There has been much commentary on Jon Cruddas’ report about why Labour lost. For me, the central point is simple: we must move the debate beyond austerity and adopt an economic policy that can appeal across party lines and win over the voters we need for a majority in 2020.
First, Cruddas provides the statistical evidence for what was, anecdotally, blindingly obvious on the doorstep: that the perception that Labour was anti-austerity was a major cause of our defeat.
Further, he shows the antipathy towards our economic position is most acute among those voters, across all socio-economic groups, which we need to win over to get back into government. Anti-austerity is a recipe for opposition.
In fact anti-austerity barely wins support among Labour ranks: Cruddas’ report shows only a two per cent lead for an anti-austerity position even among Labour voters.
Whatever the failings of the Tory’s economic management, what’s clear from Cruddas’ report is the effectiveness of their economic messaging. The generation that took out 95 per cent mortgages and maxed out multiple credit cards bought into the notion that the country must live within its means.
But there is a sense that ‘austerity versus anti-austerity’ is yesterday’s battle. Now we need to find messaging and policies that will equip us for the next election. If the Tories manage to keep to their plans austerity should be in the past by 2020, and the challenge will be to shape an economic policy with a vision of a future that appeals across party lines.
That, more than deficit reduction, is what Labour needs to be debating now as part of the leadership contest.
And that also is where Cruddas’ report provides some pointers. Across the board there’s a sense among voters that the system doesn’t work for people like them. It’s especially strong among UKIP supporters, whom Polly Billington and Rowenna Davis wrote so effectively about in the Fabian publication Never Again. They saw first-hand the electoral price Labour paid for UKIP campaigning in communities we once counted as our own.
Cruddas has also provided the analytical base for their insistence that Labour cannot turn its back on socially conservative voters – the ‘settlers’, as Cruddas calls them – who are concerned about family, community and identity. These, above all, were the voters that we lost to UKIP.
But what Cruddas takes as economic radicalism looks more like the well-documented voter alienation. People may not trust Labour with their money, but there’s a mistrust of the establishment generally. And that includes the Tories, whose wafer thin parliamentary majority only looks more secure because of the disarray in opposition ranks, especially ours.
What the Labour leadership contenders need to be setting out is how they will deal with the productivity challenge in the British economy, how – and in which sectors – they will promote growth, and how they will move the fiscal focus on, from rewarding the retired people who built our nation to ensuring that the next generation can secure its future.
That, however, is the easy bit. The hard bit will be overcoming the alienation and persuading the British public that we deserve their trust.