In a searing assessment of Labour’s prospects, the former No 10 director of communications said the party has an “unelectable but unassailable” leader after Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all failed to plan for their succession.
“So somehow we seem to have ended up with a leader who is unelectable but unassailable,” Campbell writes in an article for the Guardian.
“Unelectable in the eyes of the non-political public, unassailable because he is exactly what those inside the bubble want: something different.”
Campbell issues his warning after Margaret Beckett warned that the party will face “huge challenges” to win the 2020 general election as changes to parliamentary boundaries and Britain’s ageing population move against the party.
In Labour’s official report into its election defeat last year, the former foreign secretary says Labour will need to gain an extra 94 MPs to secure a Commons majority of just two – a challenge that will become more difficult as Tory-inclined older voters begin to make up a larger proportion of the electorate.
“It is critically important for the country that Labour is able to win the 2020 election but we will face huge challenges,” Beckett writes in a 35-page report on the reasons for Labour’s defeat last year.
Beckett, who was asked by the former acting Labour leader Harriet Harman to compile the report, highlighted four factors cited by pollsters and by voters on the doorstep to explain Labour’s defeat:
- Ed Miliband still wasn’t judged to be as strong a leader as David Cameron, despite his surge in 2015.
- Failure to shake off the myth that Labour was responsible for the financial crash and therefore a failure to build trust in the economy.
- Inability to deal with the issues of “connection” and, in particular, failing to convince on benefits and immigration.
- Fears that a minority Labour government could be propped up by the SNP.
Beckett declined to endorse any of the four issues, as she said it was important to treat with caution a number of theories frequently cited as the reasons for Labour’s defeat. These include the charge that Labour was out of tune with the public on deficit reduction, that it had the wrong policies, that the party was too leftwing and too anti-business.
She blamed largely external factors for Labour’s defeat, including that the party fell victim to a Tory-inspired “myth” that it was to blame for the financial crash, and the party struggled to win media attention during the last parliament when splits in the coalition dominated the headlines.
Beckett praised Miliband’s performance during the election and said Labour did not lose the ground campaign. “Ed Miliband performed well during the campaign. When, for the first time, the public had more of an opportunity to see Ed Miliband for himself, his standing markedly improved.
“We certainly did not lose the campaign on the ground. Many have remarked that the ground campaign was the best ever and, while there are inevitable geographical variations, our staff and activists did us proud.”
In the final section of the report, Beckett said Labour may struggle to win in 2020 as she says Tory plans to shrink the House of Commons from 650 to 600 seats by equalising the size of constituencies will benefit the Conservatives. She said Britain’s ageing population will create an extra 1.5 million voters aged over 65, and if the Tories maintain their share of these older voters it will hand them an extra 570,000 votes.
The challenge facing Labour was highlighted by a YouGov poll which showed that 55% of Labour voters at the last election believe it is unlikely the party can win under Corbyn. The Labour leader’s net satisfaction ratings stand at minus 39% compared with minus 6% for David Cameron.
In his Guardian article, Campbell voices fears that the next Tory leader is on course to win the election in 2020. “I know that if Labour becomes an anti-American, anti-Nato, weak on defence, soft on terror, unilaterally disarming party of protest, along the lines Corbyn appears to want to take it, then David Cameron’s successor can expect a long haul in office.”
But the former No 1o director of communications says that the legacy of the Iraq war and the failure of the previous three leaders to prepare for their succession are to blame for Corbyn’s rise. “So now we have Jeremy Corbyn, as surprised at being leader as everyone else is that he is there. But this did not happen in a vacuum. Tony begat Gordon begat Ed begat Jeremy ... Although I can and will defend Tony over Iraq, I also know that we cannot overlook the fact that widespread opposition to the war, and anger about the aftermath, played a big part in Corbyn’s rise.”
Campbell highlighted the importance of “planning succession and legacy” in an article which drew comparisons between the way in which Tony Blair and Sir Alex Ferguson achieved great success in their own careers, only to see Labour and Manchester United fail under their successors.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010