After the catastrophic defeat in the 2015 General Election, Labour will inevitably go through a long period of soul searching. Here are my first five thoughts on the lessons the Party needs to learn:
1. THE GROUND WAR ISN’T EVERYTHING
We’ve heard for many years from organisers and some academics about the importance of the so-called ‘ground war’. According to their argument, it's flooding areas with activists that wins elections. Unfortunately, if the ‘air war’ is badly conducted, your ground offensive is unlikely to succeed. Labour failed to win key seats in which it had a strong presence.
2. YOU NEED A STORY TO WIN
In the jargon of political pundits, Labour needs a ‘narrative’. The Tories had one about the supposed success of their economic plan and how this would be put at risk by an alliance of Miliband and Sturgeon. Labour’s weak response was to say it had a ‘better plan’. They were framing the Labour message in the light of the Tory one.
3. IT’S IMPORTANT TO ACCEPT PEOPLE AS THEY ARE
Alan Johnson has been talking about how Blair understood people’s aspirations. Nick Cohen has made the interesting – and allied point – that too many Labour people tend to look down its nose at the English, resenting their prejudices and ignorance. It doesn’t play well. In politics, you need to work with people rather than against them.
4. LISTEN TO THE FOCUS GROUPS
The pink bus and stone plinth would never have survived any kind of consumer testing. There can only be two conclusions: no one bothered to ask a selection of voters what they thought of the ideas, or – worse still – the voters were asked, but Labour ignored what they said.
5. YOU CAN’T TELL PEOPLE THEY’RE WRONG
Some people point to the moment in the debates when Ed Miliband told the audience that Labour hadn’t spent too much in their previous administration. It was a claim met with derision. If you want to challenge people’s perceptions and convert them to an objective truth, the process takes years. You can’t change their minds in the heat of a campaign or simply tell them they don’t understand.