Labour risks another election 'walloping', Frank Field says

Boxing Gloves

A former Labour minister has said the party risks another “walloping” at the next election because of its failure to learn the lessons from its 2015 defeat.

Frank Field spoke out as the party faced renewed criticism over its public attempt to identify what went wrong, the so-called Beckett report, Learning the Lessons from Defeat.

Deborah Mattinson, a pollster who used to work for the party, described the report as a “whitewash and a massive missed opportunity”, while Michael Dugher, the former shadow culture secretary, said it overlooked some of the party’s organisational problems.

Dame Beckett, the former Labour deputy leader, was asked shortly after the general election to chair a taskforce to investigate why the party had lost. The 35-page document was published last week, but its recommendations were relatively bland, reflecting the deep divisions within the party over the strategy most likely to deliver victory in 2020.

Field, who nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership in the interest of debate despite not sharing his politics, told the Sky’s Murnaghan show that Corbyn was “in tune” with voters on issues such as inequality and the economy.

On other issues, however, such as security and immigration, “the Labour leadership is walking off in the opposite direction to where voters are, and in particular those swing Labour voters who didn’t swing our way and gave the government its unexpected election win last time”, he said.

“Clearly that’s going to have to be sorted out before the next election if we’re not to get a walloping yet again.”

In a separate interview with the Sunday Politics show, Mattinson said she had hoped the Beckett report would mark the moment when Labour faced up to what went wrong at the election. She carried out her own focus group research, which was submitted as part of the Beckett review, and she said she was disappointed her findings were not reflected in the final report.

Voters not trusting Labour on the economy and not viewing Ed Miliband as prime ministerial were both crucial factors in the party’s defeat, she said. The Beckett report, however, made only a cursory mention of these problems, and did not analyse them properly, she said.

“If you look at every election since the 70s, what you see is that the party that has the leader with the best ratings is the party that wins. There’s no exception to that,” she said.

“If this report didn’t address those issues then I am not sure when they will be addressed. No political party has a divine right to exist and unless Labour really listens to those people it must persuade, it stands no chance of winning the next election.”

The Beckett report does say four factors were constantly raised as explanations for Labour’s defeat - lack of trust on the economy, “connection” issues such as benefits and immigration, Miliband’s leadership and fear of the SNP’s influence on a minority Labour government - but it does not go into detail or assert how important these factors actually were.

Dugher told Sunday Politics the report should have said more about the organisational lessons the party needed to learn from its defeat. He said the party did not process the information it was picking up from voters properly, and as a result members of the shadow cabinet were sent to campaign in the wrong places.

As well as the Beckett report, Labour officials have drawn up a second internal report into what wrong, 2015: What Happened? It has been known for some time that it was much more candid, and this was confirmed by extracts published in the Mail on Sunday.

“Doubts around Labour leadership never receded,” the internal report is quoted as saying. “Ed Miliband’s ratings were always behind Cameron. Tory claims that he would be bossed around by Nicola Sturgeon resonated. It was hard to give a credible response.”

On Labour’s reputation on the economy it said: “Historical perceptions meant we struggled with economic credibility - fuelled by the Tories’ use of the state of public finances after the last Labour government and Liam Byrne’s note.”

And on Labour policies it said: “It was hard to convince people our policies would benefit their families. David Axelrod’s comment about our uninspiring election offer ‘Vote Labour and win a microwave’ was echoed by polls. Would-be Labour voters backed Tories because Labour doesn’t have enough vision and big ideas.”

Labour has not challenged the accuracy of the Mail on Sunday leak, but has not commented further.

Powered by article was written by Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent, for on Sunday 24th January 2016 16.27 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010