The Beckett report: Why Labour lost in 2015 (and some reasons to be positive for 2020)

Written by @singersz on 19 January 2016 in Diary

The Labour party has finally published the long-awaited report by Margaret Beckett into why the party lost the 2015 general election.

The ‘Learning the Lessons from Defeat Taskforce Report’ has a single paragraph as its conclusion.

“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.”

Digging a bit deeper, the report pours cold water on a number of theories for Labour's defeat. They include the suggestion that Labour was "too left wing". The report states:

"Many of our most 'left wing' polices were the most popular. These were the kind of policies the public expected from Labour. An analysis by BES suggests that some of those who supported us would have been less likely to had they seen us as less left wing. Both the SNP and Greens gained votes in this election and arguably they were seen as to the left of Labour. However, we did fail to convert voters in demographic groups who are traditionally seen as in the centre, we lost voters to UKIP, failed to win back Liberal Democrat voters in sufficient numbers in the right places, and lost a small number of voters to the Tories."

The report also outlines four reasons that have been frequently cited pollsters and "those on the doorstep" for the 2015 election defeat.

“Failure to shake off the myth that we were responsible for the financial crash and therefore failure to build trust in the economy.

“Inability to deal with the issues of “connection” and, in particular, failing to convince on benefits and immigration

“Despite his surge in 2015, Ed Miliband still wasn’t judged to be as strong a leader as David Cameron

“The fear of the SNP “propping up” a minority Labour government.”

It adds that of these, the effect of the SNP threat is the most disputed.

“The Tories played heavily on it at the end of the campaign. The evidence is unclear. Some analysis suggests there was no clear late switching. However, it was heard consistently on the doorstep that this scaremongering raised concerns. It may have reinforced the views of those who had already decided not to vote Labour, and, if so, may have had a decisive impact in a small number of constituencies.”

Looking ahead to 2020, the report states that there are reasons to be positive.

“2020 will be another complicated election. It is hard to predict the future of UKIP and, while a strong UKIP may not have damaged Labour in 2015, we shouldn’t be complacent. UKIP has established a strong position in some of our heartland areas. Any un-wind of UKIP is likely to help the Tories rather than Labour. Conversely a Liberal Democrat recovery may assist Labour. However, we have reasons to be positive.

“The huge increase in our membership which, in 2015, was at its highest for 15 years, and began to surge in the days immediately after the election, and the excitement that has been generated by the leadership contest, gives us something on which to build. We have new capabilities in digital, and a proven track record in using local organisers.

“Labour’s new leadership have already drawn on some of the lessons identified during our review. For example, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign rightly focused on trust in politics, mobilised young people, and engaged more directly with the electorate.In addition we should remember that the Tories only secured a small majority, despite a favourable global economy and the benefit of incumbency.

"We believe that there are indeed lessons that we can learn from our defeat in 2015, which will help us in 2020.”

The full report is available here.

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