by Chris Bryant
I spoke at Lincoln Labour party a couple of weeks ago. It’s the kind of seat that Labour needs to win back, though God knows what the boundary changes will mean. At the end of my talk, one of the councillors started his remarks with “well, you see, it all went to pot when Tony Blair became leader”. You can probably imagine the rest. At the end of the meeting, though, another councillor came up to me and said, “I don’t know what he’s talking about. If it weren’t for Tony I would never even have thought of joining the party”. And now she’s a stalwart.
So what does that mean for Labour midway through Ed Miliband’s first party conference in command?
First of all, winning over the Labour tribe will not be enough. We all know this, deep down. Even those who lob hand grenades at the leadership from time to time, demanding a more comfortably leftwing stance, respect a leader who tells us tough things we don’t necessarily want to hear.
Undoubtedly it will mean a harsh mental discipline, because we simply cannot indulge in the politics of the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland who invented six impossible things before breakfast. We need policies that stand the test of serious scrutiny rather than gimmicks – and everything we do needs to go with the grain of modern life. Aspiration, ambition, getting on in life; these have to be as important in our lexicon as equality, support for the vulnerable and social justice. And vice versa.
There’s also no point in trying to win the 2010 general election all over again – or, for that matter the 1992 and 1983 ones. It’s so tempting, but obsessing about lost campaigns is as fatal for political parties as for generals.
This was brought home to me the other day when a team from Télévision de Radio-Canada came to interview me in the Rhondda. Their final question, in French, was “is there anything you regret”? I had just started to launch into “non, je ne regrette rien”, when I realised they weren’t really looking for a painful impersonation of Edith Piaf. Nor, I suspect, is Britain.
Of course there’s a balancing act here. Ignoring our mistakes whilst boasting of our achievements looks arrogant. But banging on about our failings can simply make us look mawkish and self-centred.
So, yes, I am sure we can all list our “favourite” mistake in government, but I also hope that Labour can twinkle with a quiet pride that our government did many good things. (Again, please supply your own list.)
I don’t underestimate the challenge ahead. This government has appointed 123 unelected peers (and more are to come); it is cutting the Commons by 50 MPs; and it’s rigging the electoral registration system. All of which will make it even harder for Labour to win votes in parliament or secure a general election victory. But the most important task for us is to convince the voters that we have real, credible and affordable solutions to the problems they face. That means eyes forward, foresight not hindsight.
Chris Bryant is Labour MP for Rhondda and a shadow justice minister.