After Labour’s struggles in the by-elections of last week much was written and said on the plight of Britain’s largest party by membership but the issue is simple, trust in the party is lost. This issue of trust began when Labour narrowly lost in the 2010 election and began to lose faith in its own abilities.
Since 2010, under both Miliband and Corbyn, the public has listened to Labour figures continually apologise for its actions on the economy, immigration, house building, even on the NHS. Why should the public trust you in government again if you openly admit to mistakes and even apologise for it. If you don’t praise your own achievements in government, no one will do it for you.
There are very few, if any, occasions in recent history that the public has heard Conservative figures admit mistakes and why would they when that is exactly the point of an opposition. The public may have short term anger at politicians for not admitting something is wrong or mistakes made but that fades far quicker than a party actively opposing itself, which is naturally jumped on by the opposition, and sticks in the minds of the public. Why should a public trust you with their votes when the party itself admits it makes mistakes when it does?
Labour’s Trust Fall
Trust in Labour has dipped across the political spectrum. In November last year an Opiniom/Observer poll found that just 18% of voters trust Labour with managing public finances, compared to 44% trusting Theresa May and Philip Hammond. To be fair to Jeremy Corbyn, those figures were very similar, under Ed Miliband, in 2014 when a YouGov poll again swung in favour of Conservatives 40% to 17%,.
It may be argued by many inside and outside of the Labour Party, that trust was lost not by Miliband or Corbyn but by Tony Blair. However polling, even years after Blair’s resignation, showed the public had faith in Labour to manage the economy. A ComRes poll from just before the 2010 election found that 33% of voters backed Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling’s management of public money against 27% who favoured Cameron and Osborne. This shows that trust was still there in Labour until it began to criticise its own achievements.
Even on arguably Labour’s biggest and strongest policy area, the NHS, it struggles to gain public trust to manage it. In what is a historically dominant area for the Labour Party a poll in January this year placed the Conservatives in front on trust to run the National Health Service. A ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror and Independent found that 43% thought Theresa May would run the NHS better than Jeremy Corbyn who polled at 31%. These results come after years of growing waiting lists, missed targets and funding cuts to the NHS, this particular ComRes poll also came in the week the Red Cross labelled the NHS as a ‘humanitarian crisis.’
Nothing to be proud of?
When Labour figures such as Ed Miliband criticise the Labour government on welfare and immigration or Ed Balls apologises for a lot of Labour’s past actions, it faces an uphill battle to convince voters to back the party again. Of course Jeremy Corbyn’s thoughts on the Blair and Brown years are well known which means this policy of erasing past achievements is unlikely to change.
The electorate will vote for a party or a leader it believes has the best answers to their problems. When one party is so self-critical and admits to more mistakes than achievements, there is little reason to trust that party to solve current problems. Put simply you cannot address a question if you do not have an answer. The question of why trust the Labour Party could be very easily answered if you look at what 1997 to 2010 actually produced.
Labour’s period in power between 1997 and 2010 saw 42,400 extra teachers and 212,000 more support staff in schools, 89,000 more nurses and 44,000 more doctors in the NHS and Police numbers up by 16,000. Education Maintenance Allowance was set up to encourage further study beyond 16 years old, Sure Start centres opened, NHS Direct set up and even a points based immigration system and stricter rules on student visas.
If these achievements were praised, publicised and picked up by the wider public it is highly likely the Labour Party would be more trusted to return to government. Instead even Labour supporters dispute the Labour government’s achievements which will leave those who have minimal interaction with politics will thinking, ‘why would I vote Labour back in if they did nothing for me last time?’
There is a pretty clear message to give to voters if you look at the results of a Labour government but the current leader is not inclined to promote it, essentially starting from scratch which is a much tougher argument to make, as proved in the polls and now in Copeland.