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By Tobias Ellwood
By Ben Guerin
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Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, Brexit and 'unbelievable' manifesto top voters' reasons for Labour defeat - poll

5 min read

Voters’ concerns about Jeremy Corbyn, Labour election promises that were “not believable” and a campaign dominated by Brexit were the main reasons Boris Johnson won the keys to Number 10 last year, according to a new poll.

Fresh research by pollster and Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft found that a lack of “appeal” from Mr Corbyn was listed as the top reason among voters for Labour’s hefty election defeat.

The study of more than 10,000 voters also suggested widespread concern about the party’s pitch to the country - although Labour members themselves pinned the blame for the defeat on Brexit, “unfair” media treatment and Conservative “lies”.

The study - dubbed 'Labour's turn to smell the coffee' - mirrors a hard-hitting 2005 study carried out for the Tories after their third successive general election loss.

Lord Ashcroft, a former Tory chairman, presented voters with twelve factors that have been given for the election drubbing, which saw Labour sink to its worst defeat since 1935.

Voters were asked to say on a scale of one to ten how important each of those was in explaining the result, with 10 meaning “extremely important”.

Among all voters, “Jeremy Corbyn was not an appealing leader” came out on top, with a ranking of 7.7. 

That was followed by Brexit “dominating the election”, with a 7.5 score.

Next in the rankings was the view that Labour’s election promises “were not believable”, with a score of 6.8, while the party being “divided” (6.7) and “no longer representing its traditional voters” (6.6) rounded out the top five reasons.

Those who backed Labour in 2017 but not 2019 cited Brexit and Mr Corbyn’s leadership as their top reasons for the defeat, with a 7.8 score for Brexit and 7.6 for the Labour leader’s lack of appeal.

The party’s divisions were listed as the third most important reason by Labour defectors, with a score of 7.0, while its failure to “represent its traditional voters” (6.9) and “not believable” election promises (6.7) also featured.

However, those findings stood in sharp contrast to the view of Labour members themselves, who cited voters’ “bigoted views” among their top five reasons.

The pollster spoke to more than 1,000 members of the party, who gave Brexit (8.7) as the most important reason for Labour’s defeat.

That was followed by the media giving “an unfairly negative picture of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn” (8.1), voters believing “Conservative lies” (8.1) and voters failing to “understand what was at stake and what a Conservative government under Boris Johnson would mean for them”. 

At number five for Labour members was the statement that many voters “have bigoted views about race and immigration, which Conservatives were able to exploit”. That got a score of 6.9 out of ten in terms of importance.


The study meanwhile found that six in ten voters overall said Labour deserved to lose the election, including two thirds of those who backed the party in 2017 but did not do so in 2018. 

Ninety-five percent of voters who made the switch from Labour to the Tories this time around agreed that the party deserved to lose.

Labour members strongly disagreed with that view, however, with 73% of the members polled saying the party had not deserved to lose - rising to 87% among those who backed Jeremy Corbyn in the 2016 leadership election.

The study also found a deep split between Labour members and voters more broadly about whether the party can recover at the next election.

More than seven in 10 Labour members agreed that those who made the leap to the Tories in 2010 will come back - with just 22% agreeing that voters “will not go back to Labour unless the Labour Party changes very significantly”.

But among former Labour voters themselves, 52% said the party would “need to change very significantly before I’ll consider voting for them again”. Just 21% said 2019 had been an “unusual election” and that they would “probably vote Labour again next time”.

Launching the report, the Tory peer said: “As far as many of these former supporters were concerned... the Labour Party they rejected could not be trusted with the public finances, looked down on people who disagreed with it, was too left-wing, failed to understand or even listen to the people it was supposed to represent, was incompetent, appallingly divided, had no coherent priorities, did not understand aspiration or where prosperity comes from, disapproved of their values and treated them like fools.”

And he added: “No doubt some will be suspicious of my motives. I’m a Tory, after all – indeed, a former Deputy Chairman of the party. There are two answers to that.

“The first is that the country needs a strong opposition. Britain will be better governed if those doing the governing are kept on their toes. Moreover, at its best, the Labour Party has been a great force for decency, speaking up for people throughout the country and ensuring nobody is forgotten. We need it to reclaim that role. The second answer is that you don’t have to trust me – just listen to what real voters have to say in the research… ”


Reacting to the poll's findings, Labour deputy leadership candidate Ian Murray said: "This report must serve as an urgent wake-up call for the party.

"Voters abandoned us last year because they did not want Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister, we faced both ways on the constitution, and we adopted a catalogue of unrealistic manifesto pledges.

"One more heave is not enough. We have to thoroughly change as a party and win back voters who have left us for the Tories. That starts by recognising that Tory voters are not the enemy – they are all potential Labour voters.

"We have to listen to voters in every seat in the country, because we have seen in Scotland what happens when you fail to listen.

"Recovery is not inevitable and if we don’t make the changes that voters want to see, we will face another devastating election defeat next time."

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