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3 June 2017

Neil Kinnock: Success for Labour is more seats – and the possibility of governing

What counts as a good result for Labour? Its former leader rejects the idea a higher vote share is a good outcome.

By Julia Rampen

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock has warned that there is “no honest measure of success” for Labour other than gaining seats “with a possibility of a minority government”.

Kinnock, who led the party between 1983 and 1992, said any judgement of success or failure had “been intensified” by a disastrous Conservative campaign: “If their star is Ms [Amber] Rudd, we know it’s a dud.” 

He told The New Statesman: “There is no honest measure of success and failure other than success equals Labour gains, Tory losses and at least a tight finish with possibility of a minority government. Failure equals Labour losses, Tory gains and an increased Tory majority.”

A Tory win after a shambolic election campaign would make the chances of a hard Brexit more likely, he predicted, as it would “mean an enfeebled Prime Minister who will be unable to secure the authority to control the ‘Brexit and bust’ Tory elements in the Commons and will therefore try to appease them.”

He warned such a result would be “hideous” for the country, and added: “That’s not even counting continued ‘austerity’ benefit and local services cuts, frozen incomes, higher inflation, shrinking demand, more unsecured personal debt, reduced investment, flat productivity, lower schools spending, underfunded NHS and care.”

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This, of course, is the real price of failure – and it will, as ever, be paid by those who can least afford it.”

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Any glimmer of light you can see is an incoming asteroid.”

The question of what counts as success for Labour in the general election 2017 is particularly pertinent to Labour activists, after two years in which Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party has been contested by his own parliamentary Labour party, to the extent that New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson said he “prayed every day” for an early election to resolve the matter. 

Incumbent Labour MPs argue that the only measure of success is how many seats Labour can hold, or even gain. Meanwhile, activists who have thrown themselves behind the Corbyn project argue that if Labour increases its vote share, it is a vindication of the party’s move to the left.

The debate matters, because the extent to which Labour’s campaign is viewed as a failure is likely to influence the level of pressure on Corbyn to stand down. His supporters argue that, thanks to the more neutral broadcasters and a costed manifesto, Corbyn is finally able to connect with voters. 

The party has been buoyed in recent weeks by a surge in the polls, and some predictions of a hung Parliament. However, the more optimistic predictions for Labour rely on younger voters turning out in larger numbers than usually occurs.