Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

We can’t just talk to families like mine

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


Photo: Coventry city council

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Kevin Peel

is a Labour and Co-operative councillor on Manchester city council and represents the north west on the EU committee of the regions. He tweets @kevpeel


  • Kevin

    I am absolutely sure you are right about the need to talk to people, especially about: who we are; where we want to get to, and what they might want from us.

    As for those people “.. scoffing at the notion that we need to talk about ‘aspiration’”, they are simply wrong: most people want to get the more out of their lives and they are not going to get it without some aspirational effort.

    Before we can go forward we need to: listen; form our vision; choose our direction of travel and then find a leader to take us there.

    During the last five years I was: rowing the Labour boat; not knowing where it was headed; not knowing who decided where it was going and unable to affect the direction – so I stopped going to GC meetings. Now I can start again.

    Ed was chosen in a very unsatisfactory way. Having said that, in the last two months I have been really pleased to see how good he turned out to be. But the main point is: we need to choose a direction and then a leader to take us there.

  • We needed to celebrate job creators more, entrepreneurs, people who want to vote Labour because they believe in aspiration and fairness. Never again can we let ourselves be painted as anti-business. Yes of course we have to take on unethical business practices but we have to recognise there are lots of amazing business people who support our values and want to create jobs to give people that better life.

    We also need to talk about strong communities, the Labour party needs to be at the heart of the community, engaging the 20s and 30s in the causes we do believe in. We need a leader who can appeal to all the various parts of the electorate in the south and midlands as well as the north or we will never regain power.

    Finally it is our patriotic duty to make the vital economic case for continued membership of a reformed EU where cooperation on critical matters such as climate change, defence, energy, organised crime etc is absolutely necessary in the interconnected world we live in.

    There is no reason why in 5 years time the party with new leadership, renewed energy and with a hopeful optimistic vision for a fair, economically vibrant Britain can’t be in government making lives better for all the people we joined the party to help.

  • I’m not sure it’s fair to say “activists” are scoffing at the thought of us becoming the party of “aspiration”.

    What is of concern to many members I am speaking to is that in becoming the party of “aspiration” we will lose our core vote.

    When deciding the direction we take be it shuffling to the right, shuffling to the left or standing firmly in the centre we should look at Scotland and what happened there. I believe that had Labour voters in the North and South of England had the alternative that the SNP offered Labour voters in Scotland many would have jumped ship.

    We have lost our identity. People no longer know what we stand for. We need to re establish what that identity actually is to keep our core vote and to encourage people from all social backgrounds to put their trust in us.

    I come from a similar background to you. The Labour Party certainly needs to talk to families like mine. My mother is 77 and for the first time in her life she was “undecided” up until polling day. Her reason for that indicision? “I can’t tell any of the major parties apart anymore”. And that is a statement I am oft hearing sadly.

  • I hosted a round table for business people in Manchester with Andy Burnham in late 2013. I made the point that whenever Ed Balls spat out the word “millionaires” he was saying to every single person who ever dreamt of making a few quid with a new business idea, or simply building a company, that Labour aren’t on your side. The top rate of tax kicks in at a level that anyone who earns a bonus looks at and feels is achievable. This is important at a time when a million new businesses have been formed, where a new entrepreneurialism has genuinely swept the country, if not always the means to fully support it. And that line wasn’t just an early throw away, but became part of the key message of the campaign. – See more at:

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