There are two issues that get conflated in the post election debate: – 1. Was the party positioned correctly 2. Was the party effective at getting its message across
The answer on the second point is a resounding “no”. I’m afraid Ed team were a PR disaster and the message was all over the place (anti-austerity but keeping Tory spending pledges, nasty Tories but we’ll keep out the immigrants as well etc etc). It all came across as political posturing rather than having a position backed up by substantive arguments.
Unfortunately this also makes answering the first question about party position rather difficult. I don’t think its as simple however simply right or left. They did however fail to win over some key groups. In particular they seemed to do badly in poor market town (e.g. Gainsborough). I can only assume that the Tory lazer focus on “hard working families” (combined with the benefits cap) was very effective here. Most people self identify as hardworking. I can imagine that man people objected in less affluent areas objected to the high high benefits being paid to people living in London.
This was then combined with some failures with the economic message. Some of this was positioning again. However some of the criticism was more substantive. In particular Labour managed to alienate many of business leaders with its regulatory rhetoric. This was no doubt initially popular with the electorate, however, I suspect the disappointment expressed by many business people with these polices reinforced the perception that Labour couldn’t be trusted with the economy. Therefore any electoral benefit was more than offset by the substantial costs. .
Sadly this isn’t the lesson that many Labour supporters seem to be learning. In particularly there seems to be a common fallacy that a more left wing labour party would have won working class UKIP voters and SNP voters. However these arguments seem to assume that you can buy off demagoguery. If somebody has decided that “immigrants”, “the EU” or “the English” are the primary problem then sadly I don’t think any public spending promises will persuade them to vote different.
Unfortunately people who have stepped outside mainstream argument can probably only be persuaded back by slow rational argument (i.e. something a bit deeper that posturing of the last Labour leadership). Meanwhile in the short term I suspect some traction can be made by persuading Labour doubters that it isn’t anti business, can manage an economy and does support working people. Such a strategy would win back across the spectrum including many reluctant Tories (which obvious not only wins Labour votes but loses them for the Tories).