Why Labour lost

Date published: 15 May 2015

Re-elected Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams analyses Labour’s General election defeat

MY key belief is that the electorate did not reject a progressive political agenda, but that Labour’s message of how we would achieve a fairer Britain for all did not resonate.

It is important that this is recognised and that in the coming weeks and months, Labour presents an agenda that is a force for social justice and is the voice of progressive politics.

Firstly, we failed to win the argument on the economy. On a regular basis I was told that the global financial crisis was down to Labour not mending the economic roof while the sun shone. All the evidence shows that this is not true.

But even on the latest edition of the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” the Labour spokesperson was asked if previous overspending by Labour was the reason we lost.

For me, it was the hiatus during the 2010 leadership election that allowed this coalition Government narrative to take hold and which it then reinforced over the following five years. We must bear this in mind as we start a new leadership contest.

Secondly, with a few exceptions, the national media was not, shall we say, Labour-friendly, and in particular, gave Ed Miliband a very hard time. This is not to make excuses for our result but it certainly affected some people’s views.

Ed’s integrity, values and judgement — from challenging elements of the media to stopping us going to war in Syria and to calling the “Big Six” energy companies to account — were spot on.

His progressive politics, drive for a more equal society, and generally inclusive leadership style were impressive. But he suffered the consequences of speaking truth to power.

It would be catastrophic if Ed’s experience was met by acquiescence from the future Labour leadership or a watering down of what we stand for as a party — addressing the inequalities that persist across the country, which damage society and stifle growth, and enabling everyone to reach their potential.

Just before the election, the Lancet medical journal reported that life expectancy was increasing but the gap between rich and poor had widened and was associated with increasing poverty and cuts in public spending.

We now have a life expectancy gap as large as Sri Lanka and Vietnam. For the sixth wealthiest country in the world this is a disgrace.

As a party, we must continue to promote progressive policies which address these inequalities while being fiscally responsible. I want children from the poorest parts of Oldham and Saddleworth to aspire to great things in their lives just as much as I want young people to be able to buy their own homes.

We need to raise aspirations across the socioeconomic spectrum, while being a compassionate society which cares for the vulnerable.

The third reason is about trust. Politicians are still by and large seen as remote, out of touch and unaccountable. This is getting worse not better.

Couple this with the anger and fear many are feeling as their lives become harder and harder, it’s not surprising they gave us a kicking.

Before the election I met a lovely man in his 30s who had recently been widowed; he had moved to be nearer his family who were helping to look after his little girl. He said his life was just work (he drove a van) and caring for his daughter, commenting, “I don’t want much but surely there has to be more than this”. He was thinking of voting UKIP.

UKIP in particular has tapped into these fears, pointing the finger at others (mostly immigrants) for the reason many people are struggling.

But the Liberal Democrats have fallen most foul of this lack of trust. In the South and South-West the Tories have particularly benefited from this.

In Scotland, the SNP has built on its momentum from the independence referendum with an emotionally charged campaign which appealed to people’s need for hope rather than fear. I think we should recognise this.

I believe the approach Ed started was the right one. His mission to develop a fairer, more equal and inclusive society was right. We need to strengthen this approach not weaken it. This message needs to be heard across the country.

Labour needs to engage with and empower our communities. Politicians are public servants and should behave as such, listening, responding to and representing our constituents’ views. This is entirely compatible with championing our wealth creators, our small businesses and our entrepreneurs; my Be Fair — Pay on Time campaign against late payments for small businesses is just one example of how we can do that.

But we must also address the current status quo, where power not just wealth is retained by a tiny, tiny elite (elected and unelected); we must continue to be the party of the many not just a privileged few.

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