“I don’t think our narrative was good enough – or simple enough,” John McDonnell declared in a Momentum conference call joined by over 3,000 people on Sunday evening. In a bid to kick-start the reflection process, the Shadow Chancellor shared his thoughts on Labour’s campaign.
McDonnell said: “I don’t think we were really effective at getting our message across. And that’s a lesson for future campaigns. In Jeremy’s leadership campaigns, and in 2017, we had one message. It was very straightforward: end austerity, for the many not the few.”
He told Momentum supporters that “Brexit became the dominant issue of the campaign” and that the Tory slogan “get Brexit done” successfully resonated with people “because they were fatigued”. In similar to those already disclosed to the media, he said: “We were caught on the horns of a dilemma… The reality is our attempt to bring people together didn’t wash.”
McDonnell said Labour’s messaging around austerity and saving the NHS “didn’t cut through” with the public. “No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t cut through,” he told thousands on the Zoom call.
The key ally of Jeremy Corbyn also conceded that the Labour leader’s unpopularity was a key problem. “The other issue, and we have to be honest about this, we were getting criticisms of Jeremy on the doorstep,” McDonnell said. “It wasn’t too bad in my constituency but in other constituencies it was much worse. It was almost a regurgitation of what was said in the media.”
McDonnell also acknowledged that the approach to social media was different. “In 2017, we dominated social media. We were more creative than the Tories. This time around, the Tories were much more creative. They certainly outspent us in the last week,” he said, also mentioning the Australian agency used by the Conservative Party.
Repeating his apology to MPs and campaigners for the failure to deliver a Labour government, McDonnell advised listeners to explore how it may be possible to “bypass the media dominance our opponents have”, noting: “Initially we thought social media and broadcast media, but they’ve caught up on us with that.”
“How do we form a new type of communication strategy?” he asked. “Our analysis of society was right, our policies were right but there wasn’t an overall narrative of how to transform society.”
McDonnell confirmed: “Jeremy and I are standing down. We have a leadership election, it’ll be in the new year. There’ll be a whole range of candidates putting their names forward.” He went on to urge people to “be comradely” and “make sure there’s no rancour”. He advised: “Use that leadership election to discuss not just why we lost the last election, but what are our future priorities.”
The top leadership figure shared his view that climate change was not discussed enough during the general election campaign, despite Labour’s ‘green industrial revolution’ policy framework. He also said the movement should “think about the nature of our organisation”, aiming to be “much more effective in communicating and meeting”.
A number of other activists spoke on the call, including Novara Media contributing editor Ash Sarkar, who is not a Labour member. One Momentum host cried during the call. At the end, Momentum’s national coordinator Laura Parker concluded: “We’ve demonstrated to not just the Labour Party but to the country how good campaigns should be run.”