We lost and we lost badly and the debate has already started to determine the future direction of the party. I welcome it because we certainly did not have one last time and we cannot win again until we actually realise why we lost.
I have been reading a lot of the back and forth between activists on social media (not exactly a representative sample of the electorate or even the party but interesting nonetheless). Some seem to be scoffing at the notion that we need to talk about ‘aspiration’ and those voters in the middle for whom we had very little to say at the last election. Apparently we should ignore those who shop at John Lewis and only talk to those who shop at Lidl.
I am the eldest of five children. My mum is a cleaner and my dad is a caretaker. We lived hand to mouth for most of my childhood. My mum shopped at Aldi before it was cool. My clothes were hand-me-downs from family members and friends. I got bullied at school because even when working three jobs my mum could not afford to buy me whatever brand of coat was ‘in’ that year. We didn’t ask for much because we knew there wasn’t much to go around. Our family holiday was a week in Blackpool and we loved it. I didn’t get on a plane until I was 21.
Knocking on doors in 38 of Labour’s 106 target seats during the course of the last campaign I met hundreds of families like mine. They were angry about the Tories, kicking themselves that they didn’t vote in 2010 and promising us that they’d turn out this time. We had loads to say to them – scrapping the bedroom tax, raising the minimum wage, banning the exploitation of zero-hours contracts, the Youth Jobs Guarantee, the 10p tax rate. On estates across Bury North where I spent much of my time you couldn’t walk past a handful of houses without seeing a Labour poster or a garden stake. Yes there was some apathy and yes we had some leakage to Ukip which we’ll need to address, but our vote was solid among our ‘core’ voters, certainly in the north-west where I visited every key seat. This was reflected at the counts in Bury North and Manchester where I was when you could have weighed the votes for Labour from our traditional areas.
Sadly the picture in other neighbourhoods turned out to be less rosy. A lot of seats I visited felt optimistic. The returns in swing areas with lots of middle-class voters were looking OK. There were lots of undecided voters but people were genuinely keen to engage in a discussion on the doorstep and wanted to hear what we had to say. Our pledges to freeze energy bills and expand free childcare went down well. But people wanted more and we were left to revert to our safe haven of the NHS. We thought that would save us and during the short campaign when it looked like undecideds were breaking for Labour. The depth of the shock on election night when the exit poll was released was felt across the country. We must never again put ourselves in that position.
My family voted Labour. Many like them did. But they don’t have a Labour government and they’re not going to get one until we look beyond families like mine and put together a credible policy offer for them. Only then will we deliver a Labour government for all families.
Kev Peel is a councillor on Manchester city council. He tweets @KevPeel
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