Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

We need to talk about … losing

In May we lost everywhere to everybody’, remarked Jon Cruddas, member of parliament for Dagenham and Ed Miliband’s former policy chief, in a speech in September. Referring to Labour’s three worst defeats – 1931, 1983, 2010 – Cruddas said, ‘2015 was worse still’.

Yet this defeat has gone largely without mention from then leader Miliband and was not even referred to by Jeremy Corbyn’s 7,000-word long leader’s speech at Labour party conference. Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland, writing on the Progress website last month, said, ‘There has been no reckoning, no exploration or acknowledgment of the scale of Labour’s defeat.’ And therefore ‘no “closure”.’ There needs to be.

Every time Labour loses office it does worse the election after. This is not only sadly true but a tradition that Scottish Labour has developed in Holyrood too. Thinking it could not be possible having received less than nine million votes in 2010, the party set about to try and defy its only history and come back within one term.

In 2010 Miliband threw off the shackles of his predecessor but one and declared that ‘New Labour is dead’. He largely ignored his direct predecessor and mentor other than to distance himself – as he and Ed Balls had done in the 2010 leadership election – from the decision to abolish the 10p tax rate. Reluctant to embrace a parliamentary party that had not voted for him, he quickly created a bunker. The leader’s team would complain he was ‘his own outrider’ and then rebuke those who tried to engage with his ‘One Nation’ theme or individual policy ideas. The ‘35 per cent strategy’ – the idea that an elections could be won with the 2010 Labour vote and a third of the 2010 Liberal Democrat vote – was developed. Those who suggested winning votes back any votes from the 900,000 people who had supported Labour in 2005 and Tory in 2010 were denounced. Miliband flirted with the politics of anti-austerity – fought byelections on anti-cuts platforms, signalled support for the UK Uncut-inspired ‘Occupy movement’ and allowed his close allies in Unite to castigate Labour councils making the toughest of decision. In fact when Len McCluskey showed empathy with his friend who wanted to ‘spit’ on Labour councillors who make cuts at the 2013 Ralph Miliband lecture, the incident went without comment from the party’s leadership. He and Balls – not unlike the Canadian Liberal party who recently succeed in the polls – kept open the option of infrastructure spending as a marked difference from the incumbents’ plan. But the result was so different this side of the Atlantic.

It became disloyal to suggest – even in the most private of settings – that May’s result might turn out to be a disappointment for Labour; that aiming for a ceiling of 35 per cent might leave Labour short; that resourcing fewer seats than needed to win a majority might store up problems; that ruling out a coalition with the Scottish National party might be a necessary prerequisite, not a desirable addition, to the campaign. Progress’ Majority Rules polling released in May 2013 highlighted many of the same issues. But things carried on regardless. As Reed asked, ‘In resolute defiance of the facts, why was such a campaign prosecuted?’

The result was devastating and not, as Miliband is reported to have said, because the campaign was ahead of its time. Instead Cruddas found that, ‘Since 2010 Labour has marched decisively away from the views of voters on issues that are fundamental to our electoral prospects: immigration, personal financial interest, welfare, public services, and business.’

Cruddas has set up his own review of the result – that Progress, alongside the trade unions, the Co-operative party, Compass, the Fabian Society and others are supporting – to identify ‘empirical analysis’ and not be ‘compromised by being run through the party machine.’ The results are shocking – not the world as one might want it, but the one in which Labour must engage. The lessons, according to the MP for Dagenham, are: First – ‘It was pragmatic-minded voters who dealt Labour its devastating electoral defeat’; second – ‘We lost because voters believed we were anti-austerity’, not the opposite; third – ‘Labour is losing its working-class support and [it is] the United Kingdom Independence party [which] benefits’; fourth – ‘Labour is out of step with the wider electorate’; and, finally, fifth – ‘Labour is now as toxic in the south as the Tories are in the north’. Labour must confront this now.

Currently Labour party meetings across the county seem to consist of two agenda items: First, ‘Why can’t Labour be about “more than just winning”?’ Second, ‘Why are the Tories able to [do terrible thing]?’ If you do not focus on winning – and why we keep not winning – the only winner is the Tories and how they get away with such offensive policies.

Former editor of Progress magazine, Robert Philpot, wrote in May this year, ‘The delusion that [Labour] could sidestep its problems on economic competence and leadership spoke to a wider Labour problem.’ He went on, ‘Over the past five years, however, a politics of delusion has been allowed to flourish and grow. The New Labour “playbook” was joyfully ripped up and the rules which govern how parties win elections were declared obsolete. Those rules are not complicated: take the threat posed by your opponents seriously; attempt to win votes from the only other party which might realistically form a government; do not indulge in wishful thinking about where the centre-ground of British politics lies; tackle your weaknesses; and recognise that your claim to economic competence is strengthened in the mind of the voters if you can convince those running businesses both big and small to support your claim.’

Only a return to winning, with none of the shortcuts – which ultimately leave party members devastated and Labour voters destitute, again – will change Labour’s and the country’s trajectory.

Cruddas opened his lecture saying, ‘Big organisations often require cathartic moments to change and review themselves.’ If Labour does not take this one, it is destined to repeat what is fast becoming a pattern.


Photo: Christiane Wilke

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  • ‘Every time Labour loses office it does worse the election after.’ Even including Scotland, the Labour share of the vote went up in May compared to 2010: 29.0 to 30.4. Not brilliant, and no cause for complacency, but the first election since 1997 in which the Labour share rose. Of course we need to talk urgently about the result and how to do better, but does exaggerating the nature of the defeat really help?

  • In 2005, Labour got 8,028,512 votes in England (under Tony Blair)
    In 2010, Labour got 7,042,398 votes in England (under Gordon Brown)
    In 2015, Labour got 8,087,706 votes in England (under Ed Miliband)

    Now, it’s true that Tony Blair didn’t have to deal with the SNP surge (which started during the campaign for the Scottish Parliamentary election in May 2011), so therefore he appears to be “more successful” than Ed Miliband across the UK as a whole. But Ed Miliband did not cause the SNP surge.

  • I think what is meant is share of seats, which is what matters in FPTP system. It’s always nice but not critical to stack up more votes in existing Labour areas, but counts for nothing if the vote isn’t increased in the marginals. We have to win seats in the South… 10/11 along the coast for a start – seats in Plymouth, S Dorset, Southampton, Portsmouth, Hastings, Dover to be won as well as keeping Exeter and Hove. Swindon, Midlands… Nuneaton etc, Milton Keynes… it’s a big list. and won’t be won on getting Green voters alone, 9which is something we are doing according to council by-election results. Not many LDem votes to get, so we have to attract back those who have floated to the Tories in 2010 and 2015.

  • Whoops, posted without finishing. Just to say, we need a very astutely targeted message to achieve this, and also look like we can be a professional organisation who can deliver our policies efficiently, as this could be a key area of failure for the Tories – pain and unfairness delivered incompetently will be their nemesis.

  • This is true, of course, and the Tories won with a very astute on the ground campaign focussed on winning key LibDem seats, which Labour failed to do But the need in FPTP to focus on seats not votes doesn’t tell us how to pitch the overall message and therefore what kind of change in the nation’s trajectory we should be proposing. Fairness is OK but vague and transient in its appeal. And I had hoped our party could offer something a little more inspiring than competence, desirable though it is.

  • Ed ahead of his time?

    I’ll agree with that. But…

    There is no point in rolling with a populist rhetoric if it does not actually solve the problem we face. We end up long-term Toxic if we make the right noises but then end up not fixing it. Results count too.

    Immigration in 2015 WAS on the radar. We had that mug, and Ed was talking about curbing Low Skill Migration so that our own kids could get the starter jobs needed to get a foot on the work-ladder ( instead of an Eastern European nabbing it ). Mild Immigration Control WAS on the cards ( I was one of the researchers, here in Sunny Cronx ).

    Every policy we put forward was an effective solution to a real problem we faced, but… There are certain factors we did not cover well. I’ll explain:

    – The Grey Vote still holds A LOT of power. And they are increasingly Daily Mail as the effects of old age settle in ( it’s normal for OAP’s to be more demanding &/or fearful of things that are different ). This is all normal Psychology & Mental Health stuff, but when the Torys have a reliable 12 pt lead with that crowd ( YouGov etc )… Indeed. How on earth do you crack that?

    – FPTP. The Green Surge DID hit us. This is why Caroline Lucas is now calling for progressive deals to unite The Left in key seats. I agree that this is the right attitude, but… The Greens need to remember that they only pull 5% of the Vote ( vs our 25% ), and that any Policy stuff needs to reflect that ( I’m ex-Green Party for the record ). In the Big Tent you have to compromise to bring everything together.

    – The Free Press and their propensity for missing out key details as they ‘discuss the election’. I’m confident we DID NOT get fair representation here. Since when was Bacon a political issue?

    The Grey Vote is a nightmare. 1 Local Cllr down here says we need 4/5 coming our way, and it’s obvious that that will never happen; so… How do we do it?

    I think it’s time the Middle-Aged and kids had a long chat with the OAP’s about what their ( the OAP’s ) 30 years of ‘Voting for Low Taxes’ has done to the prospects of said kids & Middle-Aged ( the debt, the lack of Housing, Education now disappearing etc ).

    Andrew’s book ‘ The Failed Experiment ‘ is handy here, as many OAP’s won’t be Netizens like I am ( they like books & paper ); but… Getting the OAP to read it in the first place, then listen to their kids and the troubles they ( the kids ) now face, won’t be easy.

    The Daily Mail backed The Nazi’s; and this country is now getting increasingly racist, anti-business ( unless it’s helping out a mate ), and anti-youth. At this rate the only option left for kids to get an education will be to join the Armed Forces ( which is Hitler Youth territory ).

    And our OAP’s, in their increasingly-shakey Mental Health situations, are lapping it up.

    Being a Plumber used to be a License to print money, but then the Polish Plumbers came in and prices came down. As a Homeowner that was useful. And yet said OAP’s now want out of Europe? Indeed.

    Co-Op Food has a buy-British policy, and that is why they are so pricey. Losing Aldi & LiDL ( Europeans ) would hit The Disabled pretty hard, as we are already stoney broke.

    All the jobs endangered by leaving Europe? Indeed. Last I read 3m jobs would be effected. And… We don’t pay VAT on European Imports because of that Euro-deal. We don’t make anything ourselves any more, so need those cheap European Imports to keep coming ( and not get too expensive ).

    Right Wing Ideology ignores the evidence, and ploughs on anyway. They only ever stop when we hit a ‘rock bottom’ and they are left humiliated. They stop when they’re forced to; they don’t volunteer to stop.

    Over the next 4 years a whole bunch of new people will be beaten up by this Govt ( Tax Credits etc ). The Disabled and Unemployed were kicked-in post 2010, and everyone else spared; but we are seen as disposable by the dominant voters ( who are also on Benefits, but they don’t see it that way ). Now, post 2015. here we go again. They’re hitting the Working Poor now. When Single Mums & low-income families get starved too, like back in the 80’s? Indeed.

    When enough people have been beaten up by these Tory animals the tide will swing our way again; but… These OAP’s are, odds-are, just too stuck in their ways now. Even with their kids and grand-kids appealing to them to stop voting Tory will it be enough? That I don’t know.

    We have to try to talk them down ( said OAP’s ); but… We might get 2/5’s back ( linking with that Local Cllr wanting 4/5’s to come back ).

    If we link that 2/5’s with the Middle-Aged and kids ( we got a significant rise in young’uns voting for us in 2015 ) then that might be enough to get England.

    And here is where it gets ugly. If the SNP continue to beat us in Scotland then, well, we’ll need to consider a deal. I’m actually quite shocked we did not offer a deal in 2015, but there you go.

    Progressive is good. The Greens are waking up, but… We’ll need the SNP on-side as well.

    A Federalised UK makes A LOT of sense. As much Home Rule as possible needs to happen ( devo-max ), so that people feel they are in control of their patch again; but… If it goes ultra-Local ( when a cabal takes over and generally ruins a patch ) then we have a problem. The balance is about Locals making the decision, but with an appeal option for if a cabal hijacks the process.

    There you go, tuppence deposited. There’s definitely work to do, let’s put it that way.

  • Corbyn?

    As an Ed kinda guy ( fair play ) I have concerns.

    Jeremy WILL appeal to the old guard, but… If he does not appeal to the whole crowd then we’ll be in trouble.

    I hope that is taken into account when we announce new initiatives ( Jeremy has only been in for 1 month after all ). I don’t mind Greens joining us for example, but… In the Big Tent you have to compromise. The Greens only pull 5% in the polls etc, so they WILL have to compromise ( some won’t like that ).

    Labour, Co-Op, & Green together.

    Green Labour?

    Something like that. It HAS TO appeal to the maximum number of people though. The old core-Labour alone is not enough to win ( it never was ).

    We’ll see how it goes as stuff is worked out by High Command ( I live on the front line ).

  • I will give you 10/10 credit for trying to find something reassuring to say about Labour’s GE result johnbax but 0/10 for facing up to reality.
    Most political anoraks in Scotland both nationalist and unionist are of the opinion Labour are finished north of the border. That is an objective statement arrived at through analysis, not a cheap shot from a nationalist. The consensus (of all party opinions) in Scotland at this time is that the Scottish Conservatives will be the second party after May2016 (Scottish parliament elections). My opinion is that by May next year the Conservatives will be comfortable in second place (both Tories and Labour are presently on about the same level of support in the polls).
    In 2017 the local elections in Scotland will be held. If Labour do survive May 2016 without internecine war breaking out then the local elections of 2017 will wipe them out for good. Labour’s last remaining fiefdoms in the local councils of Glasgow, Lanarkshire, and Fife are so toxic with stories of patronage, scandal and corruption the SNP don’t have to do anything in these old Labour heartlands as Labour’s infighting for council contracts, jobs and seats is doing it for them.
    Im going to leave England for others to comment, but from where I am I see the JC band wagon running dangerously out of control. If the likes of Tristram and Chukka prevail and Labour’s flirtation with socialism is short lived the resentment from the 60% that voted for Corbyn will split the Labour party beyond repair.
    Maybe The Labour Party were made for the 20th century only.

  • I blame Ed for all this. He had a difficult campaign and was targeted ruthlessly by the press so I understand why he quit so quickly, but at the end of the day he needed to be strong for a while longer and see out a proper post-election review. Losing in May committed Labour to 10 years out of office, and 15 years without a general election win. The party needed way more than a month or two to mull over its direction. It probably needed 6 to 12 months to really understand why it lost and to try and engage with all parts of the party before going into a leadership campaign.

  • You may be right in your prognosis, Richard, and I certainly can’t comment about Scotland. But it’s a strange idea of ‘reality’ which excludes the votes actually cast from any discussion of the outcome of an election. I didn’t find May, or its aftermath, remotely reassuring, but that’s no reason to fictionalise the election results, which were more varied and complex than the received wisdom implies.

  • OK lets talk realities.

    FPTP – Everyone knows its an unfair relic of a two party state. But when Labour had its chance it did FA.

    House of Lords -Everyone knows its an undemocratic relic of a two party state. But when Labour had its chance to reform it, instead it loaded it with Labour peers (many retired socialists and many trade union barons).

    Trade Union/Labour Party relations – Everyone knows the relationship is an embarrassing (note for Labour) relic and has been for 50 years. But when Labour had its chance to sort it out it did FA. And so the Tories have used it as a cosh to hit Labour with since the 70s. Who can blame them.

    Election of a war criminal and thereafter a financial illiterate as PM – No comment.

    There must come a time when the magnitude of mistakes made in the past reflect the nature of the way an individual or organisation acts in the present.

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  • Gordon wasn’t that bad, but Blair was. He did indeed do very little about The Lords and FPTP.

    Not easy.

    You are right that we have to show that we’ve upped our game, but… It has to be consistent. I am of the opinion Ed resigned too soon. Consistent campaigning, whilst providing effective solutions, will breed trust. Some change was needed sure, but too much makes us look unstable ( and, as such, unfit to govern ).

    It’s not easy to say this but I think our old guard lost their patience in forcing this Leadership thing so soon.

    I admit I have concerns about Corbyn actually winning.

  • Christian,
    Sorry about the delay with this reply.
    I cannot agree with you. Gordon Brown will be remembered as the worst chancellor this country has ever had. Dennis Healy was hopeless (28% inflation) but GBs family tax credits were a disaster that has caused the poorest workers in the country years of distress.
    Does the debacle that is FTC need to be explained? GB whilst chancellor abolished the 10% tax band during a budget speech, without warning and without any thought as to the consequences (he thought it would be a show stopper to finish his speech). When it was realised the lowest paid in society were about to become destitute, rather than reinstate the lowest tax rate Brown to save his own embarrassment came up with FTC, a mechanism for paying back to workers the excessive tax taken from their wages through PAYE. The final humiliation to those on FTC was the 25 page annual application form .
    Brown loved to remind us of his moral compass, the problem was he didn’t know how to use it.

  • I have to disagree. Brown was not great, nor was Blair, but… FTC and Disabled Tax Credits are a lifeline.

    As for the 25 page form? It’s normal for ESA & DLA. It always was. You have to make declarations in any claim.

    I agree with the loss of the 10p rate being daft, but… Those Tax Credits saved the bacon of MANY a disabled worker, AND are a vital lifeline for many a family ( still now ). And please don’t forget the important step-forward that was the minimum wage.

    Yes, NHS PFI failed, but… Some stuff DID work ( just over half of it? It’s about that ).

    As PM he ( Brown ) also allowed the rise of Ed, and Ed was a strong player in the end. It was the UKIP protest vote, the Green Surge, and the rise of the SNP that got us. Those 3 are anti-Blair/Tory ( Blair is seen as Tory-lite by A LOT of people ).

    Even with all of that Ed pulled the same number of votes as Blair ( 2005 ) both Nationally and in England. The problem is where those votes showed up, and that is a FPTP issue. Think about it: The same number of votes as Blair. Blair got a majority on that number of votes. Ed got a crushing defeat. That’s FPTP, not Ed.

    Still, Ed is gone now; but… I do feel that Gordon Brown ( once free of Blair’s shackles ) was able to do some good. As was Ed. Our vote IS recovering from the 2010 defeat ( numbers, not distribution ), so…

    The future? Jeremy? We need FPTP gone. And that means a United Left Wing ( temporarily ) to get that all in place. A progressive deal as Caroline Lucas calls it, on a per-constituency basis, so we can target FPTP and finally be rid of it. A United Left as Dennis Skinner calls it. The Croydon Assembly as us Cronxites call it.

    Under a Labour banner ( temporarily, as many Greens will not be comfy with voting Labour ) simply as Labour are the biggest party. We’ll probably need to strike a deal with the SNP as well. Chuka has started talking about Federalisation ( which leads to Scottish Home Rule ).

    Ed was not a disaster, that’s my point. FPTP is a disaster. It’s not accurate to how The UK thinks these days. Only 24% voted for Cameron, and he has a majority out of that minority vote. It’s obvious how dysfunctional that is.

    Tuppence deposited.

  • Christian,
    As a Scottish nationalist my interest in The Labour Party and Westminster is dispassionate. I read and comment on Labour websites because an article or comment may impact on Scotland.
    There is no point in us debating whether GB was a good or bad chancellor or PM. It as an academic exercise and academia was not one of my strong points.
    Lets leave it up to the political historians to decide where Gordon’s legacy lies.
    With regard the future of the LP. In Scotland I genuinely think they are about to pass the point of no return. May 2015 was a disaster for Labour in Scotland. Polls indicate May 2016 will be nearly as bad. The only thing to save Labour will be the voting system which is partly proportional representation. But if as polls suggest the Torys end up as the opposition at Holyrood, Labour will start to look irrelevant. An unseemly squabble over the make up of party lists in the run up to next years election ain’t going to help the cause.
    In conclusion Christian, the out look up here is bleak for your party. I wish Corbyn well, he is a breath of fresh air. But, personally I can’t see it working.
    My advice, if a working arrangement can be agreed between the new leader and his back benchers would be 1) cut all ties with TU bosses; that relationship is pure toxic and the media and Torys (same thing) use it constantly to embarrass Labour. 2) Come up with an economic plan that does not involve borrowing. 3) Gradually realign foreign policy. Ditch old cold war weapons and anti Russian rhetoric. Use the money saved on domestic problems. Put a bit of distance between the US and UK. 4) Devolve wealth, civil servants and government out of London.
    Those last two points are radical especially no.4. If a Labour party was to seriously address point 4 and come up with well planned blue prints to redistribute wealth, Labour down south can recover.

  • Fair does. If you lot do go for Independence and succeed then, well, I’ll be defecting to the land of Whisky & Haggis toute-de-suite. I already have a kilt & sporren.

    I’d rather be poor and free than poor and beaten with a stick ( I’m
    english disabled. It’s a chuffing nightmare for us at present ).


    I am also very-much in favour of PR. No deal with teh Greens to tactically out Torys will be possible without PR being on the table from what I have seen. The Greens will have that as a key bargaining chip.

    It’s fair enough in my eyes. PR is clearly superior to First Past The Post.

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