Socialist Worker

Beckett report can't work out how Labour lost in 2015

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2487

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A Labour balloon (Pic: Labour Party/Flikr)


The Labour Party got around to publishing its thoughts on why it lost last year’s general election. It doesn’t offer much in the way of insight.

“We were badly beaten”, the Beckett report, published Tuesday, concludes. “We received far fewer votes than were foreseen”.

This is the result of more than seven months’ work by the Learning the Lessons of Defeat Taskforce, launched by Harriet Harman in May. What exactly those lessons are depend on who you ask.

So parts of the report should bolster its left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn as he comes under attack from the right in his own party.

In a few short paragraphs it dispatches the argument that Labour lost because it was too left wing.

It says, “Many of our most ‘left wing’ polices were the most popular.

“Polls showed a wish, from voters, for us to be tougher on big business, and policies that were unpopular with many senior business people, such as the energy price freeze and the Mansion Tax, were popular with voters.”

It’s a conclusion that should cause problems for those who want to argue that Corbyn’s left wing politics will make Labour unelectable

But the report also frets that on migration, “It took time for clear policy to be developed, and for Labour’s strong anti-exploitation stance to be deployed.”

The real lesson from Scotland is that Labour got wiped out because it failed to offer any alternative to Tory austerity.

There was nothing unclear about Labour’s policy on immigration, as a page on its website still shows. Anti-exploitation meant “tough” immigration controls to stop migrants “undercutting wages”, along with plans to stop migrants from claiming benefits “for at least two years”.

It’s a similar story with benefits. Beckett explains how “A series of vicious and cynical attacks were mounted on some of the most vulnerable in society, in the expectation that the Labour party would do its utmost to defend them, and could be painted as the party of ‘welfare’”.

Somehow, Labour avoided falling into that trap – and did their best to prove they could be just as tough on vulnerable people as the Tories. But there are those in the Labour Party who still feel that wasn’t enough.

The contradictions in the report reflect real contradictions inside the Labour Party. It tries to position itself as a bulwark against Tories while pandering to right wing “concerns” about migrants or people on benefits.

But they also show that many Labour politicians still don’t really understand why they lost.

Beckett says that Labour’s collapse in Scotland meant that a majority in the General Election was “impossible”. She even acknowledges that lining up with the Tories was a key part of that – and that a “vote against Westminster” meant “a vote against Labour”.

Yet Labour itself is blame free. Their defeat in Scotland was the fault of the SNP, who “adopted Labour proposals”. The Tories were also to blame for “playing the English nationalism card” – a tactic which “no one envisaged” in Labour.

The real lesson from Scotland is that Labour got wiped out because it failed to offer any alternative to Tory austerity. The same is true across the rest of Britain. Few could have been inspired by a programme that was a pale imitation of the Tories own cuts, wage curbs and attacks on health and education.

Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader in September because he represents an alternative to all that. That’s a lesson that his opponents in Labour are refusing to learn.


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