Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Last week’s results were not good enough – full stop

Expectations management is an important part of the media-handling of elections. However, I refuse to have my expectations of Labour success managed by our leadership. Our election results were not good enough to put us on target for a Labour government in 2020, therefore they are not good enough full stop. And to those suggesting that people like me should ‘put up or shut up’, I ‘put up’ and won in 1997, 2001 and 2005. When you’ve won a general election, you’ll be in a stronger position to ask lifelong party members to shut up. Until then …

Whether or not a leader wants it to be, any set of elections is a test of their leadership and a signal of the progress they are making towards becoming prime minister. It is also a test of the strategy and messaging deployed in the campaign and the job is made easier or harder by the unity of purpose showed by the party.

From the statements of our leaders and the election literature, it seemed clear that our message and election strategy was to use an anti-austerity message and the campaigning power of our new members to mobilise non-voters. In the poster launch last week, we appealed to voters to choose which ‘side’ they were on and to vote accordingly

So let’s start with the good news. In the heart of the country, the excellent Redditch Labour party retained control of Redditch borough council and the Tories lost control in Worcester. These are both constituencies vital for forming a Labour government. On these figures, they still would not have returned a Labour member of parliament.

Hard-working Redditch councillors kept their seats because the local party campaigns its socks off and the council has implemented popular and radical, but sensible, policies with Labour leadership. In addition, the major message of the campaign was about protecting the local Redditch hospital which faces an extremely uncertain future. Given a threat to the local hospital, the Tory budget fiasco, Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation and academy policy in shreds, the question is why we feared that the council could be lost to the Tories at all.

It is because neither the strategy nor the national messaging are right.

That poster brought it home to me. On the doorstep during this campaign the message I most often heard was that voters had not made up their mind. Many of us who do the campaigning are Labour to the core – we cannot imagine voting anything other than Labour whatever we feel about any given leader or set of policies. We need to remember we’re not normal – we’re a bit weird. Most people don’t view their politics (any more, even if they ever did) as about ‘taking sides’ or sending a message to the prime minister. The day of the core vote is over. In a less certain and less deferential age, people take a more ‘consumerist’ approach to choosing who they vote for. This is not to say that values are not important – or that people only vote selfishly – but people will look critically at what is on offer from the parties and, furthermore, they will make a judgement about how likely the parties are to be able to deliver it.

Nor am I convinced by the anti-austerity message. Wasn’t that supposed to be the clincher for Scotland?

In addition, we haven’t yet delivered on the promise to enthuse non-voters to get out and vote Labour. Jeremy Corbyn has certainly excited some Labour supporters and new members of our party, but this has not translated to higher turnout. In fact, one of the more sickening elements of this election campaign were the celebrities who were perfectly happy to declare their support for Jeremy, to laud the way he was changing politics, but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for his party. Yes I’m talking about you Charlotte Church, Emma Thompson et al.

It won’t be getting non-voters out which will win parliamentary seats in Redditch and Worcester. It will be by getting people who voted Tory or the United Kingdom Independence party this time to change their vote by 2020. I am not sure tarring them as being on the ‘other side’ is a good way to persuade them.

Having decided on your key messages, you then need a ruthless discipline in pursuing them. Our national campaign was too easily thrown off course. Nobody in Redditch raised the issue of antisemitism with me. However, one former Labour voter told me he thought we were a ‘bit of a shambles’ – that was over the weekend Ken Livingstone spent prancing around radio studios talking about Hitler. Instead of downplaying the serious issue of antisemitism, our leadership needed to tackle it earlier. Jeremy bemoaned the fact that ‘the media are obsessed with my leadership’. I understand his frustration, but I am afraid the media become obsessed with leadership when you are not showing enough of it.

I can wholly understand why our current leadership are putting a brave face on a mediocre set of results. I have done that enough times myself. However, behind closed doors, they must be honest with themselves about the scale of the challenge to win in 2020. More of the same won’t do. What’s going to change?


Jacqui Smith is a former home secretary and former chief whip. She writes the Monday Politics column for Progress, and tweets @Jacqui_Smith1


Photo: Ian Britton

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Jacqui Smith

is a former home secretary and writes the Monday Politics column for Progress


  • “Last week’s results were not good enough – full stop”

    Well, not good enough if you want to dislodge the existing leadership, as Smith and Progress indubitably want to do.

    “However, I refuse to have my expectations of Labour success managed by our leadership”

    …although you’re quite happy to have them managed by the Daily Telegraph and News Corporation, apparently…

    “people like me should ‘put up or shut up’, I ‘put up’ and won in 1997, 2001 and 2005”

    And more recently, lost with the same, tired politics in 2010 and 2015.

    “When you’ve won a general election, you’ll be in a stronger position to ask lifelong party members to shut up”

    Strange, Blair did just that, straight before his first victory in 1997.

  • Jacqui, can’t say I was ever impressed by you or many former Blairites…that is the problem..who do you all think you are? Put up again there’s a by election coming….

  • This doesn’t make sense even its own terms. Analysis part 1: Redditch was retained because of effective local work and messaging. Analysis part 2: Jeremy Corbyn is a rubbish leader because he doesn’t have enough ruthless central messaging discipline.

    It scores about 2/10 as a piece of critical thinking.

  • “A mediocre set of results”?
    1326 seats won and 38.5% of the vote compared to the Tory’s 842 and 27.1% doesnt seem too bad to me!

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  • Funny how this anti-Semitic controversy came just one week before local elections! The flames were fanned by Jeremy’s enemies within the Party. John Mann’s televised attack on Livingstone
    made national headlines. Could it be that they (Labour’s Right Wing, Progress?) wanted defeat for Labour at the local elections because success would be a boost to Jeremy’s leadership; whilst failure would make leadership coups more credible?

    Progress “experts” well know – and often tell us “thick people” – splits in parties do not encourage voters to vote for them. So, they know what they are doing!!!

    As to Charlotte Church, she endorsed Jeremy and performed for Momentum fundraisers in the UK. I saw her at the Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon.

    When will those who rise in membership organisations realise that they are their SERVANTS not their MASTERS?

    Jeremy gave an excellent speech in reply to the Budget!!! As to the Front Bench, he has such a small pool of “potentially loyal” MPs [and, therefore, extremely limited talent/experience, save
    for one or two] to choose from. As to Cameron and his rich mates, they are the most hypocritical, disingenuous and incompetent bunch of Career Politicians that has served in the House of Commons. It is these traits that Labour should list and build upon. Whatever one feels about Jeremy and his personal views on policy, he is decent, genuine, honest and squeaky clean. This is in total contrast to the current government and, if played and presented correctly, an election winner as many “thinking” voters are sick to death with spin and dishonesty. Having heard John McDonnell face to face at conferences, we have a Shadow Chancellor who is articulate and argues the case against austerity extremely well.

    Old Grassroots Geezer (OGR’E?)

  • Firstly where is the evidence the JC ever thought the election results were good enough, I don’t think anybody in the party would think they were, however considering the publicity coming from the attempts by some in the PLP to try to use these elections to oust the leader we held our own well. Had that element who seem unable to accept the democratic decision of the membership as to who should be leader, held off on their attacks we would have done better.

    Labours share of the votes cast in this leg of the election cycle.

    2000 30%
    2004 26%
    2008 24%
    2012 38%
    2016 38.5%

  • Some of this is fair comment, I agree that the results, while not as awful as some were predicting, were nothing to celebrate. But I do have some problems with your analysis.

    Nor am I convinced by the anti-austerity message. Clearly the strategy in Scotland didn’t work.

    It’s certainly true that our strategy in Scotland failed, but then we have particular deep rooted problems there with no easy or obvious solution. You can’t necessarily apply the lessons from Scotland to the rest of the UK (or vice versa). There is a simple reason that the anti-austerity message is the right one, and that is that Osborne’s austerity agenda is bad economics and has failed miserably. OK, it’s also necessary to provide a credible alternative, which John McDonnell is trying to do, but opposing bad, damaging policies should be a no-brainer.

    In fact, one of the more sickening elements of this election campaign were the celebrities who were perfectly happy to declare their support for Jeremy, to laud the way he was changing politics, but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for his party. Yes I’m talking about you Charlotte Church, Emma Thompson et al.

    I’m not sure how this fits in with your message of trying to persuade, not demonise, people who voted for other parties. And surely one of the aspects of the “consumerist” approach to politics which you (reasonably) say is the new reality is that people might support one party at national level and another at local level.

    It won’t be getting non-voters out which will win parliamentary seats in Redditch and Worcester. It will be by getting people who voted Tory or the United Kingdom Independence party this time to change their vote by 2020.

    Why does it have to be one or the other? Given the scale of the challenge we face we need every vote we can get. It’s true that every Tory voter who changes their vote is worth two non-voters but even so, a third of the electorate didn’t vote last year, that’s a pretty huge pool of potential voters to just write off.

  • If we had a Blairite leader the results would have been worse. An 11% lead over the Tories does not seem bad to me. The trouble with Progress MPs is that they spend too much time attacking the democratically elected Labour leader. The Blarite candidate got 4%, remember that?

  • It becomes more and more apparent that (Blairite) Labour is just the left wing of the right wing establshment

  • I think it’s very difficult to gain votes from the Tories and UKIP while the referendum question is in the air. To be clear I am backing Alan Johnson’s campaign. I just think the party should be taking the time to offer both sides debate to the voter and in particular the social impacts of both outcomes.To take such an uncompromising view is costing votes in England and Wales, more so than anything else right now. If that debate can be had in a mature and adult fashion (in the spirit of new politics); I do think we broaden the appeal while the Tory party is seen bickering and divided.

  • You say Osbourn’s austerity agenda is bad economics but is it that simple? We have more UK people working than ever before indeed as many employed now as during the boom years of 2002 to 2007 , and probably less working age people in receipt of benefits so people have looked harder for jobs. In the South, East Midlands, the East you can see prosperity as quite evident; indeed if things were that bad the Cons would have had a greater thrashing. Prosperity around the M25 , M1 corridor and M4; no Labour MPs from London to Bristol, except multi ethnic Luton or trendy Brighton few in the Home Counties. Essex and Kent what nearly all Tory.

    This is not to deny inequality, NHS crisis, public services in meltdown, lack of good qualified teachers etc but it points to one thing Corbyn’s message is too metropolitan, too limited to our core voters if they still exist and Insufficiently postmodern , we are not talking to great swathes of voters anymore .

  • Livingstone is no member of Progress as you well know. You are in denial too. Sad to hear of yet another Labour Party member and campaigning activist leaving very recently in a marginal seat because of Corbynism and recent antics.Too many experienced subscribers are going and donations are dropping. I would not contribute money to a Corbynite led Labour because it’s waste of money as its unelectable in many Tory swing seats. Corbynism remains a wrong turn for our party as the SNP acknowledged its good for them for Labour to have a weak leader. Moreover with a leftist tribal Labour Party the Lib Dems should begin to pick up n some areas ..we are just lucky their leader is almost invisible and ignored by the TV media who seem to give UKIP far more priority.

    Yes Jemery is a good honourable man and fights for social justice as he showed at Progress last week. But it does not follow a nice leftist guy can be a PM as many attributes are needed such as communication skills, persuasiveness and being personable ; Sturgeon, Cameron are leaders in that sense and if there was a GE now David Cameron would be going to the palace with the backing of what he had a year ago 100 more seats than Old Labour.

  • Rubbish if only because of the fact you can only win power in the UK by appealing to the middle ground, to suggest large numbers of Labour have anything in common with Boris Bonkers , Gove and IDS is libellous, and from 1997 to 2010 Labour reduced poverty, supported low paid families, gave more educational opportunities to the disadvantaged than ever before in history, cut cancer appointment waits , had an economic boom, and so on. Corbynism is so toxic the new London mayor distanced himself from it, the Scots rejected it totally including its high taxes and closing down our nuclear deterrent, and Labour’s vote in England moved by what 0.05%.

  • Micheal Foot, Ian Ducan Smith , Micheal Howard, Nick Clegg and our Jemery Corbyn – all democratically elected by their members but all rejected by UK voters. It’s worse though Sean because JC has the lowest ratings ever recorded of all of these ex leaders as the polling expert Mike Jameson said at the last election he underestimed the poor pre election Ed Miliband’s ratings and focused too much on the opinion polls. It was there all the time negative ratings from voters and JC has the lowest in recorded in history.

  • Libellous? Aye, right. Your opinion then is… sacrosanct? Whatever. One thing that you don’t seem to perceive is that the (global) political landscape is so polarised now (partly as a result of the destruction of the traditional European left by Gorbachev, Gonzalez and Blair – the riders of the anti-socialist apocalypse), that the middle ground is now synonymous with the right, which has become as reactionary as it ever was. The centre has disappeared along with the 20th century, where it did have a role. That’s why the left is gaining ground. Opinion is not libel

  • Sorry this is reply to the socialist Rob Ross below.

    Do you mean like Venezuela Red Ken’s dreamland where they did try old leftist socialism and its led to the world’s deepest recession and the world’s highest inflation . For many of us Sweden, Finland, Holland, Denmark, France and Germany are good progressive social democracies where capitalism is moderated sensibly and people enjoy health care, education, human rights, EU prosperity in a balanced manner better than either Neo-Liberal England or socialist Venezuela.

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