Since the election there have been thousands of words written about why Labour lost the election, many by very senior national Labour figures. Lord Mandelson stuck the knife into Ed Miliband, and Lord Prescott also announced his contempt for a campaign that offered nothing to Middle England. Tony Blair offered his advice, which was promptly condemned by anyone wanting to become Labour’s new leader. Even David Miliband weighed in, blaming his brother and taking the chance to knife him back.
Labour’s campaign message was relentlessly negative, amateurish and at times appeared to be contradictory, angry and negative. Fundamentally though, Labour were unable to persuade the public they were trustworthy with the economy.
In the final weeks of the campaign Labour were hit time and again by the relentless messaging of Lynton Crosby, who focussed on the SNP/Labour message that broke through with the public. But Crosby would not have been able to use that message if Labour had been substantially ahead in the polls – if they had a message that was appealing to the public. Essentially he pushed on an open door.
Last night I was talking to someone who should be a Labour voter. Why, I asked, didn’t they vote Labour. The answer boiled down to trust, and that Labour didn’t offer policies that appealed to people who wanted to make their lives better.
One prominent Labour campaigner has described this as voter’s self-interest. I think to some extent he is right – but having identified many of the flaws in Labour’s campaign he then comes to the wrong conclusions.
The Tories offered policies which appealed to aspirant families who want their children to have an easier time than they did. Policies like Help to Buy – proposed but then abandoned by Labour run Ipswich Borough Council – persuaded thousands of voters in marginal seats to stick with the Tories.
But ultimately it comes down to trust. Labour were not trusted to run the economy. In part this was because the Tories successfully placed the blame for the worldwide economic crash on the last Labour Government, on Gordon Brown personally, and by extension on his two key advisors, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.
Ed Miliband told a BBC Question Time audience just a couple of weeks before the election that he didn’t believe that Labour overspent – yet they were borrowing money at the peak of the boom. Economic policy now is that we should run surpluses in the good years to pay down debt, but Labour never properly made the argument that this was not a policy followed by previous Governments – Tory or Labour. Labour were unable to shake that reputation for economic incompetence, in part because it fed on preconceived ideas about the Labour Party, but also because every single measure the coalition had taken to deal with the deficit had been opposed by Labour in Parliament.
Labour struggled because they offered a negative view of Britain, with very little offer to aspirant families and they had neither a reputation for economic competence or a personable leader.
Here in Ipswich you could argue that it was a microcosm of the national picture. Ben Gummer offered a 6 point vision for Ipswich. David Ellesmere campaigned on his record as IBC leader and on national issues. Ultimately offered a positive local campaign or a negative national one, voters chose Mr Gummer.
I’ve written in recent days that David Ellesmere is not the man to take Ipswich forward. Ipswich Labour Party clearly disagree with me – that’s not really a surprise but I still think it’s a mistake. David will have to show he can work with Colin Noble and Ben Gummer to stop Ipswich Borough Council being isolated in a sea of blue. The future of our town depends on it. Unfortunately evidence of the last four years shows that David will instead spend the next five years creating dividing lines to exploit at the 2020 General Election. That isn’t in the best interests of Ipswich.
But David is perfectly capable of beating Ben Gummer in five years’ time and realising his long held ambition to become an MP. All he has to do is make himself Mr Ipswich. He has to show that he is happy to work with anyone if it is in the best interests of Ipswich voters – all of them not just the Labour ones. He has to show that he wants the council to do all it can to give people a leg up rather than getting in the way.
David needs to show to voters who didn’t support Labour that “a Labour Government does not just mean higher taxes, people having an easy life on benefits and money being wasted on stupid projects.” To do this he will need to rapidly extricate himself from the Sproughton Road sugar beet factory, which has been seen as a spectacularly bad piece of real estate investment by many in the business community in Ipswich. He will need to show that he accepts that higher taxes hurt everyone, by making efficiency savings at IBC and freezing council tax. And he will need to show that he wants everyone who is currently on benefits to have the opportunity to get a job; he can show that he is compassionate by reminding voters that people would rather work than claim, but that this doesn’t mean we should treat those who have to claim as though they are a drain on our society.
Ultimately Labour will not win elections while they consider that they ran a good campaign locally. They offered a negative view, attacking the Tories rather than telling us what they would do for Ipswich. While Labour nationally will now spend some time considering who is better to lead them – be it Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall or Chuka Umunna – they need to consider locally what they did wrong. Obviously I don’t expect them to do this in public, or to acknowledge that anything went wrong in public, but if they want to win they really do need to stop being in denial.