On Wednesday Jon Cruddas announced his first findings from his inquiry into why Labour lost the election, writing an article on LabourList about how Labour lost because it was too anti-austerity, not because it was too pro-austerity. It was not, it’s fair to say, universally welcomed by Labour supporters and there was particular criticism of it being backed up with a couple of poll questions showing people agreed with a statement “We must live within our means so cutting the deficit is the top priority”.

I don’t like “do you agree or disagree with these statement” questions, as I’ve written before. They do have their uses (and indeed, comparing agreement with broad campaign messages that can’t really be unbiased is one of them) but in most cases there are better ways of asking the question. The bigger mistake being made here is to wrongly focus on just one polling question and ignore the wealth of other data – if Jon Cruddas was basing his whole review on a single poll he would be being rather foolish, but I doubt he is. I expect the polling question has been highlighted as an illustration of his case, rather than being the whole evidence his case is based upon. The broad thrust of his argument is in line with other polling.

The key question on Labour’s economic positioning at the election isn’t whether people were pro or anti austerity, it’s which party people trusted on the economy (specific economy policy questions are just things that feed into that). On that the polling was clear – for example here or here. For whatever reason, people did not trust Labour on the economy as much as the Conservatives.

The British Election Study analysis of what drove people’s votes with proper key driver analysis will come in due course. Typically though the main factors in voting intention are things like party identification, perceptions of the leaders and the parties’s perceived competence on whatever voters see as the important issues of the day. In hindsight now that we know that Labour’s polling lead was an illusion, Labour’s defeat seems very straightforward. A year ago we were scratching our heads at the paradox of how Labour were ahead despite trailing on the things that normally drive voting intentions. The actual reasons seems to be the polls were wrong, which means Labour’s defeat is suddenly pretty easy to explain: people did not have a positive perception of their party leader, people did not think they were competent on what they considered two of the three major issues of the day (the economy and immigration) and even in the area Labour normally have better figures than the Tories, perceptions of the party itself, people increasingly saw them as out of touch with ordinary people.

Turning specifically to austerity and Cruddas’s argument, the British public are not “pro-austerity” in any ideological sense, the vast majority of people don’t want to see the state cut down in size on principle – you can easily find lots of polls showing that people oppose particular cuts, think cuts are too deep or too fast or whatever. The government’s cuts were never “popular” as such, but throughout the Parliament they were consistently seen as necessary. After the economy began to grow again they gradually became seen as beneficial to the economy, by 2015 YouGov were typically finding around 45% of people thought that the government’s cuts had been good for the economy, 35% of people thought that they had been bad for the economy. By the time of the election 50% of people thought the government were handling the economy well.

Regardless of whether or not the government’s policy was right, regardless of whether or not they should have won the argument on the economy, regardless of whether or not they actually made any cuts, when it came to broad public perceptions this was the situation: the government had argued that cuts were needed for the economy, Labour had opposed them, cuts happened and the economy recovered, therefore the government were right. Yes, it’s a classic case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, but there goes.

It is not impossible that Labour could have combined being anti-austerity with perceived economic competence, but it would have been a huge ask. Once the economy started to turn around it was likely that the public would give the government some credit for it. Making an argument that the government’s whole approach was wrong when the public perceived it as “working” would have been difficult, more so when the public still held Labour partially to blame for putting the economy in such a state. Rightly or wrongly, getting spending under control came to be associated with sound economic management, failure to commit to getting spending under control was perceived as being against sound economic management.

There are different realities where an anti-austerity stance might have worked. If Britain hadn’t got back to economic growth for the last couple of years the government’s economic policy wouldn’t have been perceived as a success and the public would likely have been more open to alternatives. If the government had imposed their cuts in ways that had upset a greater number of swing voters they might have lost more support. However, parties can’t choose their own reality, they have to deal with the one they are given, and being anti-austerity was unlikely to be a winning strategy in the political realities of 2015.

2020, of course, will be a different battle – the great recession will have receded a decade into history, if the government have met their targets there won’t be a deficit for Labour to answer difficult questions about. I expect Labour being seen as economically responsible will still be important and questions about whether a party is seen as moderate or extreme, risky or safe will always be relevant… but the specifics of arguments about being pro or anti-austerity and questions about how you deal with the deficit may well all sound a bit, well, a bit 2015.


286 Responses to “On Jon Cruddas and why Labour lost”

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  1. STATGEEK
    @Allan et al
    Some council election eye candy for you.
    http://www.statgeek.co.uk/2015/08/council-by-elections-roundup/
    ______

    Thanks STATGEEK, the results look so much more impressive in 3D form. ;-)

  2. Many in the private sector get holiday pay plus bank hols. My partner is a kitchen porter for a big hotel chain and he gets annual leave plus bank hols. If he is asked to wk a bank holiday is given a lieu day.

    It’s common practice and not confined to some public sector dream world.

  3. MARK W

    It must be a great hotel chain your partner works for. The hospitality industry in the UK is notorious for working long hours, dire pay and bare minimum holiday entitlement.

    I’m not saying working in the public sector is a dream World but the sheer magnitude of it can only survive in a dream World. The point I’m trying to make is the employment in the UK is top heavy with public sector workers many of whom enjoy extraordinary benefits.

    Not on about the police, the army, NHS workers (except bloated managers) but more about the huge army of stealth workers in resource wasting departments dreaming of duvet day every Friday .The ones who get paid massive salaries but actually contribute nothing to the economy.

  4. Allan, I suspect you wish to showboat. I have given you on example rejecting your assertion yet on you stomp.

    Here is another for you to ignore. When I worked in the public sector I was once asked to give up my holiday pay cos I had been off sick for an extended period. That went against local and trust policies but they still tried.

    Does that dent your certainty at all?

  5. Interesting comments from mcternan.

    In the event of a corbyn win ,party needs to rally round tom watson.

    The young are on the march wanting something different -in scotland,in the labour party .

    What will the elderly do -vote to come out of the EU.?

  6. Using charities and private companies for previously public sector support services has shown that those sectors often lack oversight to say the least.

    The worst are just criminal it would appear, g4s being one example.

  7. MARK W

    You’re giving personal individual accounts in your comments which are impossible to verify. However I do believe you but I’m not on about individual anomalies within the public sector but the sheer scale of it and it’s drain on the UK workers who are having to pay £1,200 a year for public sector pensions.

    Of course there are low paid workers in the public sector and most do a fine job in whatever area they work in but overall there is a lot of resource wasting.

    I know a lot of people stereotype with stuff like “how many council workers does it take to change a light bulb?” 1 to hold the ladder, one to hold the coffee, one to climb the ladder, one to pass the light bulb one to carry out the risk assessment and one to sign the job off but in reality the public sector needs to be trimmed.

    And why job centers need to close at weekends is beyond me? Are people only unemployed Monday to Friday? Why are all the council departments closed at weekends? Do rat infestations only happen between Monday and Friday? Yu can’t even get a NHS dentist during the weekends!!

    The public sector has to be more efficient and channel more into front line services that we pay for and cut the bureaucratic waffle behind the scenes who are paid way over the medium wage.

  8. MARK W
    Using charities and private companies for previously public sector support services has shown that those sectors often lack oversight to say the least
    _____

    I agree…Take Ingeus, a private company hired out by the government to help long term unemployed get back into work. Private company but wholly paid for by the private sector taxpayers and the performance of that company is suspect!!

  9. “It’s dry, what more can I ask for?”

    ———-

    Well another day of the cricket woulda been nice. We keep polishing the Aussies off with days to spare…

  10. Allan. ” impossible to verify”.
    Ok. Well, what a riposte. Assume good faith Allan. I share personal info and you say I am making it up. Tsk.

    There seems little point in talking with you further.

  11. @Allan

    Bloat can be hard to cut. People think it’s easy but most are not much cop at it. It involves analysing complex systems in detail, and then coming up with solutions. You can look from the outside and go “Look!! There’s some bloat, cut it!!” but there may be hidden reasons and awkward knock-on effects that may make it harder to cut.

    It might be easier to just close a few libraries, kill off some services rather than the difficulty of trying to optimise a system. The best optimisers might be getting paid much more in the private sector anyway.

    Or they’ll just outsource it to the private sector to “optimise” and they might optimise it by bequeathing us some MRSA. And for all one might criticise the public sector, the priority might be the bloat the the private sector, the overpaid bankers who take down economies, the energy companies hiking bills and earning large sums they plough back into hoovering up more of the market to disguise the profits, the failure to invest sufficiently to improve productivity…

    You can moan about some diversity officer’s pension, but that’s a drop in the ocean compared to this other stuff. Land banks pushing up rents and house prices. And really, private sector workers complaining about public sector pay and conditions is shooting themselves in the foot. If public sector conditions improve, that puts pressure on the private sector to match it. If not like-for-like then in some other way. If you kill off public sector perks that will then allow the private sector to drive down pay and conditions further.

    Which may make some kind of sense to an employer, but less so if you’re a wage slave.

  12. @Allan

    Sometimes, even if there is bloat that could be relatively easy to cut, but it won’t happen because managers are overwhelmed, and in the public sector managers may not have the funding to hire people to delegate.

  13. CARFREW

    Anything but the ole cricket but I take my hat off to the English cricket team. What was the score? 2-0 ;-)
    ___

    MARK W
    Allan. ” impossible to verify”.
    Ok. Well, what a riposte. Assume good faith Allan. I share personal info and you say I am making it up. Tsk.
    There seems little point in talking with you further
    _____

    I really do think you have selective reading. In the next sentence I said that I believed you.

  14. CARFREW

    I agree cutting public sector bloat will be extremely complex and I’m not on about front line services such as Libraries and other services we take for granted. It’s the back office resource wasting and over paid managers doing very little for their salaries who need cutting down which will probably go some way to protect front line services.

    Yes the private sector has cost us all dear with the collapse of RBS and HBOS but even taking both banks downfalls they both have still be net contributors to the exchequer over the decades.

    And rents are shooting out of control but that’s because of the lack of affordable housing being built so inevitably greedy private sector landlords will cash in.
    ……….
    “And really, private sector workers complaining about public sector pay and conditions is shooting themselves in the foot. If public sector conditions improve, that puts pressure on the private sector to match it. If not like-for-like then in some other way”
    _____

    The true scale of the gulf in pay that separates private and public sector workers is revealed today in an report that includes the impact of “gold-plated” pensions for the first time.

    Workers in the state sector received a fifth more than counterparts at private firms when pensions were factored in, according research published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
    The think tank said teachers, doctors, nurses and other state employees received an average of £28,000 a year, while private workers received £27,000.
    However, generous pensions added £6,000 to public workers’ pay, boosting the total to £34,000 a year.
    By contrast, the pensions offered to private workers added just £2,000 a year, giving £29,000 overall, the report found.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/pensions/11152840/Public-vs-private-sector-pay-gap-is-5000-or-a-fifth-of-earnings.html

    Sorry I don’t see the match!!

  15. @ALLAN CHRISTIE

    “I agree cutting public sector bloat will be extremely complex and I’m not on about front line services such as Libraries and other services we take for granted. It’s the back office resource wasting and over paid managers doing very little for their salaries who need cutting down which will probably go some way to protect front line services.”

    ———–

    Yes, you’re missing the point. You may not want Libraries to go, but if they have to make cuts, and it is easier to just cut a service than optimise it, or cut some libraries instead, guess what’s likely to happen…

  16. Allan, weaseling. Why even bring my truths into doubt? Preceding I do with I don’t is confusing. They are contradictory positions. I assume you misspoke. I forgive you this time.

  17. @Carfrew

    Well another day of the cricket woulda been nice. We keep polishing the Aussies off with days to spare…

    Turn your eyes to Scarborough, and you will see a fascinating last innings, Yorks vs Durham.

    I think a Yorkshire win will knock Durham out of contention. Following 25 wickets in the first 4 sessions, runs seem easier to get, and it looks a nail-biter.

    @Allan

    On the ‘bloated public sector’, sorry I just don’t see it. Our local coucil has shed loads of jobs, and many services are now on life support. They seem to have dropped below the critical mass required for a viable service.

    My Dad got a final salary pension (in the private sector), but they have fallen back, no doubt.

    Surely, it’s better to improve private sector pensions to a better level, than to lower public sector ones? A very large number of public sector final salary pensions are not of high value, but pay small sum to dinner ladies, library assistants and care workers.

    Surely you would not begrudge a retired dinner lady a modest 3-4K pension for a lifetime of work?

  18. @Allan

    I would add that many back office functions are critical to a smooth running of services.

    If you get rid of them, front line doctors and nurses end up with more bureaucracy to do, and less time working the front line.

  19. @Allan

    “Yes the private sector has cost us all dear with the collapse of RBS and HBOS but even taking both banks downfalls they both have still be net contributors to the exchequer over the decades.

    And rents are shooting out of control but that’s because of the lack of affordable housing being built so inevitably greedy private sector landlords will cash in.”

    ————

    Yes, somehow you seem to have rather less onerous standards for the private sector than the public. The banks taking down the economy is liable to have had a FAR greater impact on your life than that Diversity officer’s pension. Diversity Offficers get a lot of flak, but in hindsight one might have wished ol’ Fred of shredding fame had been a diversity officer instead, or just working in some bloated back-office…

    Even just sticking to the private sector, other businesses manage to make net contribution to the Exchequer without taking down the economy.

    Regarding housing, yes, shortage of supply, that’s what I was on about,, and land banks can be one of the reasons…

  20. @Allan

    “Sorry I don’t see the match!!”

    ————

    Well that’s not very surprising because I wasn’t claiming a match, nor does there need to be one to see my point. You’re not really seeing how the knock-on effect thing works.

    Obviously if you compare to professionals like teachers, doctors and nurses, average pay in the private sector may be lower.

    I am not saying that the public sector pay and conditions will pull private sector up to exactly the same level. Difficult ask when public sectsector workers are so outnumbered.

    But the public sector can pull private sector up further than they would otherwise have been.

  21. Allan Christie
    I won’t try and turn this into a wider argument of public vs private sector but many of these back office mangers that you think are bloating the public sector are equally present if not more present in the private sector. There are many pieces of evidence for this but I concede a lot are anecdotal or up for interpretation so instead I’ll use a piece of evidence thats totally mathematical. It comes from the US but its applicable here.

    When debating public vs private healthcare in the US those arguing for the private sector use many of the arguments you use (over bloated public sector bureaucracies that waste taxpayer money by being vastly inefficient) Its then pointed out that in the US the private sector insurance providers spend 10 cents of every dollar they receive on administrative costs compared to the government ran Medicaid program which only spends 2 cents for every dollar it receives on administrative costs.

    Both public and private sectors are ran by people, the private sector administrators are not superheroes, both are capable of mistakes, both are capable of inefficiencies and the facts tell us that they are comparable.

  22. @Catman

    Thanks for the heads up. I don’t pay enough attention to County Cricket. Being as I don’t know events in the York’s – Durham match I’m gonna start from the beginning on iPlayer yesterday…

  23. @RIVERS10 and Allan

    “I won’t try and turn this into a wider argument of public vs private sector but many of these back office mangers that you think are bloating the public sector are equally present if not more present in the private sector. ”

    ——————-

    I don’t think it needs to be about all private vs public per se. What I tend to head towards is the broader, more anodyne aspect of things like how one optimises any system (and how people’s perspectives on what can be optimised and how shapes their voting), and yes, bloat can occur in both sectors and crucially, the market does not necessarily weed it out of the private sector, or when it does, at times it takes the rest of us down with it.

    Peeps overly-enamoured with the private sector should be prescribed a regular dose of “Dilbert” which satirises the seemingly limitless examples of private sector inefficiency, futility and general screwiness.

    Dilbert can of course be applied to the public sector too. Bloat and inefficiency is non-partisan and plagues us all over the shop.

    http://dilbert.com/

  24. About diversity officers.

    When I was in the public sector I had to accidentally break a staff member,s mug that was at the time for sale on the BNP website.

    I also had to explain that asking a black member of staff if they liked reggae and had good rhythm was inappropriate.

    As for myself I had a constant stream of polite yet ridiculously intrusive comments about my own sexuality.

    We need diversity training and the people to do it.

  25. @Catman

    “Surely you would not begrudge a retired dinner lady a modest 3-4K pension for a lifetime of work?”

    ————

    It’s possible some might, going by chats I’ve had elsewhere. They might have Bupa, company car, expenses, gym membership or other perks a dinner lady might only dream of, but if she has that state provided pension and they don’t…

  26. @Mark W

    Yeah, I just picked diversity officers because they often crop up as an example.

    There are perhaps better examples…

  27. @Mark W
    Tell me about it ! I have been pilloried for thinking Morris Dancing is for imbeciles, when I am a rural Englishman. Also the amount of red wine I drink is “inappropriate”, but no one stops to consider the amount of French blood I have.

  28. I think it is a good example as it is so often pilloried. NHS trusts don’t flash the cash without good reason.

    Staff retention is a big challenge to the NHS. Skilled professionals are in short supply due to failure to train enough. Experienced unskilled staff are worth their weight in gold. Private staffing agencies are a double whammy, used at riotous expense to cover shortages and a constant drain on staff as they pay more.

    Exhaustive disciplinary investigations consume money and manpower.

    Now consider the role of the diversity officer. One amongst thousands should ameliorate or avoid recourse to suspensions and sackings by educating people to be kind and understanding thus avoiding serious and disruptive allegations. The workplace is improved for all, staff retention will be improved.

    Many back office roles decryed by those on the right are in fact moneysavers.

  29. Roland. I assume you were not at work drunk and wassailing.

  30. Starmer vs Nandy vs Jarvis vs Cruddas.

    That would actually be quite an interesting contest.

    Remarkably, you don’t immediately want to punch any of them repeatedly.

    Alternately, make Naz Shah leader on the principle that anything that annoys George Galloway must be a good thing.

  31. On the question of why Labour lost – did Labour lose?

    Ed Miliband said that he would put Labour back in government after one term in opposition – a big ask, a difficult thing to do, as he admitted.

    How did he get on? The result of the General Election show that Labour gained 30.4% of the vote, an increase of 1.5 % since the last election – not much perhaps. The Conservatives gained 36.9% of the vote, an increase of 0.8% since the last election, not much movement there either. However, you can say that Labour has gained ground on the Conservatives.

    In terms of seats won, was the election a bad result for Labour? At the last election in 2010, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems formed a coalition with 306 plus 57 seats giving a total of 363 seats. Now after the 2015 election the Conservatives have 330 seats. That is a weaker position in parliament, a smaller majority.

    Labour had 258 seats in 2010. Now it has 232. It also has 57 SNP MPs who will support it,giving a total of 288 seats.

    No, Labour did not come back to government after one term in opposition. It was a tall order. However, they have made progress. Rome was n’t built in a day.

    Ed Miliband need not have resigned immediately. He could hold his head high. There was not not a big movement to Labour, but there was a movement to his party, from the Conservatives.

    What about Jeremy Corbyn then? Is he the solution? People seem to criticise or support the policies of Corbyn. They do not comment on him personally. I would say that his age is against him, 70 years old at the next election. Yes, he is a bit younger than me. With age comes experience, but Corbyn has n’t got experience in government compared with the other candidates. He does n’t seem to have much experience on select committees either. Labour is not selecting a presidential candidate but a party leader who can work with others. Can Corbyn work with others? Even Michael Foot had cabinet experience.

  32. Clause 4 is coming back!

    Is the opposite of New Labour , Retro Labour ? :-)

  33. @Colin, nice to see the Labour leadership election is even engaging Tory supporters. :-)

  34. If you scroll down the main page of the Dilbert link I gave earlier, it keeps loading new cartoons. This one’s a nice example:

    The point-haired boss is interviewing a prospective new employee…

    PHB: “Tell me your process for solving this sort of problem”.

    Applicant: “I would ignore it for a week and likely discover it wasn’t important in the first place. If it still matters after a week I would hold fake job interviews and ask people how to solve it”.

    PHB: “Apparently that doesn’t work…”

  35. LIZH

    Its the best show in town at present. The Seventies Revisited-with real beards.

    Memories, memories eh ?

  36. @Colin

    I love it. Nice to see you agree too. :-)

  37. @Liz H

    Colin’s prolly been looking for someone to replace Hollande in his affections for a while now.

  38. Lizh,
    I have managed to obtain a black corduroy jacket and white flared trousers. The Carpenters play on the rudimentary sound track of my Lancia Beta Coupe, I am 30 again. As long as the M.O.D don’t send me back to Ulster.

  39. COLIN
    Isn’t this where we came in?

  40. Colin and LIzh are loving it for differing reasons one for partisan reasons the other for utopian.

  41. @Mark W

    Yes, I picked it because often pilloried, the argument being that even if one had a worst case scenario of a diversity officer of almost no utility at all, you might prefer that to a banker buying up all that toxic debt.

    The reality of course, is that with diversity officers you might have one who is fantastic at their job and saves a lot of money and adds a lot of value, or another who doesn’t and maybe just causes more work for colleagues, as with nurses or teachers or most anything else.

    Because in the real world one finds a range of motives and abilities, and there aren’t enough of the well-motivated and sufficiently able.

    Now, in theory, one might design a system to compensate for that but those capable of that without screwing summat else up are also in short supply, and prolly busy being burned out as we speak.

    One thesis is that the profit motive etc., market disciplines will force better systems and efficiencies, but there’s nothing given about that either, because not enough people good enough, empire-building encouraging needless roles, people gaming systems etc. as per Dilbert.

    When I had my first job working in a factory in the private sector, one of first things my colleagues said to me was not to work so hard cos made them look bad. And no, it wasn’t unionised. Same thing happened in the public sector. I didnt see it as working harder, just frontloading: putting in some extra effort up front to make things easier yet better later. But that doesnt necessarily happinate so if you plan on actually trying to make things better and more efficient, your number one goal is often to get good at hiding it.

  42. Carfrew
    Unfortunately there are two types of people in the world – those who want to work hard and reap the appropriate rewards, and those who want to make the minimum effort possible.

    The second type can be found in all sectors and types of job. My personal experience is that they are far more common in the public sector.

  43. @Pete B

    Read Dilbert

  44. Anyone think that Corbin is maybe going a wee bit off script?

    1. Try Blair for war crimes – js that really a vote winner with Labour Party members?
    2. Refusing to condemn IRA
    3. Saying he is going to re-open coal mines
    4. Reinstate clause 4

    That’s just in the last few days

  45. Carfrew
    “Read Dilbert”
    I do. But – spoiler alert – it’s not a documentary.

    Couper
    “Anyone think that Corbin is maybe going a wee bit off script?”

    Isn’t the whole point of Corbyn that he doesn’t have a ‘script’ in the same way the others do – he just has beliefs.

  46. @Couper

    I suspect that with regard to point 1 the answer is ‘yes’.

  47. I think it’s a combination of brutal honesty even when it gets you mercilessly attacked, slightly giddy overconfidence and a crowd of supporters some of whom would cheer if he endorsed hanging kittens. Some slightly oversimplified reporting could be a factor too.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he’s peaked too early, and the momentum will manage to alienate a lot of people with its zeal before voting closes.

    Should I prove incorrect, I will return here to wolf down my humble pie. But I think the next leader of the Labour Party will be Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper.

  48. I work in the software industry and Dilbert is very accurate. Many times I think ‘this reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon’

    Just one example – Dilbert had a cartoon about this – we outsource coding:

    We pay a company’s developers to write code
    We also pay them to fix the bugs in the code they write…..

    You might think that is a recipe for disaster – it is.

    Of course we eventually realised our plan had a few holes so we put in lots of metrics but that’s another Dilbert….

  49. @Mr Nameless

    I agree with you.

    If I was still in the Labour Party I would have definitely started out intending to vote for Corbyn but in the last few days I would have lost my nerve, realising the risk of a Corbyn win.

    I would have switched to Cooper about now.

  50. Dilbert does have a lot of resonance with real life that is true. A lot of it could be equally valid for either public or private employment.

    Dilbertian situations occur most frequently in large organisations. Almost all public sector organisations are large, whereas most private organisations are small. Also private organisations have to be profitable so that adds some discipline.

    Therefore I am not surprised that in my experience time-wasting passengers are more common in the public rather than in the private sector.

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