One of the first challenges for Labour’s new leader will be to identify why the party lost and what they need to do to make themselves electable once more. This is not necessarily an easy task (it took the Conservative party a decade!), they must convince their own party members of any changes and during long years of governing there is a risk of a disconnect building up between the way parties see themselves, and the way the public see them.

As part of our polling on the Labour leadership last week we also asked Labour party members which criticisms of the Labour government they themselves agreed with, and which they thought were the main reasons the Labour party had lost.

A majority of Labour party members agreed with three criticisms of the party – the large majority (71%) thought Labour had been too subservient to the USA over Iraq and Afghanistan, 64% that it became out of touch with ordinary voters and 62% of party members think that Labour did not do enough for working-class supporters. On other criticisms 47% think that Labour didn’t pay enough attention to the trade unions, 41% thought the recession had destroyed Labour’s economic reputation and 33% thought Labour had not been tough enough on immigration. Few (28%) Labour members thought that Gordon Brown had been a poor Prime Minister, and hardly any agreed that Labour had taxed too much (9%) or wasted too much of the money spent on public services (12%).

Asked which three of four of the reasons contributed most to Labour’s defeat, the answers were slightly different. While 71% had thought Labour was too subservient to the USA, only 43% thought it was a major cause of the defeat, rather the economy was seen as a main cause (47%), along with Labour becoming out of touch with ordinary voters (47%) or doing enough for natural working class supporters (44%). Gordon Brown’s own performance was seen as a major factor by only 33% of Labour members, with only 25% thinking that immigration was part of the problem. Hardly any party members (5%) thought money spent on public services being wasted was a factor.

Compare this with the opinions of the general public. There immigration (52%), the recession (43%) and Gordon Brown (43%) are seen as the main reasons Labour lost the general election. Being out of touch (39%) and failing to help working class supporters (29%) were seen as less important factors. Wasteful public spending was only seen as an important factor by a minority (29%) but nevertheless, this was far more important than Labour members perceived it.

With Labour electing a new leader, the amount that Gordon Brown contributed to Labour’s defeat is now largely academic. On the other two main reasons cited by the public, while most Labour members have not themselves lost confidence in the party over the economy, they do recognise that it was a problem with the wider public. In contrast, immigration was seen as a major factor in Labour’s defeat by 52% of the public, but only 25% of Labour members, a major disconnect.

However, we shouldn’t go away from this polling thinking that it says a harsher immigration policy is the necessarily the answer. Firstly, people are not always good judges of what drives public opinion or sometimes even their own decisions, so just because immigration was seen as a main driver of Labour’s defeat, it doesn’t mean it necessarily was. Secondly, it may not make good strategic sense for Labour to change their stance on immigration anyway – while it could please their traditional working class supporters, the Labour party is a broad church and also contains middle-class intelligentsia who would be repelled by an anti-immigration policy.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the next election could be almost five years away. If the current government runs its course, it will have changed the political landscape that the next election is fought upon. Part of the battle ahead for the Labour party be over how the public remembers the Labour government just gone. In the same way that Labour in 1997 managed to embed the Major government in the public mind as one of “boom and bust” that starved public services of investment, the Conservatives will be eager to paint the former Labour government as profligate spenders who wasted money and drove the country into unmanageable debt. While neither Labour members nor the general public saw spending as a major cause of Labour’s defeat, the disconnect between the general public, 59% of whom think most of the extra money Labour spent on services was wasted, and Labour members, only 12% of whom agree, may yet be the most important as Labour try to adapt to the new political landscape.

This is cross-posted from the YouGov website here, Will Straw’s take on the polling at Left Foot Forward can be read here.

180 Responses to “Views on why Labour lost”

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  1. Rob,

    and will you be happy to do so with Ed Mill as leader- because lets face it that is where we are headed?


    You miss my point…. since when was being a political party simply about winning elections?

    If there was a fair voting system in Britain nobody would have an outright majority.. a party would return to its original function of representing its memebrs interests…

    governments would be formed by compromise between a multitude of parties…

    I never thought that Labour supporters were majoritarians…

  2. @EOIN
    I actually agree with you. In a truly PR system, parties would be able to represent their members’ interests.
    Unfortunately, we don’t have PR. ;)

  3. Julian / Rob,

    Quite agree (been there, done that).

    The real danger for Lab is not so much that you elect a left-wing leader, but that you elect a leader who needs to pander to the left, and so is in a weaker position when it comes to formulating a programme which appeals to joe public (or at sufficent proportion thereof).

    Ironically, Blair in 1994 was in a far stronger position than whomever wins the leadership this year precisely because after 1992 your left-wing comfort blanket had been roundly defeated.

    This is why when considering your new leader you need to ask several quite different difficult questions:

    1 – Do you really believe that the Government could fall at any time (perhaps summer 2011) and that Lab will win the ensuing election provided you do not appear divided ?

    2 – Which of the candidates is likely to have the widest appeal outside the party / Lab core voters ?

    3 – Which of the candidates is best able to force party members / activists to look at policy objectively and move towards the position held by joe public ?

    From what I have seen / read to date I would say that DM is the right choice only if you believe the answer to # 1 is yes.

    For # 2 I think the choice is between EM and AB – possibly more AB.

    For # 3 the answer is unequivocally EB.

    AB as leader with EB as deputy may offer you the best solution. I somehow doubt taht is what you will get.

  4. @Eoin

    be happy to do so with Ed Mill as leader- because lets face it that is where we are headed?

    I don’t think that we are heading there and have never gone along with the ‘hot-house-hype’ within the narrow left on this matter ;-)

    But I will support the leader whoever that is, as I supported Jim, Michael, Neil, John, Tony and Gordon before.

    In any case-if Ed M were elected- once he is you will see an extremely quick tack back towards the centre as he no longer needs all those Union leaders and labour movement activists.

    But he won’t win an election- not ‘planet Ed’.

    So circa 2015 we will have someone like Chuka Umunna- who (so worrying a prospect for the hard right is he) incurred the wrath of Tea Party cheerleader Jeff Randall in his DT hatchet job today.

  5. @ Alec
    “black wheatear that none of us had ever seen (still haven’t).”

    Ah-you probably headed out Nanquidno way then. They usually fetch up out west.
    Nice bird-hope you see it one day.

  6. Rob,

    Fair enough and good to hear….

    Regarding potential future talent, I find David Lammy thoroughly likeable….

    I will read the Randall article.

  7. @EOIN
    There are degrees of majoritarianism just as there are degrees of leftness.
    BTW, my suggestion you might represent the Eric Cantona wing of the Labour Party wasn’t an insult.
    Eric Cantona was one of my all time favourite footballers. :)

  8. Julian,

    Ironically you will be surprised to know that on immigration and international matters i am thorough agreement with David Miliband….

    The title of Anthony’s thread was ‘what went wrong’.

    For me it is basic common sense that we did not listen to our ‘flocking’ wing of the party. So, whether I like it or not (and I assure you I do not) we must listen to them in future.

    Entirely coincidentally, I find myself against the Chablis wing of the party on Turkey. I have been to Turkey perhpas the experience scarred me… but the Kurdish rebels I encountered were enough to convicne me I was not in Europe.

  9. ROB
    “Chuka Umunna- who (so worrying a prospect for the hard right is he) incurred the wrath of Tea Party cheerleader Jeff Randall in his DT hatchet job today.”

    Not quite.
    JR pointed up a very long standing hypocrisy amongst some Labour figures-which Mr Umunna appears to be perpetuating.

    Good article though-thanks for the prompt.

  10. @Eoin

    Lammy is good but not as good as Chuka (presentational management again).

    Osborne getting roasted by Chuka is just starting now on BBC parliament- if you have freeview/ cable access wherever you are go and watch it

    ditto @Sue M if you see this.

  11. Eoin
    Thanx for that. I can see where you are coming from.

  12. @Rob

    Why does Chuka Ummuna keep hiding the fact that he went to an expensive, elitist private school in South London?

    If it is ok for Dianne Abbott to send her son to such a school then surely it is ok for the Barrack Wannabe to have gone to one?

  13. @Rob

    The Chair seems pretty forensic. I know he is a Tory, but not the Govt’s choice, I think?

  14. Fandango,

    I will be eternally perplexed by what difference it makes what school someone went to. What sort of society do we live in where people are supposed to feel guilty for any sign of wealth.

    I taught in a wealthy boarding school. I found the children adorable. Some lonely, some loveless with problems in equal measure to the inner city comp I taught at. All children have issues- a rich kid’s are no less troubling for the child than a poor kid.

  15. Does’nt Jeff Randall have a programme on Sky news? I though British TV News channels have a duty to be even handed or are Sky exempt?

  16. @Eoin

    I completely agree!

    That’s why I cant work out why Ummuna should feel the need to hide where he went to school.

    Presumably he fears it won’t sit well with parts of the party?

  17. Fandango,

    Hmm… yes I do wonder. Admittedly, I know very little of the guy in question.

  18. @ THe Last Fandango
    “Why does Chuka Ummuna keep hiding the fact that he went to an expensive, elitist private school in South London?”

    ….whilst proposing the following according to Jeff Randall :-

    “……..demanded that City businesses trawl through third-division universities in order to engage with lower socio-economic classes: “City employers, who tend to focus on recruiting from the Russell Group of top universities, fail to reach these candidates. City recruiters… must widen the pool of universities.”

    Neat, eh? While banks, law firms and accountants are expected by Labour to sign up students from institutions that are not much more than overblown technical colleges (with scandalously high drop-out rates), the party of the people remains wedded to traditional centres of academic excellence.”

  19. Wow, look at that Rob – Suggest someone might be talented and they’re taking him apart already!!


  20. @Sue

    Just a snippet from Jeff Randall in the Telegraph.

    “….Ed Balls is a clone of Gordon Brown. The last thing Britain needs is more of that toxicity seeping through the political food chain.”

    The guy is supposedly a “serious” journalist writing in a “quality” newspaper.

    It beggars belief

  21. Thanks to Eion for her approval of my previous post on this thread.

    And can I say that, having myself attended a supposedly radical (although it wasn’t, it was just very bad) private school. I strongly agree with the observations she has from teaching in such a school. And by the way I don’t think that ordinary people outside the Labour Party, as opposed to inverse snobs within it, care that Diane Abbot’s child is going to a private school. On the contrary, they would be disgusted if Diane did less than the best for her family in order to pander to ideological dogma.

    Could I make a different point, however, because I have just been looking at the Labour Party website?

    I find there an invitation to join the Labour Party 1,000 club for £100 month (!!!) in return for which people get access such as attendance at their Conference. I further find a booking form for the Labour Party Conference dinner (Since when has there been such a thing. The big event used to be Welsh Night!) . You can book a Premium Table for ten for £12, 500, or an ordinary table for ten for £5,000 or (which comes to the same thing) an individual ticket for £500.

    Why companies or the megarich should pay such a sum to attend an opposition party event beats me. But clearly people forking out such sums are, even if it is impolitic to admit it, seeking influence.

    Whilst Labour is seeking sums of money by such means, which only the rich can pay, the bottom line is that they cannot be sincerely trying to represent the views of the ordinary people with whom they lost touch in 2010, and whose support voting figures show that they have been steadily losing over the last thirteen years.

    A left-wing party needs to seek power by mass mobilisation at the grassroots, which is incompatible with the sort of influence for money tactics that Labour is now using.

    In order to get back to 1997 levels of support Labour should give ordinary people, including the millions who are unemployed or on benefits, positive reasons for voting for thir party, whereas at the moment they are hoping that voters will support their elitist interests because the other options are even worse. And frankly, all the leadership canidates with the possible exception of Diane Abbot appear likely to continue such a pro-rich strategy.

    And my impression is that people know it.

    P.S. To pick up Colin’s point without going into detail, Labour’s record on higher education, with the large sacle graduate unemployment and underemployment that is now resulting, is a particularly clear example of how Labour is putting the interests of international big business before UK people. The Tories and LibDems are going to do the same, but nobody expects them to do anything else.

  22. Valerie,

    My only knowledge of Jeff Randell comes from hsi historical works…. he does seem rather opinionated but then arent we all?

    Ed Balls is a gruff genius. In an era were the politics of presentation did not matter he would have served labour very well as leader.

    I have read at length much of what Balls has had to say for a number of years, there is noone in politics whom I agree with more. I strongly hope that ed milliband keeps him as Education shadow secretary.

  23. Frederic,

    Again I agree with much of that post…. After 13 years of a socialist government there should be knwo such thing as a third rate university…

    I happen to work in a Russell Group uni… I still got a clue what that means but some of the paper shufflers feel very pleased with themselves….

    What about a good old fashioned British Uni?

    If roland is about he wont like my next utterance but the derogatory term Polytechnic is not helpful either… a place of learning is a place of learning be it vocational, academic or whatever…

    Regarding the finances of the Labour party- I support state funding myself. Lets not forget cashcroft… Although if I am honest I am a bit miffed at having to shell out for the party conference…

  24. I have to get out of the habit of putting Kn in front of my no(s).

  25. @EOIN

    Re: Jeff Randall

    I think it’s one thing to have opinions, quite another to have a pen dripping with venom. :-)

  26. “I have to get out of the habit of putting Kn in front of my no(s).”

    Yes-it is rather a strong type of pepper Eoin !


  27. Back to the orginal post. One significant area that is being addressed by the new government is not mentioned in these questions.

    Where is the question on Civil Liberties?

    The ConDem goverment will have its Repeal/Reform bill, this will be a major issue at the next election, and the Labour party will have to have a clear policy on it.

    Why no question?

    It was certainly an issue at the last election.

  28. Why no mention of their authoritarianism?

  29. I agree with Bernard. I used to think that voting on the basis of human rights and civic liberties was a middle class luxury. it was economic circumstances that changed votes. And indeed the traditional story about why people like Hitler could get to power was that people didn’t worry about their liberties until too late. The trouble is, I was in part told this whilst in the Labour Party, and I suspect that many New Labour Party swallowed this story.

    But my impression is that people at the last election did in fact very much mind New Labour’s authoritarianism. Things like CCTV and traffic cameras everywhere, and various other examples, some of which many of us felt intimidated from even raising, despite our supposed democracy.

    I don’t think many of us thought the Tories would be any different, but almost incredibly the ConDem alliance does actually seem to be doing a little to improve our freedom and dignity.

    Coming back to the psephological point as to why there was no question on this issue, I did actually post at the start of this thread (I think it is the fifteenth contribution) mentioning about the validity of the method used in this (and other)polls to determine the specific questions. When I studied occupational psychology, we were taught methods for constructing questionnaires that started with methods of identifying the relevant factors (issues) with as little subjective bias as possible. The same techniques are applicable to political polling, and indeed at least one of them, focus groups, is not infrequently used.

    I think we have to recognise, however, that political operates in a commercial market. These days, even academic political scientists have to bid for research money. In this environment, pollsters’ clients not infrequently have interests in particular questions, not least when the media wants to build a story around the polling results. And if work to establish the validity and relevance of poll question costs extra money, it may get skipped.

    And finally, on the topic of adequate polls, can I enquire, hopefully to check, whether Anthony and YouGov will be doing a large scale poll for Conference time. There may be issues because of decreased interest after the election. Also, different seats are now marginal and there is the issue of quite likely redistribution before the next election. All the same, now that Anthony has done two annual polls of a size enabling constituency analysis, it is very important to keep the sequence going. And of course the increasing possibility of such historical comparison will increase the importance and interest of the findings.

  30. Frederick – I’d love to do a great big marginals poll again, but the bottom line is they are very expensive, so need a client with deep pockets interested in commissioning one.

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