Labour will face “huge challenges” to win the 2020 general election as changes to parliamentary boundaries and Britain’s ageing population move against the party, the former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett has warned.
In a sobering assessment, Beckett 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 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, says Tory warnings about the dangers of a minority Labour government propped up by the SNP had a “decisive impact” in a small number of constituencies.
She says fears about the SNP were among four factors cited by pollsters and by voters on the doorstep to explain Labour’s defeat. The other three factors, in Beckett’s words, were:
- Despite his surge in 2015, Ed Miliband still wasn’t judged to be as strong a leader as David Cameron.
- Failure to shake off the myth that we were 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.
She declines to endorse any of the four issues, as she says it is 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 Labour had the wrong policies, that the party was too leftwing and that it was too anti-business.
Beckett writes: “In general, we believe that these commonly held reasons for defeat should be treated with caution and require deeper analysis. Often they were contributory factors to the broader narrative rather than necessarily significant reasons in their own right.”
She concludes: “We were badly beaten. The collapse in Scotland made it impossible for us to be the biggest party and the Liberal Democrat collapse enabled the Tories to gain an overall majority and keep us out of power. We received far fewer votes than were foreseen. And where we did achieve swings against the Tories, these were in safe Labour seats rather than in the target marginals in which we worked so hard.”
The former Labour deputy leader, 72, a veteran party figure who first served as a whip under Harold Wilson in his final year as prime minister in the mid-1970s, blames largely external factors for Labour’s defeat. Beckett says Labour 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 praises Miliband’s performance during the election and says 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 says 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 says Britain’s ageing population – an extra 1.5 million voters aged over 65 – will hand the Tories an extra 570,000 voters.
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 19th January 2016 17.18 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010