On 8th July 2017 the Fabian Society held its annual summer conference, attended by some 200 Fabian members. The event focused on the 2017 election, the manifesto, the campaign and lessons for the future, especially in relation to Brexit and Housing. These notes reflect my personal interests, and are certainly not a coherent account of the whole conference.
Fine keynote by Yvette Cooper, and especially interesting contributions by Lisa Nandy, Seema Malhotra and Emma Burnell.
We did not win, but we did well, partly because the Tories lost, with a disastrous campaign.
Hostility to the Tories was a strong factor, and the fact that no one expected us to win
Remember 130 seats swung from Labour to Conservative
We had a strong manifesto, we offered hope, and support for public services
We had a leader who presented passion, decency, authenticity (though the Corby effect is ambiguous – some voted for him, some voted despite him)
Because no one expected us to win, we were not subjected to thorough scrutiny, especially on the economics – this will not happen again!
We held the factions together around a shared manifesto, and avoided fragmenting and infighting
The result polarised constituencies substantially with the erosion of the minor parties. Seats where one party has more than 50% of the votes increased dramatically between 2015 and 2017. Tory seats from 52% to 77% and Labour seats from 46% to 85%.
There is no simple explanation of individual results – the largest Labour majorities were in Bristol West and Knowsley!
Leadership was a paradoxical issue – in focus groups, half of people said that they voted because of Corbyn, but half voted despite him
Parliament is more diverse than ever before. 45% of Labour MPs are women, there are 27 BAME MPs, and we have the largest ever proportion of “out” LGBT MPs.
The result has already reversed Tory policies on several issues – grammar schools, foxhunting, winter fuel, Northern Ireland abortion
The manifesto was put together in a hurry, not all was thought through.
It was better at demonstrating our values and direction of travel than as a detailed plan – not all could be addressed in one Parliament, not all was affordable
Focus group evidence shows that the manifesto worked – people liked hope rather than fear.
They noticed our policies on Tuition Fees and Bank Holidays! They remembered the Tories for the U-turn on the “dementia tax” (the U-turn more than the policy itself) and foxhunting.
Tuition fee policy was popular among parents and grandparents, not just the young.
Our manifesto was weak on welfare and the poor
there was debate about the proposal to abolish Student Loans (though note Andrew Adonis’ Guardian article supporting abandoning loans). Is this the priority at this point? If the rationale for loans is that graduates should contribute because the degree leads to higher earnings, then raising income tax on the top 5% of earnings is a simpler and more rational policy, than forcing debt on people 75% of whom will never repay in full.
The new campaign
We remain on an election footing, though opinion varies on how soon that will be.
We need to keep the spirit of the Manifesto, but develop the arguments better, strengthen on welfare.
Attach hope to a viable programme for government
Focus on equipping people to deal with an uncertain future
Talk a language that people understand (most people think “the market” is where you buy your vegetables!)
Andy Harrop’s five priorities:
- We need to attract “left conservatives” – left on economics but socially conservative
- We need to build on our good result in Scotland
- We need to campaign (again) “in poetry” but be better prepared to govern “in prose” (we did the first well)
- We need a story on Brexit
- We need to be civil, inclusive and united.
Yvette Cooper’s four priorities:
- Hold the new voters and go beyond them. Bear in mind the electorate is volatile (a high proportion of 2017 Labour voters had never voted Labour before)
- Chart a progressive story about Brexit
- Address the divide between cities (overwhelmingly Labour, remainer, educated) and Towns
- Prioritise a kinder, gentler, democratic politics. Avoid negative campaigning
Address older voters – we now have a majority of voters in all age groups under 45
Address C2s – our weakest social class
Talk up our track record
Continue to make the Tories look bad – Parliamentary opposition important
Demonstrate the competence of the whole team
Much debate, but general view is that it is likely to happen, and that opposing in principle now wins no votes.
Party/Starmer policy was clever. Labour is the safest home for remainers, and not hostile to leavers. The LibDem policy of direct opposition merely provokes resistance, and has not convinced the remainers that it is feasible.
We accept the referendum result, but are clear about what people need – the six points. People did not vote to become poorer, but that is certainly what they will get.
Starmer’s six red lines command support from remainers and leavers (and much of this was promised by leavers during the campaign!)
Now is not the time to become the “Remain” party, but the time may come (?). Telling people they were wrong or stupid does not change minds. Public opinion may be changing (poll and focus group evidence not clear) and may change further as negotiations proceed.
Closing our borders may well drive up “illegal” immigration, which will drive down wages and conditions faster than current migration does.
Brexit is not the main concern of the EU – they have other more pressing issues to worry about, including the kinds of reform what we wanted to see, which they are pushing ahead with.
The 27 remain incredulous, but resigned to Brexit. They still think we are deluded about what we can get out of it, and the strength of our negotiating position.
Despite recent results in Austria, Netherlands and France social democracy is in retreat across the EU – the European left sees the UK 2017 result is seen as a beacon of hope.
There is agreement on the need for reform, but the Euro makes this (even more) difficult
Housing is a major issue – some think the biggest issue for the next election
All three forms of tenure (owner occupation, social housing and private rented), are in crisis.
Government policy to expand demand merely inflates prices
We need to shift from income taxes to land/wealth taxes
Does housing affordability map onto voting behaviour – a research question?