Anatomy of a defeat

It’s been quite the week for stunning revelations. 

Apparently, the polls utterly failed to predict the outcome of last year’s General Election, largely because they struggled to find enough of the 11-million people who voted Conservative.

Meanwhile, an internal Labour report reveals — and brace yourself here — that the party suffered a heavy defeat last year.

Margaret Beckett’s committee tries to force the party to confront the scale of the voters’ rejection — but there’s more than a few spoons stacked with sugar to make that message more palatable.

It highlights four reasons why Labour lost the election — chiefly the failure to counter what it calls the “myth of Labour’s crash”.

Yet the report admits the party itself chose “not to concentrate on countering” the idea that Labour alone caused the global financial crisis.

Every time a coalition minister trotted out the lines about “Labour’s recession”, opposition MPs sat on their hands, too scared to shout “What twaddle. Your banker mates caused the crisis, we bailed them out”. 

The party lay on the floor and let David Cameron and George Osborne take as many kicks as they liked, and then wondered why the public had no confidence in Labour’s economic credentials.

Now, five years late, comes the advice to “take the global crash myth head on”.

While the Beckett report is unsparing in highlighting Labour’s failings, there’s a lot of teenage whining, complaints that it just wasn’t fair that Tory-leaning papers were so beastly to Ed Miliband. How could Labour have expected that? Or predicted that campaigning alongside the Tories in Scotland might harm their electoral prospects there? Or that the Liberal Democrat vote would spectacularly collapse? It’s not as if there were countless other elections before May 2015 where that had already happened.

In fact, Labour gained votes last year — but almost all of them were worthless, either in constituencies Labour was already bound to win, or places where they never stood a chance.

In the one-hundred most marginal Conservative seats, the Tories gained four times as many votes as Labour. If those target voters dismissed Ed Miliband as a potential Prime Minister, how likely is it that Jeremy Corbyn will win them round?

And this is the most depressing part of the report for Labour supporters — as it sets out very clearly just how big a task the party faces if it’s to return to power.

To win a majority of just 2 in 2020, Labour needs to gain 94 seats. But there are just 24 where the sitting Conservative MP has a majority of less than 3,000, and just 2 where an SNP member is defending a lead of less than 5,000. And that doesn’t count the Labour seats held on narrow majorities, or the likely impact of boundary changes.

Reading Margaret Beckett’s report, you can perhaps see why the likes of Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis decided to sit out last year’s leadership campaign. Leading Labour right now is a thankless task, leading to an almost inevitable defeat. It seems the best they can hope for is to narrow the Conservatives’ lead.

Better for an ambitious young MP to wait until after the 2020 election, campaigning for “one more heave” to get the Tories out. That suggests at least 15 years of Tory-led government, which may at least be long enough for Labour to figure out how to talk to the voters it so desperately needs.