Labour did very well in large cities, particularly in London, the North West and Yorkshire, it was a very different story in other parts of England, Wales and, of course, Scotland.
So what went wrong? Why were the results so varied across the country? Why did Labour fail to win seats from the Tories? Why did Labour voters switch support to UKIP and the SNP in such large numbers?
To answer these questions and more the Labour Party established a Taskforce to consider the lessons we can learn for the future. As an NEC Local Government representative on the Taskforce, I have been collecting the feedback and views from local Councillors.
There are almost 7,000 Labour Councillors and they have a wide range of different local experiences and political views. Over 1,000 Councillors have responded so far and a number of common themes have come up frequently. I’ve summarised them below:
- Listen to Councillors and use our local knowledge
Councillors felt that our appeal was too narrow, with Labour failing to appeal to voters on the left and right. The reasons we lost or failed to win seats differ in different parts of the country. Since this is the case, contradictory statements about the reasons for defeat can be equally valid. Different areas need different approaches. Labour should use our local knowledge for targeted campaigns and materials.
- Defending our record in government
Many Councillors expressed dissatisfaction with a perceived failure to defend our record in government. Some Councillors were disappointed we allowed ourselves to be blamed for the impact of the global financial crisis. Others highlighted achievements from Labour’s time in government that they would like to have seen us championed more vocally.
- Be clear about what we stand for
Councillors were frustrated by the lack of clarity about what Labour in 2015 stood for. The manifesto contained a large number of niche policies (some of these were very popular with Councillors) but lacked a central narrative to hang it together. In order to win, Labour must tell a clear, compelling story about our past, our history and heritage, who we are now, and our positive vision for Britain’s future.
- Regain public trust
Councillors felt we lost the argument on economic competence. Some Councillors also felt we lost the public’s trust on other policy areas, including immigration. We need to be able to address challenging issues the public cares about in a way that reflects our Labour values.
- Fight Tory cuts to Council budgets
Councillors are unanimous in expressing their opposition to the massive cuts that have been made to local government since 2010. Many Councils having had their funding reduced by 50% or more. Councillors want to see Labour fighting these brutal cuts and making the case for long-term, sustainable and fair funding for local government.
- Review how we campaign
Many Councillors want Labour to become more sophisticated in our campaigning methods and want to see us doing community organising as well as traditional voter ID.
- Review our approach to candidate selection
Councillors want us to review how we select our parliamentary candidates. Councillors expressed a strong preference for more parliamentary candidates who have real world experience and a meaningful link to their local area. Councillors also want to see more parliamentary candidates from non-traditional backgrounds, including more women, BAME and working class candidates.
- We need a positive, inclusive response to national identity
Councillors identified the challenge the party faces from the rise of English and Scottish nationalism. Some Councillors felt that we risk seeming out of touch as a party if we fail to connect with an inclusive, positive sense of national identity. John Cruddas’s independent review research found “63% [of voters polled saying] their English or Welsh identity is important to them”. Some Councillors have called for a separate English Labour Party, although this is controversial and the subject of lively debate.
- Debate our approach to an EU referendum
Councillors want Labour to be more vocal about the kinds of EU reform we want to see. Some Councillors expressed concern about the Conservative’s proposals for EU reform and strongly oppose potential changes that weaken our rights at work. Councillors representing areas where jobs are at risk from a “No” vote emphasised that they have a lot to offer in making the positive case for our continued EU membership. Councillors do not want an EU referendum to take place on the same day as local elections.
- We need to take back the devolution agenda
Many people feel disillusioned with politics, seeing it as and out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. Councillors want to see Labour hand back power to local communities. Councillors want to see Labour be ambitious in the funding, power and accountability it devolves.
How about you – what do you think? If you haven’t already got in touch, there is still time to have your say. The next Taskforce meeting is in September when we will be discussing our report back to the new Leader so please get in touch.
In extraordinarily difficult circumstances, Labour Councillors make a real, positive difference to our local communities. We have very important local elections in nine months’ time. Whoever we elect as Leader, Councillors are clear that Labour must understand and accept what went wrong last May, learn the lessons for the future and move on as a united party. Our communities desperately need us to rebuild, fightback, and win in 2020 (and the local elections in between!)
This blog was first published on Labourlist.