web analytics

Why UK Labour lost?  Part 8: What it takes to win

Written By: - Date published: 7:18 am, January 16th, 2020 - 6 comments
Categories: elections, International, Jeremy Corbyn, labour, political parties, politicans, Politics, uk politics - Tags: , , , , , , , ,


The UK Labour Party in the 2019 election assumed that like in 2017, the release of their policy manifesto would see their support increase significantly. Assuming that 2019 would be a re-run of 2017 was a foolish mistake. Also in 2017 Labour was under new leadership, and it was the first time in many years Labour had a manifesto with things like nationalisation and spending increases to reverse austerity cuts. In 2019 everybody knew the manifesto would include these positions.

Labour’s manifesto did help the party increase its vote share and support in 2017. After that election, Labour needed to build on this. It needed to be finding or creating political space to promote policies like re-nationalising rail or saving the NHS. Instead, the political discourse over the last two and a half years has been about Brexit. This was unavoidable and Labour could not prevent this. This forced the party to spend considerable political capital engaging in this fight. Labour found itself in a position where it could not clearly articulate how it would keep its pledge to honour the 2016 referendum result, and provide a credible alternative to the Tories. Further too many in the party actually wanted to stop Brexit, a position Labour hadn’t run on in 2017. All of this meant other issues were given inadequate attention.

Image result for Labour's policy manifesto 2017 popularity
Labour’s 2017 Manifesto had overwhelming support polls showed. 

By the time of the 2019 election, Brexit eclipsed the political landscape once again. Trying to announce new policies in other policy areas was going to be difficult, even if there had been a strong strategy. Labour’s campaign strategy and messaging was not strong. An example of this was the free broadband policy. This was actually an interesting policy and an important debate to have. But the timing to announce this was poor. And the way it was sold to voters was hopeless. The policy came across as a cheap election bribe rather than a coherent policy.

The policy aimed to nationalise broadband and for the government to invest in high speed internet infrastructure in parts of the UK where investment was desperately needed. This policy should have been sold as part of a coherent regional development strategy. Invest in high speed broadband, helping to create business and jobs parts of the country that have been left behind.  Instead of this, the policy was sold as save £20 a month on broadband charges. This policy was launched mid election campaign where there is no time to properly explain or sell it. Thus the policy was reduced to a sound bite making it look like nothing more than an election bribe. Not surprisingly it failed to resonate.

The broadband policy was but one example of this. Labour needed to spend the last couple of years building support for its policies in the community. It needed its core policy message to be central to everything it did over the term of parliament. Policies like the broadband one should be announced mid electoral cycle, and take the time to explain yourself to voters. Instead of complaining about the media misrepresenting the policy, hold national road shows, use social media to explain and promote the policy. And in the process of this, engage with voters and allow supporters to have input into it. This takes time, is resource intense and won’t see a massive poll jolt. But such a process builds trust with voters, and come election time means the policy is clearly understood.

One of the other features of Labour’s campaign was the desire to centrally control the message. 20 years ago this was how you did politics. In the 21st century social media environment this is a) too slow and b) just looks contrived. Social media narratives are crucial for selling policy or ideas. It’s also how negative messaging or trolling works. An offical Labour Party tweet maybe seen by a few thousand followers. A good one maybe retweeted thus seen by a few more thousand.

For a message or hash tag to viral quickly, you need a number of posts or tweets sent with a consistent message and hashtag sent at once. Ideally people who are in different social media echo chambers so as to quickly gain a diverse audience. To do this, requires organisations and individuals to do social media posts. With 600 thousand members Labour was in a great position to own the social media narratives. Labour still tried to engage members and supporters by getting them to share content from the centre, rather than support members to create content themselves. This is a scary concept for those running campaigns. But to win in the 2020’s this is what is required.

Finally, Labour lost the campaign by having too many messages, rather than some core ones. Boris and the Conservatives had get Brexit done. Labour had a long and detailed manifesto. Some of the ideas had been heard before, some were new. But the branding of Labour’s offer to voters was poor. The Party were quick to talk of it as a radical manifesto. Actually most of the policies were  bog standard social democratic positions, common throughout much of Europe. Most voters didn’t read the manifesto. Most Labour Party members still haven’t read it cover to cover. What was needed during the campaign were some key big ticket policies or themes. Instead of talking about being radical, have a simple message about how you will make life better for voters followed by three popular examples. Then have the policy manifesto in the background to provide detail.

During the 2017 election polls showed that voters overwhelmingly backed Labour’s manifesto. This was and still is ground where Labour can win power. But behind this, the party needs an election strategy that properly sells these manifesto positions. In 2019 it was never going to be easy to move the conversation along from Brexit. But a decent strategy to sell its social democratic message was Labour’s best shot.

Previous posts in this series

Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context

Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post

Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit

Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Oooo Jeremy Corbyn

Why UK Labour lost? Part 5: Antisemitism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 6: New Labour and Blairism

Why UK Labour lost? Part 7: Momentum and the Corbynistas

6 comments on “Why UK Labour lost?  Part 8: What it takes to win ”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Yes, simple is good. Sloganeering works when it is timely and the slogan matches the circumstances. To win an election it must make the crucial point of difference with the opposing slogan, and look better, more relevant, then it will succeed.

    Your point here is valid: "Policies like the broadband one should be announced mid electoral cycle, and take the time to explain yourself to voters. Instead of complaining about the media misrepresenting the policy, hold national road shows, use social media to explain and promote the policy… such a process builds trust with voters, and come election time means the policy is clearly understood."

    Engaging with voters, as you say, rather than preaching at them. Using the mid-cycle period to introduce new thinking is crucial, I reckon. I've made that point here myself in past years. Leaving it till the campaign is inept nowadays.

    Framing the manifesto as radical looks like a confused attempt to sell innovation as nostalgia – given that it apparently wasn't radical, seriously confused! I get that they saw an opportunity to present a positive alternative to the Tory shambles. The problem was in their method of exploiting the opportunity. They forgot to factor in how voters would experience their messaging.

    A competent pr consultant, if used, ought to have come up with a package deal to present along with the optimal slogan. Get Brexit Done Better, for instance, backed up with a concise description of the better option. Instead, they didn't even think of the need for a better option, apparently. Labour deserved to lose, and blaming Corbyn indicates a reluctance to learn that lesson!

    • RedLogix 1.1

      They forgot to factor in how voters would experience their messaging.

      Yet whenever I draw attention to the idea that personality and politics are tightly linked, that different voters weight core moral values differently, that in the modern world people's loyalties are no longer just aligned with class and nationality, and that in order to communicate effectively with them we need to understand all of this … everyone here yawns.

      Yet when we ignore this, the left as always so caught up in it's over-wheening intellectual and moral superiority, projects a message reeking of disconnected, ideological arrogance. Fuck me CV warned us of exactly this years ago and predicted the exact outcome … Trump. And the UK has repeated the same mistake and now we have Boris and Brexit.

      • Dennis Frank 1.1.1

        Just as likely most of your readers see that you're right about that, but don't add a comment because they can't think of one that advances our common understanding.

        The marketing of a political party nowadays is an exercise in walking & chewing gum simultaneously: the chewing consolidates the base in the populace that the party is representing, while the walk ought to involve others encountered along the way.

        Crucially, swing-voters. So the discourse that happens during the walk around has to enter into their world. When communication is natural, face to face, you get resonance & rapport established if you go in with the right attitude. I don't believe persuasion & harangue works any more. Just explain the guts of where you are coming from, respond to their response sincerely, to create mutual respect. Then they will go away & reflect on it, talk amongst themselves, generate a groundswell of sympathetic consideration of your party. That can become contagious…

      • Ad 1.1.2

        With you on all of that.

        Let's see if we can put some of it to practise here in 2020.

  2. Wayne 2

    Do voters even think they have to vote Labour to save the NHS? They probably already think it is quite safe. And Boris spent much of his time saying how he would spend more on the NHS, going right back to the Brexit campaign of 2016.

    The manifesto is not quite as moderate as you try and pretend. How many other european nations are currently committed to large scale nationalisation?

  3. Gosman 3

    If your analysis is correct then the fundamental flaw Corbyn made was to vote against Theresa May's Brexit deal which enabled Boris Johnson to become PM and call an election on the very issue you think Labour lost on. Surely the clever political strategy would have been to help May to pass her plan and then use the remaining 3 years before the next election to build up support for their manifesto. Now they have to find a new leader and wait 5 years.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • COVID-19 vaccine slated for possible approval next week
    The green light for New Zealand’s first COVID-19 vaccine could be granted in just over a week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today. “We’re making swift progress towards vaccinating New Zealanders against the virus, but we’re also absolutely committed to ensuring the vaccines are safe and effective,” Jacinda Ardern said. ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    13 hours ago
  • New ACC Board members announced.
    The Minister for ACC is pleased to announce the appointment of three new members to join the Board of ACC on 1 February 2021. “All three bring diverse skills and experience to provide strong governance oversight to lead the direction of ACC” said Hon Carmel Sepuloni. Bella Takiari-Brame from Hamilton ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    15 hours ago
  • Economic boost for Southland marae
    The Government is investing $9 million to upgrade a significant community facility in Invercargill, creating economic stimulus and jobs, Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson and Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene have announced.  The grant for Waihōpai Rūnaka Inc to make improvements to Murihiku Marae comes from the $3 billion set ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    24 hours ago
  • Celebrating the Entry Into Force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
    [Opening comments, welcome and thank you to Auckland University etc] It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon to celebrate such an historic occasion - the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This is a moment many feared would never come, but ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Supporting disabled people to stay connected
    The Government is providing $3 million in one-off seed funding to help disabled people around New Zealand stay connected and access support in their communities, Minister for Disability Issues, Carmel Sepuloni announced today. The funding will allow disability service providers to develop digital and community-based solutions over the next two ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Voluntary saliva testing offered to quarantine workers from Monday
    Border workers in quarantine facilities will be offered voluntary daily COVID-19 saliva tests in addition to their regular weekly testing, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. This additional option will be rolled out at the Jet Park Quarantine facility in Auckland starting on Monday 25 January, and then to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Next steps in firearms buy-back
    The next steps in the Government’s ambitious firearms reform programme to include a three-month buy-back have been announced by Police Minister Poto Williams today.  “The last buy-back and amnesty was unprecedented for New Zealand and was successful in collecting 60,297 firearms, modifying a further 5,630 firearms, and collecting 299,837 prohibited ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Jobs for Nature projects target iconic ecosystems
    Upscaling work already underway to restore two iconic ecosystems will deliver jobs and a lasting legacy, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says.  “The Jobs for Nature programme provides $1.25 billion over four years to offer employment opportunities for people whose livelihoods have been impacted by the COVID-19 recession. “Two new projects ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • New Public Housing Plan announced
    The Government has released its Public Housing Plan 2021-2024 which outlines the intention of where 8,000 additional public and transitional housing places announced in Budget 2020, will go. “The Government is committed to continuing its public house build programme at pace and scale. The extra 8,000 homes – 6000 public ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Prime Minister congratulates President Joe Biden on his inauguration
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has congratulated President Joe Biden on his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States of America. “I look forward to building a close relationship with President Biden and working with him on issues that matter to both our countries,” Jacinda Ardern said. “New Zealand ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Jobs for Nature funding will create training and employment opportunities
    A major investment to tackle wilding pines in Mt Richmond will create jobs and help protect the area’s unique ecosystems, Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor says. The Mt Richmond Forest Park has unique ecosystems developed on mineral-rich geology, including taonga plant species found nowhere else in the country. “These special plant ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Pre-departure testing extended to all passengers to New Zealand
    To further protect New Zealand from COVID-19, the Government is extending pre-departure testing to all passengers to New Zealand except from Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “The change will come into force for all flights arriving in New Zealand after 11:59pm (NZT) on Monday ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Bay Cadets learn skills to protect environment
    Bay Conservation Cadets launched with first intake Supported with $3.5 million grant Part of $1.245b Jobs for Nature programme to accelerate recover from Covid Cadets will learn skills to protect and enhance environment Environment Minister David Parker today welcomed the first intake of cadets at the launch of the Bay ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Cook Islanders to resume travel to New Zealand
    The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Mark Brown have announced passengers from the Cook Islands can resume quarantine-free travel into New Zealand from 21 January, enabling access to essential services such as health. “Following confirmation of the Cook Islands’ COVID ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Supporting communities and landowners to grow employment opportunities
    Jobs for Nature funding is being made available to conservation groups and landowners to employ staff and contractors in a move aimed at boosting local biodiversity-focused projects, Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan has announced. It is estimated some 400-plus jobs will be created with employment opportunities in ecology, restoration, trapping, ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Border exception for some returning international tertiary students
    The Government has approved an exception class for 1000 international tertiary students, degree level and above, who began their study in New Zealand but were caught offshore when border restrictions began. The exception will allow students to return to New Zealand in stages from April 2021. “Our top priority continues ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Tiwai deal gives time for managed transition
    Today’s deal between Meridian and Rio Tinto for the Tiwai smelter to remain open another four years provides time for a managed transition for Southland. “The deal provides welcome certainty to the Southland community by protecting jobs and incomes as the region plans for the future. The Government is committed ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New member for APEC Business Advisory Council
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appointed Anna Curzon to the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). The leader of each APEC economy appoints three private sector representatives to ABAC. ABAC provides advice to leaders annually on business priorities. “ABAC helps ensure that APEC’s work programme is informed by business community perspectives ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Govt’s careful economic management recognised
    The Government’s prudent fiscal management and strong policy programme in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic have been acknowledged by the credit rating agency Fitch. Fitch has today affirmed New Zealand’s local currency rating at AA+ with a stable outlook and foreign currency rating at AA with a positive ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Additional actions to keep COVID-19 out of NZ
    The Government is putting in place a suite of additional actions to protect New Zealand from COVID-19, including new emerging variants, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “Given the high rates of infection in many countries and evidence of the global spread of more transmissible variants, it’s clear that ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • 19 projects will clean up and protect waterways
    $36 million of Government funding alongside councils and others for 19 projects Investment will clean up and protect waterways and create local jobs Boots on the ground expected in Q2 of 2021 Funding part of the Jobs for Nature policy package A package of 19 projects will help clean up ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • New Zealand Government acknowledges 175th anniversary of Battle of Ruapekapeka
    The commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Ruapekapeka represents an opportunity for all New Zealanders to reflect on the role these conflicts have had in creating our modern nation, says Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan. “The Battle at Te Ruapekapeka Pā, which took ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago