Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Five Million Conversations (How Labour lost an election & rediscovered its roots)"

The picture is from last Thursday's social at Custom House branch, West Ham Labour where the guest speaker was BBC political reporter, Iain Watson.  He spoke about his new book on the failure of the Labour Party to win the last general election "Five Million conversations - How Labour Lost an election and rediscovered its roots". 

This is of course a very topical (and to me personally painful) subject that must be addressed by anyone interested in politics. The meeting was chaired by local member UNISON activist, Kim Silver. 

Iain began by speaking about the official Labour Party report by Margaret Beckett, which will finally be published later today. There will be no surprises in the report he thinks. Labour lost due to 4 main reasons:-

1.  Labour never took on the "myth" that they caused the financial crash. 2. Ed Miliband was not seen as strong a leader as David Cameron. 3. Fear of SNP and finally - 4. The most challenging, Labours "lack of  connection" problem with some voters over immigration and benefits.

Ironically Labour was not seen as too left wing, since most of the most popular policies in the campaign were those of the "left".

He doesn't think that Labour Party staff were to blame but surely having 106 "attack" seats and no "defensive" seats was wrong. The Tories had 50 "defensive" and 50 "attack" with far, far more resources. They had on the ground information, since they had surveyed every single parliamentary constituency. Labour thought they could take 3 seats that they didn't even win in 1997.

The pre election attempted coup against Ed Miliband by some Labour MPs didn't help.

Despite being Scottish, the scale of the SNP victory in Scotland surprised him. In the past Labour used to argue successfully against the SNP that "divorce is a expensive business". Now it is clear that many Scottish voters simply don't care about this cost. There has been a "mood change".

He thought Ed was a decent candidate but made mistakes. The Labour campaign was brittle and too protective of him.

After the election and during the leadership elections, Iain remember the trade union GMB hustings in  Dublin. Jeremy Corbyn was the only candidate who was clearly against the Tories benefits cap, Liz was for it but the other candidates did not give convincing answers.

In the Q&A I asked whether with hindsight, Labour was never going to win in 2014. There had only been a single one term government in 100 years and that was in 1974 after the 3 day week. The British electorate do not like one term governments and will nearly always give them the benefit of the doubt.

Also, since I, like so many others, were so absolutely wrong about the outcome of the Labour leadership campaign, we should be humble about any predictions that Corbyn will not win.

Iain responded by saying that the opinion polls actually had Labour in the lead before the election and that it seemed at the time that maybe they could have won under Ed in a minority government with the SNP. The Labour Party faces an enormous challenge to win in 2020.  Boundary changes, the Tories are reducing Parliamentary Short money, the trade union bill will have an impact on its funding and Scotland will remain a problem.

Another question was why does Jeremy Corbyn have such a bad press? Iain thought he was honest and straight talking but the trouble is that he answers other peoples agendas and not his own. For example, what happened over his comments about "shot to kill" and a recent survey that found only 1:20 of people thought that Jeremy was "Anti-Austerity".  When the Tories were under pressure over the Trade Union Bill, Jeremy was side tracked by questions on Trident.

Next was on the threat from UKIP to Labour who came 2nd in 120 consistencies. Iain agreed this was a threat that has not gone away and that Labour in the past did not have a "core vote strategy".

Ali G thought that many CLP Labour campaigns (unlike Ilford north) last year were poorly run. We need to appeal to the "better off" voters. Iain agreed that he was surprised that the Labour policies such as on free childcare for all was hardly mentioned.

Sue asked how will Labour win back Scotland? Iain said that it would be really difficult. Possibly now that the SNP government will be given the power to raise all income tax rates, if they don't then the claim they are on the left and "anti-austerity " will be undermined and they will be open to attack.

This was an excellent evening. Iain was a great speaker and will try to make himself available to plug his book at all different events. Many thanks for the Custom House councillors and ward members for organising this social. 

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