Ian Austin: Let’s not kid ourselves – Tory “cheats” aren’t why we lost in 2015

Hats off to Michael Crick and Channel Four News for trawling through thousands of receipts and hotel bills to get to the bottom of the Conservative party’s election spending declarations.

Of course political parties must obey the rules and be held to account when they break them, but let’s not believe for a moment that Labour lost because the Tories cheated. The election was not stolen and Ed Miliband would not be in Number Ten if the Tories had declared their hotel bills and coach trips properly.

All political parties are tempted to blame someone else when they lose. Claiming the media were biased, the polls were wrong or the Tories cheated might make us feel better, but we’d have no one to blame but ourselves if our weakness allows the Tories to win and blaming someone else will just ensure we lose again and again.

That’s why we shouldn’t just feel anger, but guilt when we allow the Tories to undermine our NHS, cut school spending or hit the disabled with unfair benefits cuts whilst cutting taxes for the wealthiest.

Anyone who listened to voters in marginal seats in 2015 knows the real reasons the Tories won.

First, no one looked at Ed Miliband and saw a potential prime minister with the strength to stand up to the SNP, let alone deal with an American president or face down Putin. Voters thought he was too left wing, out-of-touch and spent all his time in North London with people who already agreed with him.

Second, they didn’t trust us to run the economy, reform welfare or tackle immigration. They thought we’d tax people who work hard to help those who’d rather stay at home, open the borders and couldn’t be trusted on defence and security.

Recent worrying polls suggest Jeremy has not yet managed to allay those concerns and the bounce the Tories received after their shambles of a Budget ought to set alarm bells ringing.

It is often said that governments lose elections, but oppositions don’t win by default. However badly a government may be doing, people have to feel a sense of hope and trust in the alternative being offered and the blunt truth is that Labour will never win again if its leaders don’t get out of North London, listen to people who voted Tory in marginal seats in places like the Midlands and earn their confidence on difficult issues like the economy, immigration or welfare.

There’s no point speaking to adoring crowds of people who already agree with you if the public aren’t listening. And there’s no point just telling people how terrible you think the Tories are, if you haven’t persuaded them you can be trusted first.

Labour lost because we had not done the hard work and made the difficult decisions needed to earn the public’s trust.

Deluding ourselves that we lost because of a few bus tours and some dodgy declarations will just prevent us tackling our problems and will ensure we lose again next time.

Ian Austin is MP for Dudley. 

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