Jonathan Hopkin in The Conversation (image EPA/Richard Lewis):
Ed Miliband’s failure to win the 2015 election, or even to increase Labour’s share of seats, has been seized upon by the Blairite wing of the party to push its own centrist agenda. Peter Mandelson, one of the architects of New Labour, accused Miliband of making a “terrible mistake” in abandoning Blair’s focus on aspirational John Lewis voters.
Chuka Ummuna, who is running for party leadership, claimedthat Labour was punished by voters for running a budget deficit before the financial crisis. Tony Blair weighed in too, claiming that a more “left-wing” or “Scottish” approach would not help win back the voters lost north of the border.
There is no doubt that Labour’s failure to win over enough voters in Middle England marginal constituencies cost it the election, and it is equally true that Tony Blair’s New Labour project was successful in this regard in the 1990s and 2000s. But a similar centrist strategy would not work again for Labour. Another look at the reasons for Labour’s defeat shows why.
There is strong evidence that Labour is still carrying the burden of being in office when the financial crisis struck, fatally damaging its hard won reputation for economic competence. IPSOS Mori data shows that Labour held a substantial advantage over the Conservatives on economic policy throughout its period of government until 2008.
This advantage was lost when the financial crisis began, and has not yet been recovered: coming into the election, the Conservatives led by 41% to 23% when voters were asked which party had the best policies for the economy. Labour took the blame for the crisis, just in the same way the Conservatives lost their reputation for economic competence on Black Wednesday in 1992, when the pound was ejected from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. In key constituencies, the perceived risks of a Labour government to economic stability undoubtedly shored up the Conservative vote.