Jon Cruddas wrote a great article for Labour List yesterday entitled, “Labour lost because voters believed it was anti-austerity”. The basis for the piece was to share the results of an inquiry into why Labour lost in May that Jon had a major hand in.
As you would expect, there was some tough revelations in the findings for Labour. “The first hard truth is that the Tories didn’t win despite austerity, they won because of it. Voters did not reject Labour because they saw it as austerity lite. Voters rejected Labour because they perceived the Party as anti-austerity lite.” Having had the pleasure of meeting Jon on handful of occasions, I can tell you that those would not have been easy words for him to write. But the guy is a political pragmatist, desperate to see Labour win again, so he faces the truth with dignity.
To summarise the harshest bits of the poll: 58% of those surveyed agreed with the statement, “We must live within our means so cutting the deficit is the top priority”. Only 16% disagreed. Even worse was the fact that amongst C2DE groups (so theoretically, the core Labour vote), 54% agree to 15% disagree – essentially a mirror image to the nationwide numbers, meaning there is no difference in regards to this issue the further down the socio-economic scale you travel.
What has been the reaction to the release of this information, on social media and in the comments below the article in question? A few sane responses, but mostly frothy bile all round. The findings were considered “dishonest” and “flawed” by many a left-winger. Which leads me to ask: if they can’t listen to the likes of Jon Cruddas deliver this message, who would it take to get the faithful to accept it? Jeremy Corbyn? I think even he would struggle to be heard on this one. It’s become an article of faith within the Labour movement that austerity is a myth and that the vast majority of the British public wants public spending increases – even when the hard facts tell us otherwise.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to like that the public thinks like it does. But being in denial about the fact that they do is just completely self-defeating, particularly as lots of other bits of the inquiry were actually positive for Labour. The statement, “I am most likely to vote for the political party that redistributes wealth from rich to poor” got 43% of people agreeing to only 22% disagreeing. So there is genuinely something there for the Left. Basically, people feel society is unfair in many ways and slanted towards the wealthy – but they want to hear solutions that won’t bankrupt the country. This shouldn’t be that hard to grasp.
Until the Left can accept that many people don’t come at this issue from the same starting point as they do, they will never be able to figure out how to change people’s minds on the subject. Their continuing denial – even in the face of an alternative reality presented by the likes of Jon Cruddas – is a huge gift to the Tories.
People often agree with reasonable-sounding statements in polls – which is why questions framed that way are best-avoided.
The ones that matter are those that give a (forced) choice between competing reasonable-sounding statements.