This week the true scale of Labour’s task at the next election became clear when the Fabian Society published research showcasing which seats the party needs to win to form a majority in 2020.
Even a cursory glance at this ‘target list’ makes for grim reading. Harlow, Worcester, Gloucester, Putney, Battersea, Watford. Few of these seats can be described as having an ‘emotional connection’ with Labour. Fewer still will be won over by any type of core vote strategy.
Any rational assessment of this list would lead to the conclusion that the bare minimum Labour’s next leader must do is to restore the party’s trust on the economy, be credible on immigration and make a bold pitch to those swing voters who have chosen the Conservative’s over Labour in each of the last two elections.
The sheer number of seats the party must win means even this strategy offers little certainty of victory, but a target seat list which is now almost 80 per cent Conservative held would suggest there is little alternative.
Yet some in the party still seem unwilling to face up to the reality of the electoral maths. Just as the 2010 defeat gave rise to the ‘five million votes’ theory – an argument that Labour just needed to win back the voters it lost since 1997, but which overlooked the fact that 3.5 million of these people were now dead – 2015 has given birth to a new comfort blanket – ‘lazy Labour’.
The phrase gained traction after a presentation by Ipsos Mori’s Ben Page, explaining that throughout the election campaign pollsters overestimated Labour’s support. Come polling day there were around 2.9 million people who having said they would come out and vote Labour, did not.
While ‘lazy Labour’ may well explain why the pollsters got their predictions wrong, it alone does not offer a route map to a 2020 victory. As Page himself has said, even if all these people had voted Labour, the party would still not have had a majority and there is little to suggest that a shift further to the left is the way to motive these voters in any case.
Those who are attracted to the notion of ‘lazy Labour’, just as they did when they spent five years clinging to ‘five million votes’, are holding the party back.
It is now less than 100 days until the ballot for Labour’s new leader closes. Between now and then, the party must come to terms with why it lost and what it must do to win again.
In doing so it can choose a leader who recognises that it is the party who is out of step with the voters, or one who thinks it is the other way round. It can choose a project which makes sense of what it means to be a party of the left during an era of reduced public spending, a global economy and rapid technological change, or one that does not. It can choose a strategy which ruthlessly focuses on winning the next election, rather than one which like ‘Lazy Labour’, indulges in electoral fantasy.
These are important questions for the party, but after looking at the new electoral map, the answers are surely obvious.
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