‘In 2019, we let our communities down. Never forget that dark election night’

Alice Perry
© Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com

How did you feel when you heard that 2019 general election exit poll? I remember the sinking feeling, hearing that Boris Johnson’s Conservatives would be celebrating a massive majority, as Labour’s vote crumbled.

On December 12th 2019, we suffered our worst defeat since 1935. I remember being out in the pouring rain, running a board that had got so soaked that the WARP sheets were disintegrating. We were tired, cold and hungry.

All day long, I’d seen WhatsApp messages flash from around the country. Things had not been going well. Dedicated Labour MPs, including good friends who’d work hard for their communities, lost their seats. We shed votes across the country. Constituencies we thought were solid Labour elected Tory MPs for the first time in their history. It was a dark, miserable night.

Honest conversations about Labour election losses can be hard

It can be challenging within Labour to have an honest conversation about why we have lost elections. Why had we lost touch with so many communities that had traditionally voted Labour? Why, for some many years, were millions of Labour voters turning away from us and voting for the Conservative Party, UKIP or the Brexit Party? Why were people telling us that they felt that we had abandoned them?

I had the honour of being part of Margaret Beckett’s taskforce to learn the lessons of the 2015 election defeat. As you can imagine, it was thoroughly depressing.

As we swiftly moved into a leadership election, the reasons for the long-term decline of our traditional support became wrapped in the usual factional politics. We lost because we were too left-wing. We lost because we weren’t left-wing enough. We lost because of national issues despite heroic local campaigns, we lost because of local issues and dysfunctional local parties. Whatever your viewpoint, you could shape the defeat to fit your narrative, making it hard to learn any lessons.

We must do everything it takes to win the next general election

The 2017 snap election brought hope and optimism, which came crashing down in 2019 when that exit poll was announced. It is amazing to reflect on where we were this time four years ago.

As a member of the national executive committee, I saw first-hand how broken and demoralised everything seemed. We worried the decline might be terminal. How would we come back from this? How long would it take to rebuild? How could we ever win back public trust or even get a hearing again? How could we reconcile the parts of the country who had voted Leave and Remain in the Brexit referendum? Did we even have the moral authority to lead after our failure on antisemitism?

And yet, here we are, 20 points ahead in the polls. The turnaround in just four years has been truly dramatic. Keir Starmer’s Labour is a serious government-in-waiting. The public are listening again, and we are listening to them. After 13 long years, Labour looks ready to lead the country.

A lot of people have made enormous sacrifices to get Labour back here. Let’s not waste this precious opportunity. The time we spent fighting each other, we let down our communities when they needed us most. Let’s never forget how that devastating 2019 defeat felt and use the next year to do everything it takes to win the next general election.

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