Why Labour Lost the General Election

Labour’s defeat at last year’s general election wasn’t due to a lack of good policies, says HARRY BARNES. There were plenty, but most of them hardly saw the light of day.

Margaret BeckettIn the Labour Party report Learning the Lessons from Defeat by Margaret Beckett, there is an important section which states: “For all the strength of our policies, much of the evidence we have received speaks of a lack of public awareness of much of their content. We have also heard of a perception that, while individual policies were often sound and popular, we lacked the early adoption of a consistent overarching narrative or theme, which could be simply expressed and conveyed on the doorstep, or in the studio.”

Unfortunately, this point is not elaborated on and is not highlighted at the top of the report’s analysis. And it has been missed from most of the recent commentaries on the report.

Yet Labour (especially via its policy forums) developed a comprehensive set of policies in the run up to the general election, which should have been distilled and promoted for a considerable period before voting day.

There were umpteen platforms which could have been used for this purpose, such as the European elections, the Scottish referendum, the 2014 Labour conference, and the months leading up to the general election. In the end (as time ran out) Labour was even late in publishing its general election manifesto. I wonder who ever even read it?

While this was a collective failure by those at the top of the Labour Party, and especially by our leader, Ed Miliband, it was a specific and direct failure by Douglas Alexander. He was chair of Labour’s election strategy. Little wonder he then lost his own parliamentary seat in Scotland.

Labour had a mass of relevant policies, which hardly ever saw the light of day. I listed 180 of Labour’s proposals over 16 items on my blog between 8 and 20 November 2014.

These clearly needed distilling into a set of easy-to-handle points. Eventually this was done with a set of 10 proposals circulated on one single occasion. Opportunity after opportunity was missed to do more when the the party was contacting and organising its members.

All Labour wanted was our money and canvassing activities. But canvassers had no real political script – except, of course, for the big policy ideas on that one-off slab of concrete. And who ever looked at what that said?


Harry Barnes is the former Labour MP for North Derbyshire. He blogs at ‘Three Score Years and Ten’.