Peter Cuthbertson was the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Darlington in May.
How deep-rooted are the factors that caused Labour’s spectacular defeat in May? After reading Iain Watson’s insider account of the Labour campaign, Five Million Conversations, I am inclined to say very deep indeed.
Labour HQ clearly made some poor calls. I suspect almost no floating voters noticed many of the things they apparently agonised over, like Miliband’s awkward response to a present from a four-year-old. I was a candidate in that election and I completely missed this event.
They insisted he speak from a podium during every stop on the short campaign, so he would look more Prime Ministerial.
Labour spent more than £300,000 on an American campaign consultant who mostly stayed on the other side of the Atlantic after a small media row over his immigration status.
Some of the mistakes Labour made on messaging were hilarious. “Reforming markets” seemed like a winning slogan within Labour HQ. Ordinary voters who thought it meant Labour planned to interfere with market stalls in their town were less impressed.
The media commentariat hailed Miliband’s language of “One Nation” as a brilliant move by a Labour leader onto Tory, Disraelian turf. Actual voters had no idea what it meant, or confused it with the boy band One Direction.
None of this wasted time and money sounds horrific in itself, but it is galling in the context of how much the campaign neglected the two major issues for voters.
The big logistical decision of Labour’s short campaign was a target of contacting four million voters. In the end the party counted an impressive five million.
But rather predictably, the need to hit this target soon pushed out all other considerations for campaign organisers on the ground, such as the quality of the voter contact, or shrewd targeting.
The party clearly needs fundamental reform to its structures, but Labour MPs – understandably terrified that this will turn into a Corbynite power grab – seem likely to resist this for the moment.
Then there was Ed Miliband.
Iain Watson writes of a leader who failed to introduce any clear command structure. I had no idea how clearly he was to the left of his own Shadow Cabinet – or how exasperated many of them were at this, and at his blasé approach to voters’ economic concerns.
Watson makes little of it, but I was also struck by Miliband’s absurd caricature of “the Tory vision that says Britain succeeds when only a few at the top do well”. Was such rhetoric ever likely to win back former Conservative voters?
Labour’s private polling showed the Conservatives taking a lead in the opinion polls from October 2014. It also showed Labour was clearly failing to convince on the two biggest issues for voters – the economy and immigration.
But to the frustration of colleagues, Miliband didn’t like to spend much time reassuring on either the deficit or immigration. He would talk about them occasionally, then move back to his comfort zones, as if they were boxes to be ticked rather than ongoing major challenges.
Immigration emerges from the book as every bit as much an Achilles’ heel for Labour as the economy, with the party’s attitudes miles away from public opinion.
I would venture that it is an even bigger hurdle than the economy for Labour, given the Labour Right is every bit as committed as the Labour Left to steamrolling public opinion and to a broader PC agenda.
They enjoy virtue signalling about the wonders of vibrant diversity far too much to bat for the people harmed by mass immigration.
Blairites and the broader Labour Right are correct to see the electoral importance of aspiration. But they are also utterly tone deaf to the aspiration of someone with white skin who wants the same chance as anyone else to be a police officer, or someone male who wants to be an MP in a constituency with an all-woman shortlist.
I agree with Peter Franklin’s take: it was less the Blairite analysis that was vindicated in May than the Blue Labour analysis.
As for what all this means for us, some of the book’s lessons seem just as applicable to the Conservatives as to Labour.
If Labour recognises that the big cities aren’t enough – that governing majorities are won in the marginals of the unfashionable towns and suburbs, not in the trendy metropolis – then that’s where we, too, must refocus our efforts. Nor should we be above taking a leaf out of the Blue Labour manual in some cases.
The SNP issue was clearly important, is unlikely to go away, and can be reused.
While the Corbynites and Blairites seem keen to avoid bruising deselection battles, if we hold our nerve on reducing the size of the House of Commons then potentially awkward Labour selection battles for the new enlarged constituencies are inevitable.
Above all, Labour has big gaps to close on immigration and the economy before they can hope to match us for votes or seats. We must do all we can to keep that gap open as long as we can.