Desperate policies drowned out good ideas

20th December 2019

Written by

Reflections on the general election from Labour in the City COO, Andrew Clark

The binary nature of the bitter, hungover post-election argument in the Labour Party is dispiriting. Was it Brexit that lost it for us? The unpopular leader? The hostile media? An over-ambitious manifesto? Of course, it wasn’t one of these things – it was a bit of each.

On Brexit, personally, I don’t blame the leadership for settling on an uneasy compromise position. The damage, on that, was done somewhere between 2010 and 2014 when, post-financial crisis, Nigel Farage’s argument took hold that migration and EU regulation were to blame for stagnating incomes, rather than a rigged economy. It’s been an uphill battle for Labour to win an election ever since.

Nevertheless, the 2019 manifesto was too busy and over-ambitious. In 2017, some influential voices in the City conceded we had a point in pushing for a reformed Bank of England, a focus on infrastructure spending and in Labour’s suggestion that capital was being misdirected by Britain’s banks. This time, those subtler ideas were drowned out by increasingly desperate pledges to nationalise and spend.

It’s hard to get away from it, Jeremy was a problem, too. I’m not going to join the pile-on – he’s a decent, principled guy who campaigned tirelessly and was the subject of appalling character assassinations by the media. But from my own experience on the doorstep, he was the most common reason given by waverers reluctant to back Labour. Something about his alleged lack of patriotism stuck, as did scepticism about whether he has the organisational skills to run a major industrialised nation.

It’s often said that Labour is a coalition of two demographics – metropolitan liberals and a (waning) blue-collar base. Actually, it’s three – a third group is the massive millennial following we’ve attracted since the Brexit referendum among students and twentysomethings. That offers reason for hope. Our new leader needs to find a sweet spot where not just two, but all three of those groups intersect.

Andrew Clark