Since Boris Johnson won a slightly unexpected 80 seat majority the inquests have been coming thick and fast.
What has been notable is the number of Labourites wondering why, with the same Leader, Shadow Chancellor, etc and a similar manifesto to 2017, they performed so differently when, to coin a phrase, nothing had changed.
In military circles there’s often talk of fighting the last war – Maginot Line thinking, Labour were fighting the last election – and they’ve admitted it!
Look back to 2017, the Conservatives were ahead in the polls and called a Brexit election. Labour’s policy was to honour the result of the referendum but, to retain both Remainers and Leavers, they didn’t really want to talk about it. Think of Corbyn as Basil Fawlty saying “Don’t mention Brexit. I did, but I think I got away with it.” Consequently they focused on austerity, public spending, etc and had a giveaway manifesto. They gained seats and the Conservatives were reduced to the largest party in a hung parliament, only a couple of per cent ahead.
The fundamental question at that time was whether the better than expected result was mainly because Corbyn/Labour were very good or because May/Conservatives were very poor.
For the Corbynistas, encouraged by a Corbynite Chorus of Guardianistas, Novara Media and other assorted lefties singing “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn”, the answer was obvious, contrary to the received wisdom you could win from the Left. There was, of course, the very slight problem that “Jeremy” wasn’t in No. 10 with a majority of Labour MPs in the House of Commons – but facts tend to be irrelevant in echo chambers. The next campaign was always going to be “one more heave”.
The 2017 result left the Conservatives very close to a majority and not that far away from a workable majority. Labour were probably at least 5 to 6% away from a majority and further from a workable majority.
Immediately after that election I asked Has Corbyn’s elastic stretched as far as it can? and concluded that:
“Whenever the next election is the Conservatives will have learned the lessons of 2017, simple things like a few devil’s advocates involved in writing the manifesto. There might even be a new leader, it’s a party that is only interested in winning and winners, with no place for sentiment.
Everything went Corbyn’s way but he still fell a long way short. His position is secure, and Labour will now probably be refashioned in his likeness, but that will not attract Conservative voters and will keep them as far from power as ever.“
The main repository of Corbynsceptics was then the parliamentary party – 172 of whom had tried to get rid of him the previous year. These then split.
Those who accepted Corbyn, his worldview and philosophy, but thought he was a loser fell into line.
The rest, those who read the runes in 2017 correctly, again split. Some kept their heads down to try and be reselected, others would either leave or retire.
Then came the decline of Corbyn. His support for terrorists and various other unsavoury causes had been highlighted in 2017 but didn’t really cut through. There are potential reasons for this; things like the “troubles” were a long time ago, he wasn’t expected to do well, etc, etc.
In early 2018 antisemitism started to rise up the agenda but his response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack caused his popularity to drop below May’s. A foreign power used a chemical weapon on British soil and a prospective PM became a useful idiot.
Of course the Corbynite Chorus tried to sweep it under the carpet, and the echo chamber was happy, but it was clear that his worldview hadn’t changed much, if any, in decades.
Fast forward to late 2019, the Conservatives are ahead in the polls and manage to get a Brexit election. Labour again don’t really want to talk about Brexit, so again tries to focus on austerity and public spending and their manifesto has even more giveaways.
They’re up against a new Conservative PM who’s a better campaigner than May, manages to distance himself from the past decade, has a manifesto without bear traps and achieved what some considered impossible to get an “oven ready” renegotiated Brexit “deal”.
It’s worth remembering that the level of public recognition of even senior politicians is low, and the opposition fares worse.
Corbyn is now toxic and he’s the “face” of Labour. He’s not seen as a potential PM and the manifesto gets more scrutiny. Is it really affordable, can it be delivered, will it only be a “few” that have to pay?
In contrast there’s the simplicity of “Get Brexit Done” which ranks with “Persil Washes Whiter” or “Make America Great Again”………….. This is coupled with spending pledges targeting the electorate’s main priorities.
The result largely comes from drawing the right, or wrong, conclusions from 2017.