There are a lot of discussions in Labour circles at the moment trying to work out why the election result was so decisive. The first rule of any election is that the public are always right even if you don’t like what they have told you. The second rule is even more important – unless you win, you cannot impact the lives of those for whom we care about.
So lesson 1 for the Labour Party is really very simple – to win an election, you have to get the most votes at least 326 seats for a general election. This means that even if we had won every single seat in Scotland and Wales, the Conservatives would still have had a majority in this election. Therefore to win a future election, Labour has to do one of two things:-
1) Get enough non-voters into the Labour column
This is being argued by some on the grounds that only 70% of the electorate did vote. Their argument is that if Labour attracted most of this group, there would be enough people to overtake Tories in their marginal seats. My own view is that this is doomed for failure. It’s a sad fact borne out by years successfully polling in this marginal southern Council seat that those who are most in need of our support are also those least likely to vote. Those living in social housing flats will rarely vote because they don’t see the point, don’t understand it or their lives are so difficult and chaotic that voting is just not a priority for them. I met numerous residents with desperately sad stories impacted by the bedroom tax, benefit changes and using food banks but none of them voted according to our records. Why? Because they never have done. Their lives are dominated by worrying about their kids, heating or food and the idea of walking 20 mins down the road with a double buggy would be irrelevant to them and it always will be for many. Our poorest roads were around the 20% turnout mark and this is common around the country. No amount of pleading or persuasion would change this.
2) Get enough Tory voters to switch
I have heard some anecdotal stories about Labour canvassing only those they believed to vote Labour. That’s fine but you will never win a marginal seat just on strong Labour promises. You have to take the “don’t knows” with you as well at least get more don’t knows than the Conservatives. These are people who do vote but often switch between elections without any particular tribal leaning. The issue here is that you know they will vote and if they do switch, they also take one off the opponent as well. It’s actually easy to track who votes and who doesn’t as you can get a marked register from previous elections.
To win an election, you need to get the support of those who do vote rather than those who don’t. This inevitably means that the middle of the electorate is therefore to the right of society as a whole. For Labour to get a majority, they will have to win in England by getting votes from people that have never been on zero hour contracts, benefits, the minimum wage or used a foodbank. This means being relevant to them offering security in an uncertain time.
Two issues were critical to many in this group – the economy and the SNP. Their view was that the Conservatives were trusted more with the country finances and they definitely did not want the Scottish National Party potentially involved in Government.
I don’t have a preferred choice of leader or deputy but do support a longer think before rushing towards particular people. The direction of the ship is more important than the ship’s captain at this point of the electoral cycle.