This piece first appeared on LabourList
Polly Toynbee writes today that it would be a mistake for the next Labour leader to ditch the party’s most recent policies.
In her view, the party lost the election not because of its policies but because of its reputation and leader.
If that were the case, the party could win the next election with similar policies – so long as it addressed its other weaknesses.
But can you separate the policies from Labour’s weaknesses? That is, did Labour lose because of its policies or despite them?
A recent GQR poll for the TUC looks at these questions – but appears to give contradictory answers.
The poll unmistakably shows that the gap in perceived economic competence was crucial. It was the biggest factor helping the Tories (the top two reasons for voting Tory were that the economy was recovering, and the deficit was being cut); and hurting Labour (the top reason for not voting Labour was that they couldn’t be trusted with the economy).
And only 1 in 4 respondents think Labour had a good track record in government, compared with 1 in 2 for the Tories.
But, it also suggests that many of Labour’s policies were popular.
Labour made the NHS a major part of its campaign. It was the issue that respondents – including people Labour lost from 2010 to 2015: ‘Lost Labour’ – say most determined their vote, out of 13 tested. The poll also found Labour had a 57pt lead over the Tories on the NHS among Lost Labour.
And Labour’s economic policies seem to have been popular.
By comfortable majorities, voters – and particularly Lost Labour – say Labour should prioritise people in poverty over those on middle incomes; should be tougher on banks; should increase taxes on the rich; and should cut public spending more slowly.
The poll found strong support for each of the economically populist policies it tested: increasing the minimum wage and pensions, banning zero-hour contracts, cracking down on tax evasion by the rich, and building more houses.
There’s even a clear lead for predistributive economics: increasing low wages rather than reducing inequality through the tax system.
We also know from other polls – like this by ICM for the High Pay Centre – that Ukip voters are typically fiscally left-wing, suggesting a way for Labour to win back many of them.
So this interpretation suggests Labour could do well with an economically populist position. Essentially, it says Miliband’s instincts were electorally popular; he just failed to be heard or to convince people he could deliver.
Sum of the parts
But you could quite reasonably look at the poll and conclude it shows that those policies made it impossible for Labour to shake off the reputation for economic incompetence.