On election night 2019, Labour supporters watched in horror as the count revealed Labour's worst election performance in recent history. In the wake of the party's worst night "since 1935", Labour members and analysts attempt to dissect what went wrong. Was it the party's stance on Brexit? An unpalatable leader in Jeremy Corbyn? Or a misguided election strategy?
Election strategyShow moreShow less
Labour's election strategy was misguided. It wasted resources on trophy seats and failed to recognise the need to shore up campaigns in Labour's Northern heartlands.
Instead of channelling resources into the seats where Labour stood the best chance of winning, a large amount of manpower and campaign efforts were wasted on chasing trophy seats that Labour stood no chance of winning.
The Labour election campaign fought tough battles in Boris Johnson’s seat of Uxbridge and Ian Duncan Smith’s Chingford and Woodford Green seat. Neither seat was a realistic target for Labour candidates but the party wanted to make a statement by taking a trophy scalp. In doing so, it wasted resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.
Its strong performance in 2017 was built on a defensive election strategy. Labour invested time and resources in its heartlands and shored up its working-class stronghold while only targeting a minimal number of Conservative-held seats. In 2019, this changed.
In the first week of the election campaign, Labour strategists drew up a list of 100 seats they wanted to take from the Conservatives. Corbyn would visit 10 of these targets in the first few days of campaigning.
Even as polling showed a Conservative majority was imminent, strategists refused to divert attention from trophy seats and Conservative targets to focus on the Labour heartlands. Every time an incumbent Labour MP appealed for help, suspecting their seat was in trouble, it was added to the list of targets. Eventually, the initial 100-seat list had grown to 150. Rather than abandoning Conservative-held seats to focus on retaining existing Labour seats, strategists persevered with their offensive election campaign.
In the end, Labour only turned one of their 100 target seats red—Putney.
[P1] Labour wasted resources chasing seats they had no chance of winning.
[P2] These resources would have been better spent defending seats in the North.
[P3] This led to the party losing many seats they had taken and held in 2017.