Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Only by rejecting ‘lazy Labour’ can Labour win in 2020

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.


Rich Durber is a former speechwriter for a shadow minister and writes a fortnightly column for Progress. He tweets @richdurber


Photo: Labour party

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Rich Durber

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  • I thought ‘lazy Labour’ referred to the party’s workers (and, in the last year, Labour’s policymakers), not the voters who didn’t turn out!

  • I think we need to appreciate why so many of outr former supporters are voting either UKIP, or Green. Seats lost because of these votes were a major contributor to election defeat, and we’ve been seeing this at Council level for 2 or 3 years snow.. The Tory majority ultimately depends on 10 seats with a majority very much less then the Green vote.

  • “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.”

    That’s a dishonest, not to say disingenuous use of language.

    We live in in a world where power and wealth has been deliberately and ruthlessly concentrated in the hands of a small number to the detriment of a very large number. A world rooted in gross inequality. The means developed to mitigate the worst of the effects of this system have been and continue to be removed. Equally so the means of accountability, protest and resistance. There is no way to be a party of the left in such a system without challenging the fundamental tenets upon which it rests, inequality of wealth and power. A party which does not oppose these is simply not a party of the left, but a party of the establishment.

    Even if I accepted that ‘ruthlessly focussing on winning the next election’ meant embracing inequality of wealth and power, which I do not, or if I accepted that such a focus would actually win the next election, which again I do not, I would be hard pressed to see the point. If our party embraces the status quo, what will its purpose be. If we’re in power, but don’t do anything fundamentally different from the other lot then what difference does it make.

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