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Labour must achieve unprecedented political turnround, report warns

Labour needs to pull off the unprecedented feat of increasing its seats by 60 per cent to win the next British general election, according to a major inquest into its crushing defeat in December.

The UK opposition party fell to just 202 MPs in the general election in its biggest electoral setback for more than 80 years, prompting the resignation of leader Jeremy Corbyn.

A review by Labour Together, co-authored by figures including shadow business secretary Ed Miliband, warned that a further 58 seats could be lost in future on a small swing to the Conservatives.

The report largely blamed the leadership of Mr Corbyn, the ambitious manifesto and the party’s prevarication over Brexit for its devastating defeat.

But it warned: “It would be a mistake to believe that a different leader, with Brexit no longer the defining issue, would in itself be sufficient to change Labour’s electoral fortunes.”

Unless Labour reverses its fortunes in Scotland — where it was virtually wiped out in 2015 — it will need to win a huge number of English seats to secure a majority: including North East Somerset, the constituency of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Tory leader of the House of Commons.

The report claimed that Labour entered the election unprepared, with a weak strategy, too many policy announcements and no clear message compared with the 2017 slogan of “for the many, not the few”.

At the same time the party was convulsed by a “toxic culture” after five years of battles between different wings of the party. The report was careful not to blame any particular side for this but quoted one official describing a “hostile and cold” atmosphere at party headquarters.

While the Conservatives invested heavily in digital campaigning, Labour did insufficient groundwork to test tactics or messages ahead of the election. Labour supporters spent “too much” of the campaign talking to themselves rather than reaching out to convince swing voters to support Labour.

The authors of the report include Lucy Powell, a shadow business minister, leftwing journalist Ellie Mae O’Hagan, and James Meadway, a former economics adviser to John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under Mr Corbyn. It surveyed 11,000 members and used data from academics and pollsters.

The report found that “Stop Jeremy Corbyn” was a major driver of the Tories’ success across all key groups including previous non-voters, given a widespread dislike and concern about the hard left former leader.

It estimated that the party lost voters everywhere in the country apart from London, with support haemorrhaging most among working-class communities. In net terms, compared with 2017, it had 1m fewer Remain voters and 1.9m fewer Leave voters.

The report acknowledges the difficulties in simultaneously appealing to blue-collar workers in pro-Brexit traditional Labour heartlands while also enthusing young, liberal urban graduates. It argues, however, that the party could win over 40 per cent by focusing on a “big change economy agenda” alongside a “robust story of community and national pride”.

Yet its overall conclusion is that the party has a mountain to climb.

“Labour faces a substantial challenge to win the next election, with a historic swing of over 10 per cent needed to gain a majority of one seat. No major party has ever increased their number of MPs by over 60 per cent, which is what Labour would need to do to win in 2024.”

A previous election inquest by Mr Corbyn’s allies, delivered to the party’s national executive committee in January, exonerated the former leader and blamed Brexit.

Meanwhile, a separate group called Labour for a European Future, which has undertaken its own review of December’s defeat, concluded that Boris Johnson’s promise to hire 50,000 more nurses was twice as important as Brexit in seducing former Labour voters.

This article was first published at https://www.ft.com/content/fcd7b6a3-6825-4bd0-893a-e0533cc69dab

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