The Birmingham MP behind Labour’s doomed Crewe and Nantwich by-election campaign has conceded that only a “hopeless romantic” would think the party could have attracted new voters.
Labour whip Steve McCabe, who was widely criticised in the wake of the electoral drubbing which saw Tory Edward Timpson take the seat with a 17.6 per cent swing, said the party was unable to win over younger voters who felt the Government had let them down.
Despite attempts to mock Mr Timpson and Tory leader David Cameron’s backgrounds by having Labour supporters dress up in top hat and tails, Mr McCabe (Hall Green) denied there was a “toff strategy” – insisting the issue was spun by the Conservatives.
In an article for left-wing magazine Tribune, Mr McCabe said: “I accept responsibility for Labour’s campaign.
“The plan was to protect as much of the core vote as possible. Only a hopeless romantic could believe there were voters to be won over.
“My anxiety was to avoid coming third which, following the local elections, was a real risk.
“We set out to secure between 10,000-11,000 votes. Allowing for a turn out of around 35-40 per cent, that was not unreasonable for a by-election.
“If there was no Liberal Democrat collapse, victory was possible, however unlikely.”
The Tories, he said, had a simple message – vote against Gordon Brown and the abolition of the 10p income tax band.
“We were unable to counter a highly motivated and previously dormant true blue vote in Nantwich and the surrounding Cheshire villages.
“Nor could we stem the drift from Labour of the aspirational 25 and 35-plus age groups.
“Their message was simple. They were fed up with paying too much tax, too much for fuel and food, and feared for their economic future.
“Labour couldn’t claim to be on their side. That remains the big challenge. What will we do to win back those ‘switchers’ who feel that Labour has let them down?”
At the by-election, called following the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody, the Tories turned a Labour majority of 7,000 into a Conservative lead of more than 7,800.
Mr Timpson, whose family run the key cutting and shoe repair empire, was characterised as an upper-class outsider during the campaign against Labour’s Tamsin Dunwoody, who was seeking to take the seat vacated by her mother’s death.