A report into the Labour Party’s 2019 general election defeat says the party has a “mountain to climb” to beat the Tories.
But it reinforces both left and right wing explanations for the defeat—meaning it will be used to justify the party’s shift to the right.
The Election Review draws together an array of problems the Labour Party faced at the general election.
Its authors—from the Labour Together network—were picked to represent Labour’s “broad church,” so included representatives of the left and right in Labour.
It describes how Corbyn’s popularity fell after the 2017 general election, when Labour’s radical campaign denied the Tories a majority.
“Had voters’ feelings about Corbyn remained at the peak they reached after the 2017 election,” it says, then Labour’s vote share would have been 38 percent higher.
Instead, “By September 2019 Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings were at record lows.”
The report says the collapse in support for Corbyn “coincided” with right wing splits and began in the spring of 2018, when accusations of antisemitism against the left intensified.
The report quotes people who saw Corbyn as “weak” and a “terrorist sympathiser,” but says nothing about the right wing smears that were the source of this.
In the same way, it says Labour’s “greatest losses” at the 2019 election were people who had voted Leave in the Brexit referendum of 2016.
But it says nothing about the right wing campaign to drag Labour towards support for stopping Brexit.
A whole section of the document describes the “longer term drivers” of the defeat. This admits that the loss wasn’t wholly down to Corbyn’s leadership, and that Labour had been shedding support since 2001—a trend it only bucked in 2017.
It says this is down to “deindustrialisation” and “de-unionistation.”
But it glosses over the fact that these things were championed by the right wing governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
And it cites descriptions of “cultural divides” among Labour supporters, saying that “immigration” was an important issue among supporters Labour lost in the last election.
This implies that Labour’s “socially liberal” policies were to blame—an argument used by those who want Labour to back more immigration controls.
The report deliberately leaves its conclusions open to interpretation.
It was welcomed by the right as proof that Labour can’t win with a left wing leader.
Yet many of the facts in the report point to the fact that Labour haemorrhaged support under its governments.
Labour did well in the 2017 election because Corbyn’s leadership appeared to offer a radical break from that.
But after two years of right wing attacks on Corbyn, and his decisions to make concessions to them, Labour gave up that sense of radicalism.
Not a mass movement
The Labour Together report finished with vague calls to build a party and a “movement” that can deliver “real change, particularly on the economy”.
This allows Labour to keep the rhetoric of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, which often spoke of building a “movement” outside parliament centred on “community organising”.
In reality this meant electioneering and campaigning to build support for Labour that had little to do with building working class struggle.
Meanwhile activists involved in Momentum—the organisation of left wing Labour members—are campaigning in its internal elections, which end on Tuesday of next week.
Momentum’s pledge to become a mass movement outside parliament never became a reality.
It focused instead on winning positions inside Labour and on running election campaigns.
Two factions—Momentum Renewal and Forward Momentum—are both competing to “transform” the organisation. Both factions talk about unity, democracy and building an outward-looking campaign.
Yet both effectively point activists towards fighting years-long internal battles inside Momentum and the Labour Party—and away from struggles outside.