In spite of some very good mayoral results and some welcome Labour gains dotted around in Southern England in places such as Kent, Worthing and Chipping Norton, overall it was a grim picture for Labour in last week’s elections. Further, by the time the good news of mayoral results had come through the headlines had already been written, and the stupendously bad timing of the alleged sacking of Angela Rayner meant that these barely registered across the media.
I voted for Keir Starmer, one of the considerable number of Corbyn/Starmer switchers, and in spite of what I say below, I still believe he has the potential to revive Labour’s fortunes, although the odds on this actually happening are lengthening dramatically. At some point in the future there will be a bitter realisation among the new Tory voters that they have been sold a pup. There will be a great deal of anger, and at this point Labour must make sure they are not just a credible alternative, but an inspirational one.
However, they won’t do this by heading further to the centre ground and just offering ‘Tory-lite’ with all the nasty bits chopped off. There will need to be an ocean of clear water between the Tories and Labour, otherwise we’ll either get tarred with the same brush and won’t be able to offer a radical enough alternative to persuade the voters to return, otherwise the political vacuum will be filled by other parties.
It seems at the moment that Labour don’t realise the scale of the challenge they are facing and the fundamental changes that have taken place within the Tory Party. Sensible heads such as my previous adversary Alistair Burt have all but disappeared as they dismantle the very foundations of our democracy and continue to trash our global reputation. You can read a previous blog on how the Tories are applying a scorched earth approach to the checks and balances of our democracy here and it’s alarming that they are looking to revert back to ‘First Past the Post’ for mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections. We seem to be fighting the battles of the last war, and it now appears with the generals of a past age.
This is a battle and we will only win it with a bold approach, otherwise we will be brushed aside as an irrelevance. I fully understood the approach early on in the pandemic that the unprecedented national emergency required a united front. However, the numerous unforced errors deserved a far tougher approach and the gloves only seem to come off when Tory sleaze became an issue and this was overshadowed by the inevitable ‘vaccine bounce’.
Labour went into the local elections without any policies other than a vague call to ‘vote Labour to save the NHS’. The NHS is rightly revered in the UK, but we don’t spend all our time in hospitals. Labour have failed to provide a vision about how their policies will improve our day to day lives. Lobbing in the NHS as a safe card to play was both lazy and irrelevant. Instead we were left with fluffy lines such as the following…
“The best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in”…”A powerful Labour voice standing up for your communities”…” forge a new contract with the British people”…”standing up for working people and our communities”…”A relentless focus on jobs”.
All very worthy statements, and I’m aware that it’s tricky to avoid tag lines in politics, but these were not backed up with a shred of policy detail about how these were going to be achieved, and why they were needed. When we were specifically asked about supporting NHS staff we wouldn’t commit to anything above a 2% pay rise – hardly the stuff of dreams that will result in hordes of voters marching down to the polling stations impatient to put their cross next to a Labour candidate.
We need to set out what our policies are, why they are needed, and how they will improve our day to day lives. They need to be communicated with simple and crystal clear messaging. Above all we need to be authentic, rather than chasing votes and telling people want we think they want to hear. Let’s ditch the focus groups and embed ourselves in the communities with Labour run community hubs. Labour should promote the benefits of community, and apply these same values of tolerance and respect within the Labour Party. The endless tit for tat within the Party must come to an end and there must be compromise on both sides. A broad coalition will be needed to have any chance of ousting a Conservative government at the next election. A tough ask with unity, an impossible one without it. Internal squabbling is a luxury we certainly can’t afford.
The current policy vacuum is particularly concerning the left of the Party, who look at the 10 pledges made by Starmer, and in the absence of any clear direction suspect a U-turn on the policy commitments contained within them. This needs to be sorted by the Autumn at the latest. Corbyn should have the Whip restored, the ongoing suspension just looks vindictive and antagonises a membership who have been loyal foot soldiers for the essential ground campaigns.
Labour’s heartlands do not exist anymore and we must adapt our policies to a world of work that has transformed from the days of heavy industry. The pandemic has shown us the importance of social contact and we should create a coherent set of policies that support the institutions that bind communities, from pubs, to sports facilities, to youth clubs. We must take on the looming climate disaster with policies that de-carbonise the UK while at the same time promoting the benefits of a more sustainable way of life.
Above all we must be bold!