How Labour lost Bradford West

As in Scotland, the party focused on an anti-Tory message that ignored the real electoral threat.

When I suggested that Labour could lose Bradford West I said that "Regardless of the mitigating circumstances, Labour needs a win... Anything else would be disastrous for the party - and for Ed Miliband especially - heading into recess."

I also said that such a result was "unlikely".

How wrong I was.

Let us be clear. This result is pretty disastrous for both Ed Miliband and for the Labour Party. After a week of dreadful headlines for the government, the last thing that Labour needed was a story that threatens to turn the media narrative again. Media narratives do matter - especially with MPs away from Westminster for two weeks, which means bored hacks are looking for a story. Labour has now have provided one of those.

But to claim that Labour's defeat in Bradford can be laid solely at the feet of Miliband is far too simple. If Miliband's performances had been better, if his personal polling was better and if Labour had a genuine policy offer to the people of Bradford, then perhaps Labour might have performed less awfully. But we would still have lost. The same goes for any other Labour leader you might care to name. A different Labour of leader wouldn't have won Bradford West.

The change we need is bigger than that.

What we saw in Bradford was an extreme example of how Labour's approach to politics is failing. We focused on an anti-Tory message that ignored the real electoral threat, it didn't engage voters, and it failed. It was Scotland MkII. It was comfort zone politics from a comfort zone opposition. As I've said elsewhere today, the result in Bradford is also an example of what happens:

"when voters become considered as 'voting blocks', and when wards are talked of as 'Muslim wards' and 'White wards', rather than talked of - and to - as individuals, families, neighbourhoods. As fathers, mothers, young people and old. Students and workers. As people."

Miliband has said that he will go to Bradford West and "learn lessons" from this defeat. That's crucial and something he should be doing at the earliest available opportunity. But a lot of the lessons aren't new, and he has already learnt them, which is why his community organising guru Arnie Graf and his reformist general secretary Iain McNicol need to go with him. We already know the rebuilding job in Bradford and in moribund constituencies across the country is going to take much more than a return to the old ways. The challenge now is delivery.

As for Miliband's leadership in general. Is he in trouble? More so perhaps than he was 24 hours ago certainly. After such a disastrous result, how could he not be? But he's arguably more secure than he was a few weeks ago, and certainly more secure than he was a few months ago. There are potential electoral speed bumps (to put it mildly) up ahead, which would certainly unleash at least a few of those who have never forgiven him for winning the leadership. But if he wants to cage them long term, he must make prove them wrong. He must grow and change the party, and the way we do politics. We, the Labour Party, must become inclusive, open and engaged.

He must acheive what his leadership always promised, but has not yet delivered. Change.

Mark Ferguson is the editor of Labour List.

"It was comfort zone politics from a comfort zone opposition." Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.