Wales sidelined in leaked Labour election report

Jeremy Corby, leader during the period covered by the leaked Labour election report.
2019's General Election saw the Labour party suffer a huge defeat. Source; Jeremy Corbyn (via Wikimedia Commons)
A leaked Labour Party strategy document shows no defensive strategy used in key seats in Wales during the 2019 election. The party instead opted for an offensive approach.

By Hallum Cowell | Deputy Editor

A Labour Party document shows how the party decided to implement a offensive strategy for every key seats in Wales during the last election. The strategy document, leaked by Gabriel Pogrund, The Sunday Times’ Whitehall Correspondent, sheds light on the Labour Party’s strategy for the 2019 General Election

Labour suffered their worst election defeat since 1935 during the last election, losing six seats in Wales, all to the Conservative Party. The party was reduced to 203 seats, down from 262, throughout the UK. This led to a Conservative majority at Westminster and the resignation of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

An offensive mindset in Wales

Of particular interest is Labour’s election strategy in Wales.

The document details Labour’s strategy for key seats. Wales is the only region or nation where all seats are labelled as “offensive”. Key seats in Wales include the Vale of Glamorgan, Aberconwy and others, which can be found on pages 23 and 24 of the document.

This offensive posture is despite the party’s own polling, included in the document, showing that 18 of their seats were in danger of changing hands. While most of these seats were in danger of flipping to the Conservative Party, other threats included the Brexit Party, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.

The Welsh General Secretary, Louise Magge, raised concerns over the strategy.

“The Welsh General Secretary expressed her concern over the absence of any defensive seats on the list in Wales… she did wonder whether a slightly more defensive posture might be appropriate given that we had a Welsh Labour government and therefore our campaign in Wales could not have the insurgent character of an election campaign in England”

In June 2020, the Labour Together Election review was published, this report analysed the cause of Labour’s defeat in the most recent election. The review claimed that Labour had failed to adapt their message to a Welsh audience.

For example, the party was very adamant about their claim that the Conservative Party was planning to privatise the NHS. Welsh devolution, however, gives the Welsh Government final say over areas such as health. It is easy to see this argument playing far worse in Wales than England due to its devolved status.

It would seem that in hindsight, Louise Magge’s fears that the Welsh campaign would be run too similar to its’ English counterpart was all too accurate.

Liberal Democrats a “credible threat”

There are a number of other interesting things to come out of this leaked report.

Throughout the document is also a clear awareness of the potential threat smaller parties could represent to Labour swing seats.

On the first page the document outlines the Party’s main concerns which include “how we react to the emergence of the Liberal Democrats as a credible threat to Labour both in seats where they are currently a third party and in Labour-held seats where in 2017 they came in second”.

The report later goes on to add that “in a way very reminiscent of the threat posed to us in the 2005 general election, their ability to take votes away from us, and to attract from among swing voters support that we otherwise might have been able to rip from the Tories”.

Remain or leave and a “relative stickiness”

The Labour Party struggled with the political ramifications of the 2016 EU referendum perhaps more than any other party in the lead up to the 2019 general election.

On the one hand many long time Labour seats, especially in the North of England, had voted to leave the European Union and wanted the party to reflect this. Yet many of the party’s core demographic – younger people – had voted to remain and in turn wanted the party to take a hard anti-Brexit stance.

After what many perceived as a period of indecisiveness, Labour committed to neither side of the issue, pledging that they would reach a deal with the EU and then put that deal to a second referendum.

Labour, according to this document, recognised the dire situation they were in though, and came to the following conclusion:

“Labour voters who backed a leave outcome in the 2016 referendum are likely to stay Labour even if we become a more pro-Remain party, whereas Labour voters who backed a Remain outcome in the 2016 referendum are likely to move from Labour to a different pro-Remain party, if we are not clearly a pro-Remain party. There are obvious political consequences which flow from such an understanding”. 

Despite this many have argued since that it was Labour’s failure to commit to leaving the EU which led to their defeat in the election. It would be fair to say that Labour struggled to handle the issue of Brexit, which has been dubbed a ‘political hot potato’.

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