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Revealed: the secret report into Labour’s 2015 defeat

The report - published in full for the first time - encouraged Harriet Harman to lead Labour in abstaining on the Welfare Bill. 

Labour are seen as a party for the “down and outs” and people on benefits by voters, while in Scotland, the party is seen as “just the same as the Tories but less good at it”, according to a damning inquest into the party’s 2015 defeat. 

The report – obtained by the New Statesman and published for the first time in full – was presented to Harriet Harman, then the party’s interim leader, on 1 July 2015, and contributed to Harman’s decision to lead the party to abstain on the Welfare Bill twelve days later. It was that decision that some credit with handing the party leadership to Jeremy Corbyn.

Earlier drafts of the report were acquired and published by ITV and the BBC, but this version contains futher detail, including revised and specific recommendations for Harman. The former minister and veteran MP tasked BritainThinks, a consultancy with a long-time relationship with the Labour party, to explore the underlying causes of the party’s 2015 defeat.

“It’s important to start NOW,” the report urges, adding “HH is well-regarded - there is a moment to seize". The focus groups had already praised Harman for abandoning Labour’s opposition to a referendum, and the then-leadership believed that the fact she was standing down allowed her to be seen as an “honest broker”.

Labour failed to give voters a clear idea of what they were for, with respondents recalling a "shopping list" of policies but unable to remember any of the points on it. Ed Miliband fares particularly badly in the report - one participant describes him as having "the appeal of a potato" while many voters said they backed the Conservatives to keep Miliband out of Downing Street. English participants feared a coalition between Labour and the SNP, with one participant saying "she [Nicola Sturgeon] was so strong, she would have wiped the floor of him, run rings around [Miliband]". Disillusionment with Labour is said to have began over a decade ago, in 2003, with the Iraq war a key factor. 

Among swing voters, the Conservatives’ negatives are "recessive", and have largely vanished outside Scotland – with voters mostly seeing them as the preferred choice of families like them, in stark contrast to the 2010 election, when voters still described the Tories as the party of “a wealthy family – with a large house”. Most voters felt the party had made a good job of the coalition and "deserved" another five years, while voters now largely feel that the NHS is safe in Tory hands. The Conservative victory was a surprise - but a welcome one.

But Tory negatives have not vanished entirely. Some voters who backed the Conservatives describe them as “the lesser of two evils” or “the devil you know”, and primarily voted to prevent Ed Miliband becoming prime minister.

In Scotland, the SNP are popular among all classes and voter types – despite being at odds with the Scottish public over immigration, although the report says that the “cognitive dissonance” between Scottish voters’ hostility to immigration and the SNP’s support for higher immigration may represent one of the “chinks in the armour” of the SNP. The Conservative triumph is the subject of concern, not celebration, although the fear that the SNP will be powerless at Westminster thanks to the Conservative majority is a worry for some Scottish voters.

Recommendations from voters who have left Labour range from apologising for the party's overspending, with one swing voter suggesting the party hold an independent review into its spending in government - headed by a Conservative. Others urge the party to say it would retain certain aspects of the Conservative administration. In Scotland, too, the party is seen as good only for people "on Benefits Street", but is also criticised for being an incompetent version of the Conservatives. 

The report – as well as making grim reading for Labour – also indicates the growing divide between Scotland and the rest of the UK. With the exception of immigration, which large majorities in Scotland, England and Wales all oppose at current levels, reactions to the Conservatives and their victory are wildly different. 

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

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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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