Commentary: How the Labour party failed to connect with the working class – and lost the UK election

STIRLING: Labour entered the UK general election with a double handicap.

Brexit was peeling away many of its 2017 voters, especially among the working class in the north of England and West Midlands. Jeremy Corbyn was also hugely unpopular – and perceptions of which leader will make the best prime minister are a major voting driver.



Both factors devastated Labour in the north of England and West Midlands as the so-called Labour “red wall” crumbled. Labours fate was probably sealed even before the election was called.

Yet these handicaps were aggravated by Labours campaign strategy, which was poor enough to turn defeat into disaster.

To understand what went wrong with the campaign, we need to step back and ask what makes an effective campaign strategy. There are three separate factors: The communicator, the message and the message transmission.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attends a general election campaign event in London, Britain, Nov 27, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville)




Many voters today are instinctively sceptical about anything that emanates from parties, particularly their leaders.

Research indicates that voters views on what politicians say are heavily influenced by the extent to which they seem trustworthy, that is, can be relied upon to make truthful statements; and have the personal qualities and competence needed for leadership.

On both measures Corbyn was viewed poorly, even next to Johnson, who has his own well documented problems. Corbyns low rating was partly the result of unremittingly hostile media coverage.

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Yet even the most sympathetic observer would struggle to view his communication abilities, and his capacity to inspire trust and confidence, as other than mediocre.

Two obvious examples were his refusal to apologise over anti-semitism until late in the day and his bungled response to a question over whether he watched the Queens Christmas message.

These demonstrated his lack of mental agility, verbal fluency and emotional intelligence.

How voters view a leader in an election campaign is also filtered by their existing image. Corbyn was already the least popular opposition leader in half a century – seen as unpatriotic; unwilling to stand up for British interests; hostile to treasured institutions like the military and the monarchy; and too weak on terrorism.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn face each other in a head-to-head debate on the BBC in London, Britain on Dec 6, 2019. (File photo: Jeff Overs/BBC via REUTERS)

As a result, policies that may otherwise have been well received were treated with disdain or disbelief. It did not help that Labour offered up loyalists such as Laura Pidcock, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Andy McDonald for media interviews, while it locked down more accomplished performers like Keir Starmer.


A policy will be credible to the extent it is seen as affordable and deliverable. Labour seemed to have problems grasping this.

Hardly a day elapsed without the party committing billions to another worthy cause: For the National Healthcare System (NHS), education, public sector pay, benefits, pensions compensation, multiple nationalisations, free broadband, and so on.

Labour strategists seemed to think that the sheer scale, generosity and radicalism of the programme would enthuse voters supposedly desperate for transformative social reforms. In fact, evidence from focus groups showed that voters were massively sceptical about Labours ability to fund and deliver its pledges.

“Where are they going to get the money from?,” was a constant refrain. It played straight into the hands of the age-old Conservative motif that Labour cant be trusted with your money and will bankrupt the economy.

The Tories understood that voters rarely follow policy detail, so a party needs to hammer away relentlessly on a few carefully chosen messages: Above all, “get Brexit done”. Labour was much more scattergun.

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Rather than highlighting key Tory weaknesses like the NHS or social care for the elderly, it seemed to flit between policies, never settling on one for very long.

Many voters seemed almost obsessed with getting Brexit done. But both Labour and their 2017 supporters were seriously divided over whether it was desirable.

Hundreds of thousands rallied in London demanding a second national vote on Brexit. (File photo: AFP/Niklas HALLE'N)

The leadership tried to balance these conflicting pressures through “constructive ambiguity”, but this made them seem indecisive, vacillating and confused.

Brexit also represented something deeper:A collision between Remain-voting civic-minded social liberals and Leave-voting ethno-nationalist social conservatives.

This cut across left-right divisions and had been losing Labour votes in its heartlands for years. For many working-class social conservatives, Corbyn and his inner circle embodied the “metropolitan liberal elite”.

Certainly, there is no easy resolution for a party that cannot out-compete the Tories over issues like immigration and law and order.

But the fact that Labour promoted policies that could have been expressly desRead More – Source