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15 August 2015updated 26 Jul 2021 7:06am

Let’s have a honest conversation about the 2015 election

I'm excited that so many people have joined because of Jeremy Corbyn - I hope they'll stay. But I also hope they'll think again, says Karim Palant.

By karim palant

Let’s face facts about 2015.

Not to pick at wounds. But some are drawing completely the wrong lessons from defeat.

It is inadequate to say we should simply have been more radical in our offer in order to win.

What more, really could have been done?

We pledged to intervene in the energy sector to freeze prices, effectively confiscating profits, and a public sector rail operator. We pledged radical intervention for buses, bookmakers and banks.

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We had a ten point plan for tax avoidance and a tax dodging bill to raise £7.5bn in three years. We promised an elected House of Lords.  We opposed the Tory £12bn of welfare cuts. Condemned Tory austerity (yes, we did).

We promised to protect tax credits. We pledged to raise corporation tax. To raise the top rate of income tax. To put a new tax on bank bonuses. To increase the bank levy. We promised to introduce a tax on high value property. 

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We pledged to create a British investment bank. To build more council houses. Zero carbon emissions from electricity by 2030. An apprenticeship for every young person. To remove students from the immigration cap. 

We committed to reverse the Tory NHS privatisation. More money for the NHS. To protect Sure Start and cut tuition fees. We pledged to scrap hedge fund tax breaks and cut pensions tax relief.

Oh and to reverse the bedroom tax. 

Let’s be clear – the SNP manifesto had some radical policies in it – they were literally copied and pasted from ours.

What’s the lesson we draw from the fact that this programme wasn’t sufficient to win?

We could argue that the public didn’t hear us and we should offer all of this but bigger and better.

But I am struggling to find any hard evidence to back that up. First, the public did hear that Ed and Labour was on the left and radical. The polls show that.

The polls are also unequivocal: the public feared we’d spend too much and would not control welfare or immigration. It wasn’t some propaganda campaign. That was what they felt in 2010 and it was a failure of us as a Party to deal with it.

And by that I mean respond to it – not tell the electorate they’re wrong. These are the strongest views they have about us – learnt from their perceived experience. And non-voters think these things too. 

They won’t listen to newspapers or politicians or economists tell them they are wrong. And voters aren’t unreasonable. The vast majority of people recognise the need for a welfare state and fair immigration. They also know the Tories are cutting more than is needed.

They just don’t think we have the right to present them an alternative until we have shown we can nevertheless deal with these issues properly.

They know we care – they just don’t think we can be trusted to know when to balance caring with hard-headed competence. To be honest if we make the wrong choice in this leadership election they could well be right.

There are two things I take from this.

First, if you’re on the left an Ed Miliband government would have been great. All that good stuff! So let’s quit this nonsense about Labour being Tory-lite.

Second, we didn’t win. So maybe whilst we should carry on offering radical change we should redouble our efforts to show we can actually deliver it.

And more importantly in a way that won’t risk voters’ homes, jobs, pensions or living standards?

I have spent a lot of time discussing with people who are supporting Jeremy. Their rationales seem to split roughly three ways.

Some spent 30 years saying the Party would lose if it tried to address the concerns of the electorate about the Labour Party. They have been wrong for so long, maintaining their position in the face of unparalleled success for Labour in both electoral and policy terms. There’s no persuading them and they are a fringe.

Another group believes that the last 20 years of the Labour Party has been a horrible mistake – that we should define ourselves against it. To this group I say this – most of the things you are really angry about this government scrapping were introduced by the last Labour government.

A third group seems to think that the way to win is to be more radical, more outspoken against this government – that we have been timid in our opposition to the Tories and timid in our policy approach. This is appealing – but sadly it does not tally with the facts as set out above.

So I am optimistic – because this kind of emotional and non-rational response to a defeat like we just had and which we all suffer from has a habit of working itself out.

The last few weeks has seen many people old and young waking up to the fact that the Labour Party is the only vehicle for change. Great – the messy compromises of government made it really hard for Labour to reach those people and now maybe we are.

But I don’t believe that hundreds of thousands of people are represented by the minority who shout that they don’t care if we win so long as we stick by our “principles”.

I think most of those people know that change requires being in government. And that is not something that can be imposed it is something the electorate will choose if they like it.  Jeremy doesn’t share that view – he has spent decades opposing Labour politicians who do – just read up on him, he is entirely defined by that struggle.

So I would urge those people to stay in the Party, to carry on campaigning for radical change in our country. And to vote for Anyone But Corbyn.

Karim Palant was head of policy for Ed Balls.