LOST IN THE WOODS: Labour’s Challenge for the 2020s

LOST IN THE WOODS: Labour’s Challenge for the 2020s

Cards on the table – I don’t understand the Labour Party any more. I used to – a quarter century of membership, Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, Councillor. Then, like so many long-term Labour voters, I left the party.

For an opposition these should be opportune times. A pandemic which has been particularly harsh in the UK thanks to a series of government bungles has not only seen far more deaths than should have been, but needless economic pain as well. 

An opposition could – and should – have been able to hold a light up to this and benefit. Instead the public mood is that to do so is somehow unsporting or even unpatriotic. This causes much head-scratching amongst Labour activists but is simple to understand – culture.

Starmer latched onto that Harold Wilson maxim: the Labour Party is a Moral Crusade or it is nothing. Starmer’s problem is that Labour’s morality and that of its natural voters have long since parted company. For all of the talk of the Red Wall, Labour lost it through neglect.

Labour does not understand these voters. They are culturally conservative, economically prudent, nationalistic and insular. Labour aren’t any of these things any more. Blair got it – tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime; careful investment but no tax rises; flag and country, cool Britannia. That Blair is seen as the embodiment of betrayal by so many Labour activists is the signpost for where the party has gone wrong.

In order to win a General Election and take power – literally the reason why the party exists – it has to win over voters in England by the millions. Voters not only in the former red wall, but voters in shire towns and southern conurbations. To do that, it needs to speak to their concerns and to their aspirations. A few ideas that it could try:

  1. Drop the moral superiority. The Tories aren’t evil / Labour aren’t good. If Labour are the progressives and the Tories reactionary, then why have the Tories had 2 female Prime Ministers and a succession of BAME holders of the great offices of state? 
  2. Stop talking down your nose at people and calling them names. It isn’t racist to talk about migration, it isn’t elitist to want to see people earn a living. People have a right to have a say about their local community.
  3. Stop talking about cultural issues. Ramming trans-rights and guilt for slavery at people will only push them further away. People like their country, and for many of them that is England as much as it is the UK.
  4. Start talking local. Our town, our region, our country, our world – in that order. Most voters are only half-aware at best of bigger somewhere else issues. Engage them on local jobs, local investment, local pride. 
  5. Start talking up the economy. For so many people in the middle, the 2010s have been prosperous. Labour can offer incremental improvements to the economy and cut through, or rail against the bosses and only talk about the bedroom tax and be ignored.
  6. Start talking about nation. Devolution to regions is popular – metro mayors have been a big success as they are seen as putting the area on the map. Do the same for England – an English parliament is the end game for 97-onwards changes and an obvious hole in our constitution. Own it as a cause, change the Brexit narrative to something they can lead on.
  7. Devolve power to Welsh and Scottish Labour. The “Anas Sarwar the first BAME leader of a party” was laughed at up here in Scotland – Dugdale and Leonard have demonstrated the lack of autonomy that Scottish Labour has. Compare and Contrast with the success of Ruth Davidson virtually running an autonomous campaign to put Scottish Tories back in business.

Labour can come back, can reconnect with “lost voters”. Its first acceptance has to be to understand that it isn’t the voters who are lost, it is the Labour Party. For all that “we’re here to hear” was a brilliant piece of The Thick of It satire, there is something there for Sir Keir Starmer. The Labour Party still has a regional structure, still has local power bases even where it no longer has MPs.

Start the journey by stopping talking from London. Build from the bottom up – what Labour is doing for you now in Manchester, what Labour is hearing from you now in Swindon. Your concerns are our concerns, here’s what we offer. Simple ground up politics…

Rochdale Pioneers

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