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Tue, 7 July 2020

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Labour: Changing leader or Brexit stance will not be enough to come back from 2019 election drubbing, review warns

Labour: Changing leader or Brexit stance will not be enough to come back from 2019 election drubbing, review warns

Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Keir Starmer. (PA)

5 min read

Ditching Jeremy Corbyn as leader or shifting the party’s position on Brexit will not be enough to recover from Labour’s worst election defeat since 1935, a detailed post-mortem has concluded.

A review of the 2019 result by the Labour Together group, which includes MPs, unions, advisers and journalists, found that a “failure to properly analyse and resolve historic problems” — as well as an over-confidence sparked by the surprise 2017 result — left Labour to shed seats across the country.

And it warned that the party has a “mountain to climb” under new leader Sir Keir Starmer to get back into power at the next election.

The review, whose commissioners have included Shadow Business Secretary and former party leader Ed Miliband, shadow minister Lucy Powell, TSSA union boss Manuel Cortes and former adviser to shadow chancellor John McDonnell, James Meadway, lays out a string of political, organisational and digital mistakes made by the party in the run-up to the vote. 

They say that “a combination of concerns about the leadership, Labour’s position on Brexit and Labour’s manifesto not being seen as deliverable damaged Labour’s chances in the election”.

But they argue that it would be “a mistake to believe that a different leader, with Brexit no longer the defining issue, would in itself be sufficient to change Labour’s electoral fortunes“.

Instead the Labour review warns that party’s historic coalition of voters has “fractured” over the past two decades — and say that, apart from in London, it shed support among “all types of voters everywhere” in 2019 when compared with the 2017 result.

2017 RESULT 'MASKED' PROBLEMS

A swing away from the party in its historic heartlands in 2017 was “masked by the much better than expected result” that deprived the then-prime minister Theresa May of her Commons majority, they say — a result that should have “foreshadowed” the 2019 vote but instead fed a series of tactical and strategic mistakes.

The report argues that Labour went into the 2019 election “without a clear strategy of which voters we needed to persuade or how”, with a plan to win over Labour’s traditional working class supporters in the wake of the previous election result not followed up on.

“There was no sustained strategy for dealing with Labour’s perceived weaknesses,” the authors say.

The party had “no clear message” in 2019, Labour Together says, with a flurry of policy announcements creating “doubts about their delivery” and leaving candidates “poorly briefed” on the details of what had been announced by Labour HQ.

Labour is also taken to task for having “spent substantial periods of the last five years in conflict with itself resulting in significant strategic and operational dysfunction” — an internal battle they argue is not the fault of “one side or part of our movement” but a wider problem that has damaged Labour ability to “present a united front to the public”.

There are also strong criticisms of the party’s online campaigning strategy, with Labour ceding ground to the Conservatives on social media and failing to “invest and strengthen” its digital clout ahead of the 2019 vote. 

Online party activists “spent too much of the campaign talking to themselves rather than reaching out to convince swing voters to support Labour”, the review says, with “crashing digital tools” also creating “more work not less” for candidates and campaigners.

'BUILDING A BRIDGE'

The review lays out a string of recommendations that they say must be acted on to get Labour back into power within the next five years — a task the authors say is not “impossible” but will require “deep thinking“.

The party must, it says, start “building a bridge with former Labour voters who are very distant from Labour presently”, and develop a “coherent strategy” of how to merge that support with newer recruits. 

Labour should also make a “renewed commitment to transformational economic change in the country” — but it must be seen as “credible and deliverable” and rooted in people’s everyday experiences.

They warn the party to focus on building a “well-led, professional organisation” in place of “factionalism and patronage” — with a “root and branch reform” of the party’s organisations and structures needed to help Labour plan a comeback.

And the report’s author’s say Labour needs to become “a genuine popular movement”, bringing together in members, trade union backers, elected officials across the country in a community organising push that is “focused outwards not inwards”.

Launching the review, Labour MP Shabana Mahmood said: “There’s one thing that the Labour party has done consistently for years, and that is re-fight the next election on the issues of the last.

"This report is about far more than why we lost the last election - it’s about bringing all wings and traditions of our party together to not only identify problems decades in the making, but to chart a path toward fixing them.”

Mr Miliband meanwhile insisted the report was not “a counsel of gloom and despair for our party but a call for realism about the situation we face”.

“It is not a call either for minimalist politics,” the Labour frontbencher said.

“The next election will be a change election and Labour must be the agents of that change. The country continues to need big change: to tackle insecurity, inequality, the climate emergency and all the other problems that afflict us particularly in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.“

That view was echoed by Mr Meadway, the former adviser to John McDonnell, who said the “hard route back to power” would require “overhaul of our party’s machinery and culture” while “maintaining the movement of the last few years”.

“No wing of the party can, by itself, do all this, but the report suggests some first steps towards a shared political strategy and provides a vital framework for debate,” he said.

Read the FULL report here

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