I was astounded by the quality of the Labour together 2019 Election Review. An honest, detailed, evidence-based and robust document which is a very valuable step towards understanding where we should go as a party. But there a couple of conclusions in the report I didn’t necessarily agree with.
Firstly a note of optimism.
The most telling statistics in this review were firstly the increasing propensity of of voters to switch parties since 2010 (around 30% with a peak of 43% at the 2015 election), and secondly, the number changing vote preference during the campaign in 2019 was around 30%.
This says to me that many people’s votes are up for grabs. It also chimes with my experience on the doorstep of people waiting to the last minute to decide who they are going to vote for, and not really being enamoured with Boris Johnson despite then supporting him.
So while the report identifies a mountain for us to climb when set against historical data that must be understood in quite fluid electoral circumstances. And yes the international story of social democratic parties doing badly for the last decade or so coupled with the the undoubted shift in labour voting demographics, does suggest the left may have more of a fight doing this than the right: in this country it was ever thus. Attlee, Wilson, Blair being our only election winners.
I loved the way the report took on organisational and cultural issues within the Labour Party. However its recommendations for the way forward were for me far too broad ranging and not focused enough.
We cannot pretend it will be simple to win the next election but there are some simple things that can be done to make sure our message is much clearer more coherent and delivered far better both online and through print materials. Chief amongst these is being hard-headed in how we spend precious resources.
There is a type of left-wing mass movement idealism that often permeates conversations about how we can win. It envisages masses of the Labour faithful descending on key seats being able to convince waiverers and get out the Labour vote. And I do think door knocking can help to get out the Labour vote. However it is far from determinative to the outcome of the election. Far more important is clarity and cogency of message: tested with variety of different audiences, targeted at appropriate audiences and consistently and professionally delivered.
The Tories did this by having all of the messages for their target seats centrally tested and materials centrally produced. Often the candidate was not even mentioned in their literature and if they were they were just a footnote with some vague gesture towards local policy. Local issues can make a very small difference but, after all, these are national elections.
This is why the Tories did so much better because they had a very centralised literatire operation and a very slick social media advertising team at the core of their campaigns (as set out excellently in the Labour Together Review). On the other hand labour had a very locally driven literature operation without even a fully functioning template system for candidates to draw upon. It really was all a bit Dad’s Army in the face of a well-oiled election fighting machine on the other side.
So as I have said since the election, I really do think we need to think in a hard-headed hard-headed fashion about our allocation of resources. Before even thinking about community organisers, trainee organisers or other types of organisers being recruited we really need to ensure that we have the highest quality central spine to our operation that we possibly can. Otherwise we will be out outplayed again with the same result.