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Five things we learned from Labour’s election defeat inquest

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had ‘toxic culture’ says mammoth report

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had ‘toxic culture’ says review of election failures

In Depth The Week Staff
Friday, June 19, 2020 - 1:21pm

A review of the Labour’s 2019 general election campaign has found that a “toxic culture” inside the party’s election-fighting machine contributed to its defeat.

Negative perceptions about the leadership, concerns about the party’s incoherent Brexit stance and doubts about the manifesto culminated in Labour’s worst result since 1935.

The 154-page report was produced by a group of MPs, union leaders, officials and activists operating under the name Labour Together.

Jeremy Corbyn

The left-wing Labour leader was deeply unpopular, and his support had plummeted between 2017 and 2019. Three months before the election, says the report, 67% of voters disliked Corbyn - most of them strongly - and only 12% liked him.

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The authors put Corbyn’s unpopularity down to his handling of complaints about antisemitism in the Labour party, his ambiguous position on Brexit and party disunity under his leadership.

The report says research suggests an “intense” dislike of Corbyn was a key factor among voters who switched from Labour to the Tories, The Guardian reports.

The views of one 52-year-old woman who voted Labour in 2017 are summarised in the report as: “Frightened at the possibility of a Marxist government. Disgusted at Corbyn being a terrorist sympathiser. Most disturbed about plan to nationalise BT as I fear it would allow a Labour government to spy on internet users.”

Brexit

Labour struggled to put forward a coherent Brexit strategy, having attempted to appeal to left-wing Eurosceptics and more “New Labour” remainers.

In a poll of Labour members carried out for the report, 57% said the Brexit policy of promising a second referendum on any Brexit deal as the single most unpopular and challenging idea to sell to voters, citing views such as “dithering”, “dire” and “reflecting division”.

The policy alienated both remain and leave voters. Of those who voted for Corbyn’s Labour in 2017, 1.9m remainers and 1.8m leave voters abandoned the party in 2019.

Many of those who did vote Labour in 2019 did so despite the party’s Brexit stance rather than because of it, with remain voters preferring to stop Brexit entirely and leave voters wanting to “get Brexit done”.

Manifesto

The report found that while many of Labour’s individual policies had support, as a package they seemed unrealistic and voters did not believe they could or should be delivered, reports the Daily Mirror.

While policies like free broadband for all were popular, Labour supporters worried about the financial viability of enacting the policy. “The resistance came mostly as people evaluated the overall package of proposals,” say the report’s authors.

Activists quoted in the report said the seemingly endless manifesto announcements had “an advent calendar feel to it, with each new day opening a door promising more stuff”.

Labour also suffered because of policies that it had backed in some way, but not formally adopted in its manifesto, the report says. Its autumn conference vote to abolish private schools went down badly on the doorstep, even though this was never official policy.

A Datapraxis analysis of YouGov data found that “many came to the conclusion that the manifesto as a whole was unrealistic, risky and unlikely to be delivered. This undermined the positive response to individual policies, making them seem less credible.”

Disunity and disconnect

The party suffered from perceptions of being plagued with disunity and infighting, without clear leadership, says the London Evening Standard.

“It was unclear who was in charge” of the election campaign, the report found, and relationships within the party were soured by years of infighting which had created a “toxic culture” and “significant strategic and operational dysfunction”.

This confusion and lack of coherence was “a central problem afflicting Labour’s ability to develop an election strategy and prepare to implement it” according to the report’s authors. The result was policy delays, including confusion over Brexit, and a disjointed national campaign.

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Winning again won’t be easy

However bad the 2019 result was for Labour, things could get worse. “Despite now representing fewer constituencies than at any time since 1935, Labour cannot afford to be complacent about the seats it currently holds,” the report says.

Getting rid of Corbyn may not be enough to change the party’s fortunes for the better, according to the authors, who say 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”.

This assessment is “perhaps the true value of the report for the new leadership”, says the BBC’s political correspondent Iain Watson.

“It serves as both a reality check for activists and an opportunity for the new regime to argue that a break for the past is necessary.”

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