A historic defeat, a long-time coming, a mountain to climb

Labour has a mountain to climb to get back into power in the next five years. This report lays out in stark detail the scale of that task. Unless as a party and a movement we face up to that we will not win.

Our report echoes the consensus of many reports that a combination of views of our party leadership, Brexit and a manifesto that was not seen as credible sealed our defeat in 2019.  This report is also honest about the failings of our campaign in 2019.

In the words of our candidates and activists, the strategy was inadequate, the organisation was muddled and the execution was poor.  

Just as we need to face up to the mountain we have to climb, and the failures of the last election, so too this report traces the deeper roots of this result. It would be a mistake to believe that a different leader, with Brexit no longer the defining issue, would in itself be sufficient to change Labour’s electoral fortunes. Our report lays bare that our defeat had deep roots. This loss is the story of more than one election—indeed it is a story that stretches back two decades.

The institutional and cultural bonds that linked many voters to Labour have become weaker and weaker over time. From the loss of local Labour clubs to declining Trade Union membership, Labour has lost many of the institutional roots it had within communities, resulting in disconnection. Labour lost millions of voters before it lost office in 2010 partly as a result of political alienation from politics more generally, and from the Labour Party particularly, including perceptions that there was little difference between the parties and the prominence of new cultural divides. Over many years previous Labour voters and traditionally Labour communities have moved away, either to abstention or to smaller parties such as UKIP. Some of those voters also chose the Conservatives for the first time in 2019, enough to help tip a number of seats over the edge where the long-term decline in Labour’s vote share had been evident for years.

Unless we recognise and accept this triple challenge of the scale of our task, the failures of 2019 and the deep roots of how we got here, we will not win or deserve to win. None can be ignored. Every part of the Labour Party has something to learn from what has gone wrong and can contribute to our renewal.

Keir Starmer has just been elected by our party. While it will be for him and his team to lead the strategy for the future, the scale of the task before us means we must look beyond and deeper than this simply being for the leader alone. Every member, every affiliate, every elected representative and candidate must take responsibility for that task. It need not be a paralysing endeavor but should be a mobilising one.

Through the work we have undertaken as a Commission, we are clear about the potential strategy and the organisational elements to support it. This includes:

  • A coherent strategy to build a winning coalition at the next election, forged with awareness of where voters stand and what arguments we need to win, understood across our party and our movement. This report provides a starting point in Chapter 8 setting out the beginnings of a political strategy and the change required to begin to deliver this.
  • A renewed commitment to transformational economic change in the country, which our report suggests can win over a broad coalition of voters who share a desire for change and a leadership that can speak to that change. Such an agenda must be rooted in the daily experiences and struggles of people’s lives, in their place and in their community, and must be seen as credible and deliverable, without shying away from the scale of change needed.
  • The building of a culture of inclusion and diversity, generosity and teamwork, not factionalism and patronage in the party, including a well-led, professional organisation. The internal arguments and divisions of recent years have damaged our electoral fortunes and must end
  • A root and branch reform of our party organisation and structures, bringing it into the 2020s, so it connects better to the communities and voters that we seek to serve, including a wholesale transformation of our digital and online campaigning.
  • A commitment to building a genuine popular movement of party members, trade union supporters, elected representatives at all levels of our nations, regions and localities, deeply rooted in our communities through  good local government, open thriving local parties and integrated continuous community organising, campaigning and engagement. Our members and supporters are our greatest strength and are central to our prospects of winning the next election and changing our country and should be focused outwards not inwards.

This report is not a counsel of gloom and despair for our party but a call for realism about the situation we face and determination to change things. Nor is it a call for minimalist politics or going back to a bygone era. The next election will be a change election and Labour must be the agents of that change.

The country continues to need big change: to tackle insecurity, inequality, the climate emergency and all the other problems that afflict us particularly in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. We on this commission all believe in this transformative politics.  

We believe there is a winning coalition for Labour to be forged which can build 21st century socialism. This report may make uncomfortable reading and so it should. We owe it to ourselves and the country to change to win.  

The Labour Together Election Review 2019 Commissioners