In 2015 the UK Labour Party lost its second general election in a row. This was followed by the resignation of its leader, Ed Miliband, and the start of an acrimonious battle for the leadership of the party. The surprise winner, Jeremy Corbyn, won by a massive majority and resulted in a huge increase in party membership.

During the leadership campaign many figures associated with the Party's time in power between 1997 and 2010, made dire predictions about the consequences of voting for Corbyn. The press joined in with a campaign of vitriolic attacks, slurs and attempts at character assassination.

They repeatedly claimed that New Labour has been popular and successful when in power. They said that Corbyn would plunge Labour into "the wilderness".

I decided to look at the figures and see how true this was.

Instead of looking at the proportion of the votes cast for each party, I decided to look at the proportion of the total electorate. These figures tell a very different story to the New Labour narrative.

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Labour Victory

In 1997 Labour won a landslide victory. Under the leadership of Tony Blair, with Gordon Brown as Chancellor, the re-branded New Labour Party swept into parliament with 418 seats, the most it had ever held. After 18 years of Tory rule the people were eager for change.

But what happened next? If you believe the New Labour narrative there followed three terms of successful and popular government. But what do the figures say?

The "landslide" was 30.8% of the total vote - less than John Major's 32.5% in 1992. The UK electoral system is notoriously unfair, so votes cast don't reflect seats won. But it was a very strong showing for Labour and their large majority gave them free reign to shape policy.

But they spent the first 2 years in office sticking to Tory spending plans. They did almost nothing to overturn the damage of 18 years of Tory rule.

They did introduce the minimum wage, the human rights act, the freedom of information act, and a number of other positive things. That's what they are supposed to do. But they failed on housing, the economy, education, transport, jobs. Brown pursued a hugely damaging PFI program which will leave us in debt for years. They introduced tuition fees, which force young people into debt at the start of their lives.

By 2001 we see that the Labour vote has plummeted, from 30.8% to 24.2%. The Tory vote was still falling, so what happened? Simple - people didn't vote. The turnout was the lowest on record. I remember Labour MPs complaining of voter apathy. In fact people didn't vote Labour because they didn't support them. The idea that this government was popular is false. It lost nearly a quarter of its supporters in the first term of office.

In 2003 the War on Iraq saw a million people marching in the streets of London, yet New Labour voted almost unanimously - with a few honourable exceptions, in favour of this unpopular war. The war will be Blair's lasting legacy.

By the end of Blair's second term in 2005 the vote was down to 21.6%. Worse than their defeats in 1987 and 1992. The Tory vote was beginning to pick up again. So this 'popular' government had now lost nearly one third of its support. On this trend it would lose at the next election. In 2007 Blair stood down and passed the leadership to Gordon Brown. Perhaps he knew that New Labour had run its course?

Brown had been Chancellor since 1997. His failure to regulate the banks or address the spiralling credit boom and out of control house prices led directly to the crash in 2008, the worst recession since the 1930s. He pumped billions of tax payers' money into propping up these banks. In 2010 he lost the general election. But look at the numbers: 18.9% of the vote. Worse than Michael Foot in 1983. In fact the worst result for Labour since the origins of the Labour party a hundred years earlier.

So, far from a popular government with public support, we saw New Labour haemorrhage support from the first term. The vote plummeted, not because people preferred another party, but because they didn't have anyone to represent them. That is not a measure of a popular party. It is a measure of failure. There is an objective measure : the division between rich and poor increased under New Labour. That has never happened under a Labour government before. The transfer of wealth from young to old, from poor to rich, continued unabated.

Right from the start, support for New Labour sank like a stone. I remember talking to party members in the late nineties and saying "people won't support this". The arrogant response I often received was "who else are they going to vote for?". I think we now have the answer to that question.


One of the common themes of the New Labour attacks on Corbyn was to suggest a risk of a return to the disasterous general election results of 1983, when leader Michael Foot lost the election to Margaret Thatcher.

The 1983 election was indeed a bad defeat for Labour. It occurred at a time when the party had split into two, with the formation of the SDP. When the Falklands War was added to the mix, Thatcher's previously low popularity was reversed and became a strong win. We see Labour getting just 20.1% of the vote, compared to Thatcher's 30.8%. But this is still higher than Brown's 18.9% and the same as Miliband's 2015 result.

All the doom laden "it will be as bad as 1983" commentary we got from New Labour 'grandees', ignored that fact that they had done even worse in 2010 and just as badly in 2015.

For completeness, here are the figures for 1950 to 2015. I've lumped Liberal, SDP, LibDem together as if they are the same. I've also put 'other' together, though the sharp rise in the UKIP vote is the largest factor in recent years.

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More on the background of the 1983 election from Red Pepper.


I wanted to higlight one issue and New Labour's failure to deal with it.

The housing crisis has its origins in the Thatcher Government in the early 1980s. They removed rent controls and fair renting. They removed tennant's rights, leaving us with some of the worst rights in Europe. They forced councils to sell council houses, 1/3 of which are now owned by private landlords. They prevented the building of new council houses.

On the financial side they allowed an uncontrolled credit boom to take place, by removing controls and regulation on banks. The credit boom fuelled massive rises in house prices.

The net result is the situation today. London has some of the highest property prices in the world. Properties are sold as investments rather than places to live.

Most people are now unable to afford to buy a house on their wage. It was pointed out recently that you need to earn more than the Prime Minister to be able to get a mortgage for the average house price in London. Prices rose in 2014 alone by 20%, by around £80,000, more than twice the average wage. A clearly unsustainable situation.

Many people are forced into private rented accomodation, which takes a huge proportion of their wages. The loss of this money to the rest of the economy means that all businesses suffer. Because housing offers such high returns in investment, investers don't bother to invest in anything else. These two factors conspire to starve the economy; low spending, low investment, major factors preventing an economic recovery.

Coupled with stagnation in wages, low job security, zero hour contracts and lack of decent jobs, the housing situation is a crisis.

But all of this is caused directly by Government policy.

What did New Labour do in its 13 years in power to fix these things? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They left everything in place.

The result is that now unless you are very rich (ie. earn more than the Prime Minister) or you inherit money or can borrow from family, you will not be able to afford to own a home. Renters are hit by lack of security, lack of rights, and unscrupulous landlords preying on them.

We have a stark crisis. But New Labour did nothing. They could have fixed all of these problems but they chose not to.

Many MPs have personally benefited from rising house prices, especially those who have had their London house purchases subsidised by the tax payer. One third of MPs are also landlords, yet despite the conflict of interest, they are allowed to vote on policies that they personally benefit from.

When Yvette Cooper stood in the recent Labour Party leadership election, I looked up her record in Government. She was Minister for Housing. Did she fix any of these problems? No. All we got was the Home Information Pack. No wonder people didn't vote Labour in the last two elections.

The accusation that Corbyn would plunge Labour into the wilderness is pretty rich coming from the wing of the party that drove its popularity into the ground over 13 years, and failed to fix any of the obviously broken policies that blight our country. It is they who have thrown away the opportunity of the landslide win and turned it into two defeats in a row.

Where we go from here is another question.

For the record, here is Corbyn's housing policy.