In Part One and Part Two, we set out the long-term and deep fracturing of Labour’s voter coalition over many years and several elections, and how these were catalysed in 2019 by strategic and organisational weaknesses. In the previous chapter, we outlined the scale of the electoral task and the significant challenge Labour faces in winning a stable majority government.
As a Commission we set ourselves the task of looking to the future at how Labour could build a majority coalition. This was no easy task, but we believe there are grounds for cautious optimism, as the ground-breaking work we commissioned provides the basis for a political strategy moving forward. However, it will require further development, not least because of the unprecedented public health and economic crisis caused by Coronavirus.
Our conclusions in this chapter must also be read in conjunction with Chapter 9, which sets out the organisational tasks facing Labour in building a movement which can represent the country and persuade voters to give us their support.
Our findings in this chapter explore what a winning coalition would comprise of and how it could be built.
Our key conclusions are:
As we have seen from Part One and Part Two, disunity, division and factionalism have seriously hampered Labour’s electoral fortunes. Unless the Party goes through a process of collective internal healing and reflection, then the very difficult task of building a winning coalition will fail. Every member, every part, every grouping and every tradition within Labour has some reflecting to do, and all parts of the party have a contribution to make to the future. There is no one part or view that has a monopoly on being “correct”. Indeed, Labour’s founding principles are that, as a Party, we should reflect the country and the broad-based opinion across our wider movement.
Our hope is that the objective, evidenced-based conclusions of this review, reached by a Commission drawn from across the Party, will create a strong basis for that collective process and collective understanding to take place. It is vital that every member, activist, councillor, MS, MSP and MP accepts the scale of the challenge Labour faces and shares a determination to rise to that challenge, even when it involves difficult reading and tough choices.
We recommend that:
Moreover, and it may seem obvious to state, but it is important nonetheless, Labour needs to reassert its mission to fundamentally change the country by getting into power, winning elections and being a movement that can bring about change. Our guiding mission should not just be to become “an effective Opposition”(as important as that is in the meantime), or to protest and agitate (as important as these activities can be in changing policy). Labour’s task is to win power to form a government in order to then change the country, a task that requires our entire organisation’s focus.
Work must begin to understand what a winning coalition comprises of and what the route map to building it involves. As a Commission we have begun this task, but this work should be ongoing and embedded at the very heart of the Party and its leadership.
As we found in previous chapters, Labour’s current voter base is narrowly formed demographically, centred in cities and is largely liberal, culturally open and historically remain-minded. While there is still further scope to increase turnout amongst younger voters, many of whom did not vote in 2019 but did in 2017, this is necessary but not sufficient in order to win an election.
As our long-term trends analysis shows, the move away from Labour in other voter groups is increasing and, without a strategy to abate it, could continue. So any strategy for a future coalition must, at the very least, maintain most of the support Labour currently enjoys, mobilise an increased turnout amongst younger voters, and regain ground with previous Labour voters who are drifting further from us.
In the previous chapter we summarised work commissioned from Datapraxis that analyses the electorate by dividing them into groups, based on their views, values and voting patterns. The analysis explores the commonalities and differences between these groups that need to be considered in any attempt to build a winning electoral coalition in 2024. On the basis of these groupings and analysis, we asked Datapraxis to undertake a detailed quantitative modelling exercise to show the make-up of potential coalitions for Labour, and outline what would be required politically to build them
The analysis conducted by Datapraxis identified three options, summarised as:
To compliment this quantitative work, we sought to explore a unique, deliberative approach to coalition forming through interaction between the voters themselves. We tasked Britain Thinks with conducting a bespoke “coalition-forming” exercise one and half day workshop, bringing together a range of voters from across Labour’s potential future coalition. These were drawn from two broadly representative groups:
These are not the only voter groups that need to be won to ensure a winning electoral coalition, but they do represent perhaps the most culturally divergent groups, so the exercise helped to focus our attention on some of the toughest challenges involved. We believe this was an incredibly insightful exercise, which could be built upon with further research and deliberation.
The Datapraxis quantitative analysis, outlined in Chapter 7, complements the findings from our “citizen’s jury-like” exercise. Through our deliberative and robust coalition-building task between these divergent voters, we found a strong and unifying desire for economic transformation of their lives. This was particularly notable in relation to issues which affect their personal security and lives; issues ranging from social housing and rent controls, to decent pay and living standards, as well as significant investment in their local infrastructure and amenities, like high streets, town centres and decent employers. While only being a start, this work suggested there was a coalition which could be built, comprised of those who had supported Labour and those who had left us.
Yet, even among the groups brought together, difficult issues like Brexit and immigration needed to be navigated. For all the former Labour voters we assembled, they needed to see evidence Labour was changing and understood their lives and their concerns.
There was a mood for understanding and compromise among both groups. “Urban remainers” were willing to listen to concerns of leave voters, particularly in the context of a desire for Labour to rebuild its coalition. For the “town leavers” there was an acknowledgement about the benefits of immigration, and their demands were not as far-reaching as some in Labour may worry about - their key concern being that there should be fair rules. It is not for this Commission to resolve these very difficult and complex questions, but the kind of dialogue and acknowledgement of these issues begun in our workshop is essential and we believe offers a strong starting point for continued work.
You can watch a short video of our citizen’s panel on bridging Labour’s coalition here.
On the basis of the Datapraxis and Britain Thinks work, the Commission is optimistic that there is a route to a winning coalition, while acknowledging that this will require boldness and recognising there are some difficult roadblocks to navigate.
From this work and all our retrospective analysis, it is clear that Labour is at its most electorally and politically successful when it is the Party of big and real change. This desire for change, as it directly and tangibly could affect people’s everyday lives, enthuses our current supporters, mobilises younger voters and is a key driver for former Labour and potential Labour supporters. Undoubtedly the next election, as with most, will be a change election. This is a challenge Labour must rise to, while also meeting the necessary conditions of trust and credibility.
We heard time and again throughout our work of a desire from voters for Labour to be “for” things and “for” me, not just against things, and for us to offer realistic hope for them and their communities. The big change Labour offers should be rooted in tangible expressions of how such an agenda would impact on voters’ community, place and family, such as restoring pride in the high street and town centre, or through meaningful changes to people’s cost of living or housing tenure.
A clear finding is that a new economic settlement to change lives and communities must be the centre-piece of Labour’s political strategy.
This should be a story told around people’s own personal financial security, such as housing and decent work, and real communities through investment in town centres, high streets and amenities.
We found a strong expression of this in housing, a sense that the whole system needed fundamental change; far greater access to social housing, action on private rents and landlords, and, strongly amongst town dwellers, a sense that Right to Buy should be halted until more houses were available. Restoring a sense of pride in local high streets or towns also featured strongly, and valuing those institutions and spaces that are seen as cornerstones of communities such as post offices, pubs, neighbourhood and voluntary groups. There is also real potential for Labour to tell a clear story about the possibilities of new, decent jobs from green and technological developments.
It is vital these policies are told in a compelling way for people and places who have been excluded from prosperity, and not seen as just more advances for places which usually benefit. There is a strong sense of injustice and anger about prosperity not being fairly shared across the nation, which Labour’s future agenda must recognise.
This injustice risks being made significantly worse by the likely economic impacts of Coronavirus, if the winners are likely to be the global, online tech giants and the losers the long-established British manufacturer based in these communities. This only reinforces further the need for Labour to champion a new economic settlement for every part of Britain.
This point is of particular importance to “town leavers” and comes through strongly from all our findings. It is perhaps the most difficult aspect to execute. In the 2019 election, Brexit was a key expression of whether Labour understood and was acting upon their hopes and concerns. While Brexit may become a much less salient issue in coming years, the root causes of disaffection in Labour (which go further back than Brexit) will continue to find other expressions.
As we have discussed elsewhere in this report, this concern is made more difficult by the divergence in Labour’s current voter coalition, and by the fact that Labour’s elected representatives, and membership base, is concentrated in urban centres. However, as we have found in our research above, this gulf is not insurmountable and the bridge between is possible. This area needs much more work, combined with an extended process of listening and engaging.
We recommend that Labour launch a major engagement tour (once travel and events are allowed). The Leader, Shadow Cabinet and every part of the party should be going into places no longer represented by a Labour MP, and where there are drops in Labour support, to engage with people directly in a series of “citizen’s jury” style participatory events. These should include deindustrialised communities and workplaces in areas with large populations of town leavers.
The Party organisation and the broader labour movement should be set the task of running this exercise, identifying and persuading local figures in the community and ordinary voters to attend, and engaging in these deliberative events alongside the new Leader, Shadow Cabinet, MPs, locally elected representatives and twinned MPs.
This exercise can extend and build upon the work of this report and should lead to new policies, positions, and methods of organising. Critical to this, is that the listening and understanding is followed by dialogue, hearing, and acting.
Finally, showing strong leadership, and building trust and credibility, is vital. This theme runs through each part of our report and comes through again in our citizen’s jury. It must be understood however that, for many who we want to support Labour in the future, key tests for leadership are related to the two points above i.e. that Labour has a compelling message of change and hope, and that we have heard and acted upon voters’ views.
The qualities of leadership sought encompasses both more traditional and newer forms of leadership. More traditional expressions like taking clear positions, not fence-sitting and leading a united and disciplined team are valued. Yet also, a more subtle form of leadership is desired like “not opposing for opposition's sake”, being positive and “for things”, and crucially being relatable and “getting me and my life”.
Building trust and credibility, while also advocating a compelling powerful story of change, is not easy to execute either. This will involve careful prioritisation of policies so that the overall package is credible, while offering the big change voters want to see in their everyday lives. Such an approach is now almost certainly going to be dominated by the story of necessary economic recovery and renewal arising from the Covid economic crisis, which we return to below.
Crucial to winning is the movement we build in communities across the country, to win the necessary arguments to succeed at the General Election, and then change the country. While this is covered in detail in Chapter 9, it must also be recognised as an essential part of our political strategy. Labour’s support in communities will take time to rebuild and will require the efforts of every part of our movement, including Labour councillors, our trade unions, the Cooperative Party, civil society and our local members.
This loss of deeper roots within our community has been highlighted by Manuel Cortes’s review of trade union and Labour Party activity, which draws attention to the long-standing breaking of institutional ties between voters and the Labour movement. This underlying structural problem is also referenced in Chapter 2 where we examine the long-term trends in Labour’s declining support. Most importantly, his review emphasises the significance of long-term work required to make Labour a presence again, something which is the responsibility of the whole Labour movement and is laid out in Chapter 9.
It was clear from our research (undertaken just at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic) that former Labour voters who voted Conservative at the 2019 election did not have ‘buyers’ remorse.’ The Conservative message of ‘levelling up’ neglected parts of our country, particularly in the so-called ‘Red Wall’, resonated with high levels of trust in the Conservative government to deliver on this commitment.
Any political strategy must look forward, engaging with the frame of the election the Conservatives are building. Labour’s strategy must mitigate the impact of their strategy, while ensuring Labour’s approach will resonate in the build up to that election. In the context of a massively altered economic outlook for the country due to Covid 19, it is of particular importance for Labour to be looking ahead, being mindful of the terms of the next election and being clear about where we stand on the big emerging questions.
As this report notes, the Labour Party’s unclear position on Brexit, and the time it took to come to an agreement on this position, damaged Labour’s electoral prospects. In Scotland, our lack of a clear position on the SNP’s proposal for a second independence referendum similarly damaged our prospects and, in the 2019 election, combined with our Brexit position to create the impression that Labour did not know where it stood on the most important questions of the election. This has been reported by members and activists in Scotland who responded to our survey.
The Labour Party – both across the UK and in Scotland – oppose independence because it would harm the lives and livelihoods of people across Scotland. This has been made clear by both Keir Starmer and Richard Leonard. Since 2017, the Scottish Labour Party’s official policy – passed by Scottish Conference - has been for a federal Britain.
Keir Starmer has recently said that “we will be going into [the Scottish Parliament election] with a Labour Party position that is not for a second referendum.” This position has now recently been agreed by the Executive Committee of Scottish Labour. This clarity is welcome, and as a party we should now unite around this position and focus on building a strong message for the 2021 elections that makes this clear, and that promotes Labour’s distinctive policy for a federal Britain.
Four years might seem a long time, but changing the destination of a political strategic arc must begin early. As we have seen from Part One and Two, the strategic work towards a general election is done long before the “short campaign”. Moreover, the nearer to the election itself, the harder and steeper the strategic hill is to climb if the work hasn’t begun soon enough. Also, the window for a new leader to make an impression is often a relatively short one.
All parts of the leadership and party must be focused on this task as it requires relentless drive from all parts of our movement.
To do this we recommend:
The biggest economic downturn for 300 years and the largest public health crisis for a 100 years is undoubtedly going to reshape the economic and political landscape for years to come. Labour must seize this moment of change and shape it. As Keir Starmer has already said, people have suffered so much in this crisis that we cannot just go back to business as usual.
We want this report to be mobilising, not paralysing. We believe there is an appetite for big economic change and building back better. Labour must lead this debate, shaping the different society we need. These are unprecedented circumstances and Labour must respond with boldness, equal to the moment.
To do this we recommend: