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Rebuilding to win – Yasmine Dar & Ann Henderson, Labour NEC members #GrassrootsVoice

“What is needed is a framework that can unite this diverse group of voters behind Labour. There needs to be a clear focus on policies that will save people’s lives & living standards in this pandemic & economic crisis – a real alternative to the Tories’ policies.”

Yasmine Dar & Ann Henderson, Labour NEC members report on how Yesterday’s meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee Organisation Sub-committee took a discussion on Labour’s election preparations for 2021 and there is no doubt that Labour has a fight on its hands.

Yesterday’s meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee Organisation Sub-committee took a discussion on Labour’s election preparations for 2021 and there is no doubt that Labour has a fight on its hands. There are national elections in Scotland, and in Wales, where Labour is defending a strong record in government. Every part of England also has elections, including for the Mayor and Assembly in Greater London. Some of Labour’s poll ratings are encouraging against a backdrop of this horrific right-wing government’s handling of the pandemic and its economic policy which has a complete disregard for human life and ordinary people.

However, it remains a challenge to put forward an alternative vision for dealing with the current crisis and to mobilise members, many demoralised and demotivated, to campaign even in the ways it is possible. And it is clear from the motions coming in from CLPs for the attention of the NEC, the Leader, and the General Secretary, that the current heavy-handed approach of appearing to suppress debate and discussion at local level, is adding to that demoralisation.

It was important to discuss the approach, building on September’s special NEC meeting to review, very belatedly, the 2019 general election, examining all the data and discussing what is needed to rebuild to win.

Of course there were a combination of reasons that Labour lost – not least Brexit and the relentless campaign against Jeremy Corbyn. The vilification started from the moment he was elected Leader, if not before, and intensified when it became clear that there was a real chance he could become Prime Minister following the 2017 general election. However the relentless spin pedalled by the current Labour leadership that we have lost four elections in a row and therefore fundamental change is needed ignores the reality of what was achieved in the past five years, and more importantly the positives that cannot be ignored and must not be lost if we are to win elections in 2021 and beyond.

It is concerning that the current direction of travel, appealing simply to social conservatism, for example the leadership’s outrageous decisions to abstain on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (or ‘spy cops’) Bill second reading and the Overseas Operations Bill, is not only wrong in itself but demonstrate that none of the right lessons have been learned from recent electoral experience. These issues also featured strongly in the motions which came in from CLPs at yesterday’s NEC Organisation sub Committee, and we do encourage members and CLPs to keep making their views known on all important issues.

A useful analysis of different blocks of voters that we were presented with as NEC members, clearly showedthe coalition that Labour needs to win – these include core Labour voters (who have voted Labour consistently through 2015-2019); those who have previously voted Lib Dem / Green and switched to Labour under Corbyn (although a chunk switched back between 2017 and 2019); electors who do not always turn out, but if they do, are more likely to vote Labour; and previous Labour voters who have switched to Tories or Brexit Party, or not voting at all, in recent elections. The latter group are largely older, with lower educational qualifications and make up a higher proportion of electors in many of the seats we lost in 2019.

We need to unite this coalition to win. Unfortunately, Labour’s current social conservatism risks dividing the coalition instead. It risks alienating significant sections of our vote. What is needed is a framework that can unite this diverse group of voters behind Labour. There needs to be a clear focus on policies that will save people’s lives and living standards in this pandemic and economic crisis – a real alternative to the Tories’ policies.

It must be noted and cannot be forgotten that Labour did significantly better amongst young people, graduates, private renters and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in 2017 and 2019 than in 2015. A significant cohort of 36-45 year-olds switched from Lib Dems and Greens to Labour in 2017, and registered a high approval rating for Jeremy Corbyn. We maintained 81% of that vote in 2019 but some switched back – this is an important part of any future coalition to win. Other points of note from the data discussed by the NEC, from which we can learn include:

  • Within the set of seats which Labour held narrowly, with majorities of less than 5 per cent, a very strong correlation emerges between the change in the Labour share of the vote and the contact rate during the campaign – showing that members, and campaigning, do matter.
    • Labour retained a strong advantage among Black and Minority Ethnic voters, winning 64 per cent of BME voters against the Conservatives’ 20 per cent. This was a significant increase on 2015 and must be maintained in order to win future elections.
    • In every age group, slightly more women than men voted Labour. This was most pronounced amongst younger women.
    • Labour’s bold policies were frequently cited as a positive reason to vote for the Party, and the overwhelming majority of the policies attracted ‘super-majority’ support – including some of the most controversial such as Inclusive Ownership Funds and free broadband.
  • Polling suggests that in 2017 Labour won 62 per cent of votes from 18-34-year-olds, dropping to 55 per cent in 2019 but still a gap of 33 per cent over the Conservatives and significantly higher than 2015.
  • Labour won support from low income younger voters – families and renters – during the course of the campaign. Private renters explained a huge amount of Labour’s progress over the campaign.

These figures demonstrate and represent sections of the electorate to whom Labour’s radical and transformative manifesto not only appealed, but was seen to be essential.

In the Scottish and Welsh Parliament elections, 16-year olds are eligible to vote, and Labour’s message must appeal to and motivate younger voters, with our own Party Young Labour structures organising and resourced effectively too.

Some of the other lessons to learn in relation to future elections, for example in relation to technology and communications, were flagged by members and their NEC representatives well in advance. The most important of these was that we did not engage members in trigger ballots and selecting candidates in good time, despite a hung parliament – this was raised repeatedly by CLP reps on the NEC, and was known to be a priority of the then Party Leader, and frankly it was outrageous that so many CLPs had candidates imposed. Keir has committed that this should never happen again and we must hold him to that promise, although decisions of the NEC in recent months suggest this may be going in the wrong direction – for example in relation to the West of England Mayoral selection.

There are many lessons we need to learn and apply for future elections, and members closest to the ground should all be empowered to contribute to those lessons. Most importantly of all we must promote the policies around public services and living standards that can build the coalition we need to win.

  • Yasmine Dar & Ann Henderson are re-running for Labour’s NEC as part of the #GrassrootsVoice slate alongside Gemma Bolton, Nadia Jama, Laura Pidcock & Mish Rahman. Voting closes Thursday. Find out who to vote for depending on your region at https://futureweneed.com/preference/

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