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. Some eye candy to go with the TNS poll – https://twitter.com/StatgeekUK/status/630695505375457280

  2. @Colin

    If some foreign firm gets away with paying, say, just ten percent tax on a billion profit and squirrels the rest abroad, vs. the State keeping the full billion, surely you can see the latter offers rather more money to keep a downward pressure on the deficit or your taxes.

  3. Jeremy Corbyn leads by 32 points, wins on first ballot in new YouGov. I just can’t stop laughing. Papers go out shortly so barring a polling c*ck up on a greater scale than the GE (possible, this contest is very hard to model) Jeremy Corbyn, the single most rebellious MP of the New Labour years, will be Leader of the Opposition in about a month’s time.

  4. @Pete B

    That’s the thesis, that it was all lame duck industry. But by ’79 we were talking about industry that had already survived a three day week, oil price hikes, inflation, recession etc.

    And then got hit with another round of oil price hikes, interest rate rises, cuts, VAT hikes… Your definition of lame duck perhaps requires attention.

    Even if something is lame duck, it can be worth saving to avoid the knock on costs, all the suppliers going under, communities trashed etc… If you are going to let it go, replace with summat better first.

    The banks were lame duck, they brought it all on themselves. But saving them kept our preeminence in finance AND saved the economy.

  5. Carfrew
    I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree. I’m not sure our lengthy debate should dominate the board any longer. We seem to have opposite views of how history was, and of what should be done now, and I suspect we will never concede more than minor points to each other.


    If any company is paying less tax than out Tax Codes require it should be pursued by HMRC.

    I recognise that profit & revenue shifting by multi-nationals is facilitated by differing taxation regimes around the globe. I believe that GO is trying to get some international agreements on this.

    In any event , closing taxation loopholes is not a good reason for nationalising private companies-as I said upthread, one needs to lay out sensible criteria for State provision and/or funding of a service before such decisions are made.

    I do not believe that “private profit” is inimical to good service provision. On the contrary in the right competitive context it is a reason for providing good customer service , because without customers there is no profit-and therefore no business.

  7. YouGov:

    Corbyn 53% Burnham 21% Cooper 18% Kendall 8%

    I for one welcome our new beardy overlord.

    If these figures have the gaps between the other three right I honestly don’t see how Corbyn can lose even if the poll is overestimating him by 10%.

    With Burnham and Cooper so close Kendall’s 2nd preferences are sure to push Burnham into 3rd place, and his 2nd preferences will easily carry Corbyn over the line.

  8. Astounding.

    The repercussions in UK politics are unknowable but considerable.

  9. The gender gap is fascinating, too:

    Women: 61% Corbyn
    Men: 48% Corbyn

    Crossbreaks and so on, but that’s substantial if it’s real.

  10. @Colin

    It certainly won’t be dull!

    Has Corbyn peaked too soon?

  11. I kinda feel like they should have let Toby Young and Tim Loughton keep their ballot papers, just so that on the off chance Corbyn is elected Prime Minister they can have the pleasure of knowing they played their little part in the revolution.

  12. Let’s assume that Corbyn becomes leader. Would he attract voters in Scotland, and perhaps Greens and TUSC voters in England and Wales? It seems quite possible. I would have thought though that he would deter more voters than he attracts, but there is an awful lot of people who don’t usually vote. Would they be tempted?

    Possible PM in 2020. Politics is very unpredictable at the moment.

  13. @Pete B

    Scotland is locked out by the SNP.

    As for England, he could also tap into the Red Kipper vote. But he would still need a broader base to win a GE.

  14. “2020, of course, will be a different battle – the great recession will have receded a decade into history…..”

    Might just be worth filing this line of AW’s away somewhere for later retrieval and discussion. Economic catastrophes tend to unwind over long time scales, so I don’t necessarily believe 2020 will feel like we’ve gone much beyond the recession.

    On Corbyn – I’m with @Rob Sheffield on Clause 4. I think it’s an electoral disaster anywhere outside the Labour party, but clearly he is already finessing it and I can’t see a reinstatement of the old version.

    As Rob says, there are numerous models that combine the ethos of state universality with the disciplines of the markets, alongside the ability to raise finance. It’s not a binary choice, and Labour could be clever and craft an effective message here, but I suspect if Corbyn is elected, they will face such a trial by media that they will almost be bound to fail.

  15. @ Pete B,

    perhaps Greens and TUSC voters in England and Wales?

    Wouldn’t really help even if he won over every single one of them. The sum total of Labour + Greens +TUSC had fewer votes than the Tories at the general election.

    Corbyn needs to win back some of the Ukip voters and ideally some Tories, or massively increase turnout amongst non-voters.

  16. @AW

    My post in moderation was tongue-in-cheek :-)

  17. What’s Corbyn’s position on Europe? He won’t get Kippers back unless he wants out.

  18. I couldn’t see Corbyn getting more than 29% at a GE because he would draw out the same extra no. of UKIP & Tory votes against him for those parties as extra potential votes from young people and old Labour voters for Lab and that’s before you factor in unfavourable vote distribution.

    Best case scenario for Corbyn would probably be only a net gain of about 1 million votes on 2015 and standing still in seats (if he miraculously made it to 2020) 15 (e.g. 400000 from greens 300000 from SNP, 400000 from UKIP and 400000 from non voters and only lose 500000 to Cons) as I don’t see a GE turnout of more than 71%.

    I think there are a few short term arguments to be made for Corbyn e.g. shaking things up WTR to the HoL but who would have the gravitas to replace him from the left thereafter after all the ‘upheaval’?

  19. Grr. I wrote a long post that went into moderation.

  20. @Colin

    Absolutely. It will be regime change rather than the elite rotation that periodically occurs.

    @Pete B

    Should he get to 2020 I think it is possible that he’d have made a pact with the Greens. He collaborates with Caroline Lucas on many issues as it is. And I think the Greens themselves probably feel they didn’t help their cause by putting up candidates in LAB-CON marginals where they had no chance of winning. Non-voters probably won’t make much difference. For one they are far from all left wing. And they are mostly disinterested in politics, so unlikely to be motivated by even a change like Corbyn’s arrival on the scene.

    The big issue is how on earth he manages to control a parliamentary party from which he can probably draw reliable support from only 20 or so MPs, none of whom are unifiers. A good portion of the party are on record saying how he’d be a disaster. And as a serial rebel himself it will be very hard for him to whip the party effectively. He’ll have to find shadow ministerial teams that can support his policies on the economy, defence, energy and foreign affairs – policies that, especially in the case of Trident renewal, it is pretty clear most of the party don’t support. At some point he may have to face breakaways – either rival organisation within the party or actual defections (these are more likely to start from current backbenchers such as Simon Danczuk but it is debatable whether Tristram Hunt can be in a Jeremy Corbyn-led party for five years). It won’t be easy. But with little prospect of changing the electoral system it is hard to see how another election wouldn’t result in another left-wing candidate winning.

    Another thought. Corbyn’s success is probably scuppering Tessa Jowell in London. Sadiq Khan must now be favourite to win the nomination, but how many Corbynites are plumping for Diane Abbott?

  21. @Pete B

    I’m well aware of the more Libertarian take on history. That’s why I was filling you in on a few things that typically get left out of the Libertarian script, because they undermine the small state thesis. Libertarians aren’t liable to mention how quickly state intervention got us back to growth after the worst crash since the Great Depression either.

    Good idea to bail, because by now you ought to realise I’ve been through this before elsewhere numerous times… By the time I’ve finished with things like the Fannie Mae gambit and the misapplication of Mises and the economic calculation problem… Libertarians come barrelling in enthusiastically, often in a mob but always bail once the data starts flowing…

    But don’t bail on the site, ‘cos this is a place we can come to get deprogrammed. Buggers keep trying to programme us Pete, even in Supermarkets we get an arsenal of psychometrics deployed against us, and meanwhile governments are trying to “nudge” us.

    And you have to avoid the Kool Aid. Best example of Libertarian Kool Aid is shown in the issue of Man Made Global Warming. Ordinarily, you might expect an even distribution of sceptics across the population, but strangely, there are a lot of Libertarians because again, it challenges the small state thesis.

    Because if it turns out to be true, it’s liable to require concerted state and likely global action which is anethema to Libertarians. But that’s just reality, how things are sometimes. Like we needed global action to end smallpox.

  22. @Jack

    My post in moderation wad just a bit of fun.

    I’m not sure if it appeared, if just fot a moment.


  23. Tabs are up: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/14x8p1al7n/TimesResults150810LabourMembers.pdf

    Interesting to note that Corbyn wins amongst the members even if you eliminate all the affiliated and £3 supporters, albeit more narrowly.

  24. Carfrew
    I never knew that I was a Libertarian, I just try to use experience and common sense. I did not bail on the discussion, I just felt that our domination of the postings might become boring for others. I found some of your comments in your last post quite patronising and smug.

    I have no idea what Kool Aid is. Possibly some rock stars against global warming?

    Regarding global warming, it’s obviously a good idea to use renewable resources for many reasons. I just suspect that a lot of people are making a lot of money out of it.

  25. Meanwhile the anti-Corbyn is also polling way ahead of his competitors:


  26. In london corbynmania more likely to help abbott than khan-but jowell might just scrape it

  27. @Pete B

    I don’t tend to feel smug – been humbled too many times for that. Didnt mean to be patronising, it’s just that it’s not that helpful when you go to the effort to cite some economic facts and have it dismissed as if just another opinion. Agree about not wanting to go on about it. But you go too far with the renewables thing: have you not read my posts on Thorium???

  28. @Pete B

    Also, apols about the Libertarian thing, I was innoculating just in case on issues like Mises to save us a bit of time.

  29. @Colin

    Yes, I should have just used the standard corporation tax rate because doing otherwise allowed a deviation off the point into the issue of taxation.

    Even at standard rates, the Exchequer may keep a whole lot more if it keeps all the profits rather than just the tax.

    Yes, profits may be an incentive to improving service to customers, but we are talking more about situations of natural monopolies where that can be rather less the case, especially over essentials where they’ll get the profits anyway.

    Now with hifi, non-essential (except for peeps like me), so peeps can choose to spend their money on some other luxury, lots of competition, result is great products at great prices etc.

  30. I think it was a huge mistake for Labour to have the leadership contests in Scotland and UK immediately after their defeat.

    I also think it is a big mistake not having the years membership qualification for voting, it means that people without a long term commitment to Labour can vote.

    The candidates are also lacking in charisma – if the contest was Chukka Umanna v Dan Jarvis v David Miliband v Corbyn I doubt Corbyn would be in the position he is in.

    The Labour members and supporters are still coming to terms with the shock of defeat, which was predicted by practically no-one (apart from TOH). In Scotland going from the high of referendum success to crushing defeat, will have left them in disbelief.

    If you take the stages of grief where are Labour? Denial? Anger?

    Jeremy Corbyn is an illogical choice:

    1. He has the true backing of low 20s of MPs in the PLP
    2. His cupboard is chock full of skeletons the Tory press can use at anytime
    3. The English will not vote for Corbyn policies – this has been true since Thatcher. They just will not and anyone thinking they will is fooling themselves. Policies such as: High public spending , unilateral disarmament, large nationalisation programs , opening coal mines (??), increasing corporation tax (!)
    4. Real risk of splitting the party & definitely years of civil war.

    Labour people are angry that the Tories are back in power, they are expressing that anger in a self-destructive way.

    Does a Corbyn victory help or hinder Scottish independence? Initially I was worried in case he wins left wing voters back to Labour from the SNP but….

    The SNP MP\MSPs are all very pro-Corbyn
    The Scottish Labour MP and MSPs are very anti-Corbyn

    So I assume they calculate that the left-wing are already Yes to independence and it is the centre/centre-right voter to be persuaded. So the perception that Labour have moved to the left will leave the centre to the SNP which they must see as a positive

  31. Astounding poll regarding the Labour leadership. If these are anywhere close then Corbyn really is an unstoppable force.

    Cooper is denying the poll is correct because of her phone bank data.

    YOUGOV is being brave here and putting itself on the line. I’m sure they have their fingers and toes crossed!

  32. COUPER2802

    This analysis of stages of grief has appeared in a few articles. The attributing of the Corbyn phenomena to an emotional reaction such as anger has also been put forward by many senior Labour figures who are not pro-Corbyn as an explanation for what they see as irrationality.

    Personally I don’t think anger is driving the vote for Corbyn. The main emotion expressed seems to be hope. I think after losing Scotland and two elections the members have finally called time on the Blairite traingulation/centrist approach. It is rational enough. They saw, during the welfare bill vote the direction that the incumbents were planning on taking the party. I think most people thought that might be the final nail in the coffin and lead Labour to lose those voters it had managed to retain in 2015.

    In addition you can’t really remove the man from the equation. Abbot secured 7.6% of the vote representing ‘the left’ in the last leadership election. I think that Corbyn himself will surpass this because people do like his style and communication. He is regarded as honest. He is drawing from a wider base than merely the so called ‘hard left’.

    So a complex set of things. Emotion, yes. But also an appraisal that things cannot continue as they were and the party needs to change. Better perhaps to get on with that now rather than delay the inevitable.

  33. Labour face a new landscape.

    Pretty sizeable loss of votes to SNP, fair amount to UKIP, and then some more to Greens.

    It’s not like Labour votes flooded over to Tories.

    A lot of the votes lost, are of a more left wing persuasion. But with different additional priorities. Ukippers may favour nationalisation, but would that cause them to abandon concerns over immigration? Will Greens relent on the Eco thing? Scots on pressing for more devolution. Some might, but how many is the thing…

    This has happened before, losing left wingers to Lib Dems instead. Blair’s recipe, was to move centrally economically, but leftwards in terms of the identity politics stuff, and in selling investment in schools and hospitals.

    Tories have countered by moving leftwards in terms of ID politics too, and pseudo-ring fencing education and health. Then given Labour new problems on welfare.

    So it’s a complicated picture, and somewhat different to the past, as to what you lose or gain tacking left or right, and in what aspects of left or rightness.

    Must admit, I can’t really get my head around it. But that isn’t exactly a new phenomenon…

  34. That plus the naive £3 scheme -shortly to be dumped I would suspect.

    Costs £25 to vote in the next tory leader election -much more sensible.

  35. Interesting analysis of how Labour got to this point by nec insider luke akehurst.


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