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Internal Labour report excuses Corbyn and claims Brexit played ‘decisive role’ in election defeat

'It is unlikely that radicalism was in itself the problem in a country looking for change,' says internal report

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 29 January 2020 13:41 GMT
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An internal Labour report probing the party’s worst electoral performance of the post-war era has excused Jeremy Corbyn and claimed Brexit played a “decisive role” in handing the Tories a majority.

The report, presented to Labour’s governing body the National Executive Committee (NEC), rather, said “unrelenting” media attacks on the the character of the party leader had a “degree of negative impact”.

Prepared by election co-ordinators Andrew Gwynne and Ian Lavery, it states that Britain’s exit from the EU entirely dominated the political life of the country between June 2017 and December 2019.

The document, leaked to the Financial Times, comes before a separate inquiry into the election defeat from MPs across the Labour Party, including former leader Ed Miliband, is released next month.

The report claims: “It would be unrealistic not to accept that policy on how (or whether) Britain should leave the European Union, and perceptions as to how the issue was handled in parliament, played a decisive part in the election.

“Labour’s campaign made strenuous efforts to direct the debate towards other pressing economic and social question, but with only limited success.”

It said the party’s eventual position of proposing a second Brexit referendum alongside an option to leave on a newly-negotiated deal by Labour, aimed to reach across the country, “but was largely unsuccessful”.

On Mr Corbyn’s leadership, the report said: “Among other reasons for the defeat identified have been the scale of our manifesto/policy offer and negative views of the party leadership.

“It should be noted, however, that our radical manifesto and Jeremy Corbyn were attacked in 2017 on identical grounds and with comparable venom, yet Labour secured the biggest increase in its share of the vote since 1945. It is unlikely that radicalism was in itself the problem in a country looking for change.”

Instead, the authors of the document said: “There is also little doubt that four years of unrelenting attacks on the character of the party leader, an assault without precedent in modern politics, had a degree of negative impact.”

The post-mortem into the election result adds that members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who “amplified” these attacks “did not assist”.

“In this context, it is deeply regrettable that the party was unable to convince the public that we were dealing effectively with the deplorable incidence of anti-semitic views among a small section of the membership,” it claims.

On the party’s policy offer during the winter election campaign, the report admits it “did not resonate nearly as well as in 2017” and that members of the public were “confused” by some elements of Labour’s manifesto.

Appearing to reference the pledge to compensate the “Waspi” women, it went on: “The pledges cumulatively appeared implausible to significant sections of our target voters, particularly those that were not included in our manifesto and were subsequently launched, and raised fears about the integrity of our taxation commitments.

“This contrasted with the endlessly-repeated clarity of the Tories’ minimalist campaign, centring solely on a misleading promise to ‘get Brexit done’.”

Lisa Nandy, a leadership hopeful, said she had not yet read the contents of the report, but told LBC: “I think none of us can be exonerated for the worst election defeat since 1935.”

She said the Brexit position was a factor, which she accused the leadership of having hit the "sweet spot" where both sides of the divide thought the party was against them.

During the NEC meeting on Tuesday, it also emerged Labour’s membership had surged to more than 580,000 since the election – now believed to be the most members the party has ever had.

A Labour Party spokesperson declined to comment on the leaked report.

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