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Labour report identifies reasons for 2015 election defeat

Published 19/01/2016

Ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband was perceived to be weaker than david Cameron
Ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband was perceived to be weaker than david Cameron

A Labour inquest into the reasons for defeat in last year's general election has identified a failure to build trust on the economy and to convince voters they had the answers on welfare and immigration

There was also a perception that Ed Miliband was not as strong a leader as David Cameron and that he might need to be propped up by the Scottish National Party in government.

But the report, drawn up by former cabinet minister Dame Margaret Beckett, cautioned against the argument that Labour lost simply because it was "too left wing", pointing out that left-wing policies like the mansion tax were popular among many voters.

The report acknowledges that Labour was "badly beaten" in 2015 and faces "huge challenges" to have a hope of winning in 2020, when the effect of boundary changes, an ageing electorate and the apparent entrenchment of the SNP in many of its former Scottish strongholds will make defeating the Conservatives even more difficult.

Releasing the Learning the Lessons from Defeat taskforce report, Dame Margaret said: "The reaction to the 2015 result was inevitably an emotional one for Labour because it was such a surprise.

"There was certainly no complacency in the Labour ranks, but the polls showed us neck and neck with the Tories, when clearly we weren't.

"There are certainly lessons to learn from defeat. This report has been a key part of recognising areas we need to improve on and building on aspects of our campaign that performed well.

"Labour gained votes in the 2015 election both in the UK as a whole and in England and Wales.

"There was a small swing to Labour, 1.5%. This was the first election since 1997 when Labour's share of the vote went up. However, we know this was not enough to deliver a Labour government."

She added: "The road to re-election is a marathon, not a sprint. If we learn the lessons of defeat in 2015, we can take the steps needed to rebuild a society in which the common good, and greater prosperity for all go hand in hand, and elect a Labour government."

The report was published following a meeting of a section of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee. Former frontbencher Dan Jarvis, widely tipped as a future leader, last week called for it to be made public to help the party's political recovery.

Its downbeat conclusion read: "We were badly beaten. The collapse in Scotland made it impossible for us to be the biggest party and the Liberal Democrat collapse enabled the Tories to gain an overall majority and keep us out of power.

"We received far fewer votes than were foreseen. And where we did achieve swings against the Tories, these were in safe Labour seats, rather than in the target marginals, in which we worked so hard."

But the report insisted that the scale of Labour's defeat was not comparable with 1983, when Michael Foot suffered a 9.3% swing away from the party and Tories emerged with a 144-seat majority in the Commons.

It was "critically important for the country" that Labour puts itself into a position to win in 2020, the report states. But it acknowledges that this will be difficult, given that the party needs 94 gains to secure a majority but has only 24 target seats where it trails Tories by 3,000 votes or fewer and only two in Scotland where the SNP majority is smaller than 5,000.

To have a chance of winning, Labour will have to set out a "vision for Britain" and then "campaign in poetry" by spelling it out in a clear and inspiring way; focus policy-making on the needs of the UK in the next decade, such as social care; build up membership; and tackle head-on the "myth" that Labour was to blame for the 2008 financial crash.

The leadership should spend "as much time as possible" away from Westminster to "keep their finger on the pulse of the electorate" and should develop "a single process of engagement with the business community" to demonstrate that they understand its point of view, said the report. They should support a long-term strategy for Scotland, giving "significant autonomy" to the party north of the border

The report identified four explanations for the 2015 defeat consistently heard on the doorstep and from pollsters:

:: Failure to "shake off the myth" that Labour was responsible for the financial crash and to rebuild trust on the economy;

:: Inability to convince voters on welfare and immigration;

:: Perceptions that Mr Miliband was not as strong a leader as Mr Cameron;

:: Fears that a minority Labour government would be propped up by the SNP.

Although the report said it was "unclear" whether fear of the SNP had swayed many votes, it said that "scaremongering" by Conservatives - who made it a big feature of their campaign during the final weeks - may have reinforced the views of those who had already decided not to vote Labour.

However, the document warned Labour's leadership to be cautious about "plausible" but possibly unsubstantiated theories about the party's defeat.

Although critics claimed that Mr Miliband had "the wrong policies" and was "too left-wing" and was out of tune with voters on deficit reduction, the report argued that in fact individual policies - like the energy price freeze and mansion tax - were popular and that the majority of people agreed that Conservative cuts were going too far.

Far from seeing Labour as too anti-business, polls suggested that voters wanted them to be tougher on big business, said the report.

Conservative Treasury Minister David Gauke said: "This report shows Labour still haven't learnt the lessons from their economic mistakes.

"In fact, they now say they would borrow even more, spend even more, and do it all over again.

"That's why Labour are a threat to our economic security."

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