What does the Beckett Report tell us? Eight initial thoughts

19th January, 2016 4:44 pm


Labour’s official report into last year’s election defeat was published online earlier this afternoon – you can read it in full here. Having flown through the report’s 35 pages in the two hours since it came out, here are some of my initial reactions.

1. Who it was written for

First of all, it is worth bearing in mind that, from my understanding, Margaret Beckett always expected this report to be published openly – or at the very least, leaked in its entirety. Writing something you expect to be readily accessible is quite different from one that is intended as an internal memo. This is no suggestion of a whitewash, but it is important to recognise that seems to have been written with the current Labour membership in mind as the readership.

2. The four big problems

Why did Labour lose? Voters believed we caused the financial crash and as a result, did not trust us with the economy. We were out of touch on welfare and immigration. Ed Miliband was judged as a weaker leader than David Cameron. And fears of the SNP propping up a Labour Government.

So far, so obvious.

3. Ed Miliband

Whispers suggest that Miliband has seen advance drafts of the report and is not too happy about it. While it does outline his poor leadership polling as one factor, he is largely defended on a personal level, and it is argued that he faced an “exceptionally vitriolic and personal attack” from the media.

It would appear, then, that if he does have misgivings about the report, they stem from more general analyses of why the election was lost rather than because blame is dumped on him specifically.

4. Was Labour too left wing or too right wing?

“This is not a simple discussion”, the report notes. It points out that many of the ‘traditionally’ left wing policies were found to be the most individually popular. However, it also highlights how there were other arguably left wing parties, the SNP and Greens, fighting for the same votes.

In fact, during a section on Scotland, it is also raised that some of the SNP’s policies (such as on top rate of tax and the Mansion Tax) “were more conservative than those of Labour”.

At least two of the big four problems above appear to be attributable to Labour taking more left wing positions.

Overall, a question left largely unanswered.

5. Older voters and private sector workers

The Tories held huge a lead of 17% points among private sector workers, and their lead among voters over 65 (who make up around a third of the electorate) is estimated to be “equivalent to their current majority”.

Both of these sections of voters are expected to increase by 2020. There will be around 1.5million more over-65s, and the proportion of private sector workers over their public sector counterparts will also grow. Turnout among older voters is double that of younger voters.

6. Growing our safe seats

The report states that “where we did achieve swings against the Tories, these were in safe Labour seats, rather than in the target marginals”. This seems to be a common problem with electoral strategies that focus on increasing turnout – voters lost to apathy, rather than other parties, disproportionately appear to be in safe seats where there vote is deemed to be ‘worth less’ rather than marginals. That means that getting them back into the polling booth often makes little difference in turns of seats, despite the greater effort it takes to convince them to vote.

7. The mountain to climb

It is noted that we need to win 94 seats for a majority of just two. However, only 24 Tory seats have a majority over Labour that is under 3,000, and in only two seats do the SNP lead Labour by under 5,000. That still leaves us 68 short. And that’s before boundary changes.

8. The sugary finish

A few positives are offered for the future, including the increased membership, Corbyn’s focus on rebuilding trust in politics and enthusing younger voters, and the Conservatives’ small working majority. But these do not appear to make up much on the problems already laid out.

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