Labour must use the next five years to modernise

by Callum Anderson

Labour’s defeat has undoubtedly kicked off the most significant period of soul-searching within the party for a generation.

The general election saw a clear and total rejection of ‘Prime Minister Miliband’ and a Labour government led by him. Indeed, the defeat was so clear that we have lost our would-be chancellor and foreign secretary.

But whilst the finger pointing and blame loading is, in some ways, the nature direction of a party that has suffered losses across all three parts of Great Britain, it is essential that rather than this, we, as a party, dust ourselves off and begin to consider how we modernise and rebuild for the years that lie immediately ahead.

The first step will be to truly come to terms with not only with the election defeat itself (particularly why swing voters ended up siding with the Conservatives), but, actually, with the entire period of 2008-2015.

By far the largest error of this time was allow the macroeconomic argument to be led and defined by the Conservatives (and, partly, by the Liberal Democrats). This ultimately resulted fixing the whole concept of ‘Labour spending too much’ as the public’s mainstream view, which reared its head in the final Leader’s Question Time on 30 April.

Thus, the most pressing and overwhelming challenge facing the next Labour leader and shadow chancellor will be in devising a compelling economic narrative of progressive fiscal responsibility, whilst resolutely holding on to our core principles of self-improvement, fairness and equality of opportunity.

Equally, the Labour mainstream must also face the reality that it has fallen entirely out of sync with voters north of the border, which has resulted in the SNP being the standard bearers of Scottish voters. With Cameron likely to further stir up English nationalism that will lead to more of the Scotland vs the rest that we saw too much of in the last Parliament, Labour must be the vehicle of fair and sensible constitutional change.

In short, here are just a few questions that we as Labour activists and British citizens must ask ourselves in the months that lie ahead:

  • What is the Labour party for in the twenty-first century?
  • Who are we seeking to represent?
  • What is our progressive vision for Britain?
  • What is our economic theory that will enable us to deliver that vision?

There can be no doubt that the next five, even ten years, are going to be difficult for the Labour party. As has been said on this blog (and on others too), Labour can only win when it builds a broad, diverse coalition of voters across all parts of the country. Be it across the income spectrum, age, private or public sector, micro and small business, Labour must be the party that speaks for them.

This ‘New Labour’, so to speak, must be unashamedly anchored in the centre ground, appealing to our historically working class base, but broadening the tent to include the liberal and aspirational Britons in the Midlands and south of England, who didn’t quite feel able to give us the benefit of the doubt last week.

To put it bluntly, it means, as John Rentoul has said, ensuring that Labour is ahead of the Conservatives tomorrow rather than trying to offer a better Labour yesterday.

Practically, it requires being unafraid of embracing, in principle, globalisation and markets as forces for good in creating and spreading wealth in an open-minded, outward-looking United Kingdom. However, at the same time, it must assert that an active government must be vigilant in ensuring that the economy works for everyone.

It means enthusiastically endorsing the devolution of power not only to Scotland, but also to Wales, Northern Ireland, London and England’s regions.

And with an increasingly ageing and diverse population, finding innovative ways to deliver public services.

This is why I believe that now is the time for a new generation of Labour leadership to take on the mantel of responsibility. We must not recycle the ‘Blair vs Brown’ psychodramas of the past, but seek fresh thinking and a modernised direction of travel.

For the simple fact is that the decisions taken by the UK Government today and over the next decade – be it on Europe, the constitution, the welfare state, health or education – will define the direction of the United Kingdom for at least the rest of the first half of this century and if not more.

At the moment the path to a Labour victory is and feels hard. But, frankly, as the only nationwide progressive force left in British politics, it is a path that we must be determined to conquer.

And, together we will get there.

Callum Anderson works at a national charity

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20 Responses to “Labour must use the next five years to modernise”

  1. Bradshaw says:

    Any attempt to devolve power to English regions without having a specifically English dimension in government will simply encourage the belief that Labour is anti-English. Labour needs to embrace the concept of English votes for English laws rather than trying to fudge it.

  2. Dave Roberts. says:

    Labour’s first test is going to be the Mayoral election and before that the selection of leader. I think both are going to be difficult and unless there is a miracle of some sort, the mayoralty of London has already gone to the Tories.

    Who have Labour got? Tessa Jowell and Dianne Abbot are well past their sell by date with endless gaffes and disasters that will get them, especially Abbott, ripped apart. That leaves, at the moment, Lammy, Khan and Umuna.

    All have at some time and to some extent played the race card which at the moment won’t go down well. Khan in particular drafted an ethnic minority programme for a successful Labour government which would have given minorities priorities in terms of allocation of resources. to allegedly correct ” imbalances ” of some sort or other.

    Khan was interviewed today on London Live and was terrible. The other two come across as bland and out of the same Blairite stable. I personally hope that Christian Wolmar will now start to campaign as he is far and away the best that Labour has.

    Labour needs to concentrate on what it can do and ignore grandstanding on affordable housing, creating jobs, getting tough on crime and all of the other things that the Mayor has no control over. Wolmar is an acknowledged expert on transport and that is going to be the key to the election. All this is academic as if Zac Goldsmith declares then he has won.

  3. swatantra says:

    Make that 18 months Callum. Time is money, not a luxury.

  4. southern voter says:

    Labour not giving the British a vote to stay in the EU was a vote loser.It came across as if Labour did not trust the British people.The Tories did offer a referendum and got votes because of it.The EU is in need of urgent reform as many Britons see it as out of touch and run by a self-serving elite.At least the Tories offered a chance to vote for or against this EU rule.Labour could not even trust the British people and give them a say.

  5. Landless Peasant says:

    Reinstate Clause 4 and get back to being a proper Socialist party that we can vote for.

  6. John P Reid says:

    I think the leader should bring back,shadow cabinet Elections, as Histirically a fan of Gaistkell, and agree with Peter Mandleson, that the collapse of the Labour Party in the 80’s went back to Harold Wilkins leadership, from appeasing the hard left and Militqnt, to ridiculous policies on the unions in the 74 Government,

    I have to say one of the finest things Wilson did was resign from the Attlee govt, over Gaistkell, as chancellor introducing dental fess,
    I’m not saying shadow cabinet elections ,encourage back benchers to follow the party whip, but if MPs see theirs prefered choice in the Shadoe cabinet, it gives them a reason to engage with opposition policy and follow the whip, we could even have a quota ,for X amount of female MPs, there, but not at the expense of losing working class MPs

  7. Dave Roberts. says:

    Landless Peasant has given us the shortest suicide note in history. His other contradiction is that historically landless peasants want to peasants with land, preferably as much as possible.

  8. Madasafish says:

    And with an increasingly ageing and diverse population, finding innovative ways to deliver public services.


    Rephrase that to “And with an increasingly ageing and diverse population, preventing the complete collapse of the Health and Care Systems”

    I’ve said it before, and don’t apologise for repeating.. The Health systems are facing utter collapse by 2030.. They WILL NOT SURVIVE.

    We need to be SAVING now to pay for them then.

  9. Tafia says:

    Extract from an article in the Grauniad

    The insistence that we return to Blairism is depressing and a sign of denial about what Blairism was a response to: Thatcherism, with its core values about the supremacy of the market cloaked in the language of individual choice. The unleashing of the market has continued to undermine the postwar settlement, a way of organising society in which people identified themselves by class. Technology has further ruptured this class identification as people cluster in networks and not hierarchies.

    If anyone wants to listen to the so-called “shy Tories”, what you will often hear is not talk of aspiration but a desire to be left alone by the state – even a deep suspicion of it. This contradiction for anyone on the left has long been apparent. Imagining that all good reform comes from the state and everything bad from outside just does not correspond to people’s lived experience.

    Class solidarity cannot be imposed from the outside. As core Labour votes go to Ukip or the SNP, the metropolitan left tells us consistently that nationalism is not a concept worth organising around, but then has a kind of Syriza-in-Surrey fantasy.

  10. John P Reid says:

    Landslides peasant,who do you mean ‘we’ you and who else, there must e one person, it certainly isn’t the millions who’ve deserted labour.

  11. Gareth Young says:

    Support for devolution to regions runs at about 10%.

    Support for English Votes/English parliament runs at about 70%

    So why would you devolve power to English regions?

  12. John P Reid says:

    Tafia cant fault the guardians, view shy Tories, what a small state,which allegedly separates Thatcherite from Blairite, but Shy Tories might not be Thatcherites,and the ones who swung it this time, aren’t neccasarily, the shy Tories, in fact many of the Silled Working clas that labour ignored this time ,are the shy ones at all.

    Interesting some blue labour were backing all Krndall, as a Blairite,it’s not so much the policies, but the fact Blairites,were the most formidable election fighting machine

  13. Landless Peasant says:

    Hate to say I told you so but I was right before & I’ll bbe right again. Labour lost because they are too Right wing, too similar to the Tories.

  14. Tafia says:

    So why would you devolve power to English regions?

    If you can’t work that out you should take up another hobby.

    How about flexibility, local accountability & direction for starters.

    Then there’s the added bonus – after a couple of years the people realise that Westminster isn’t to blame if anything goes wrong – local politicians are.

    How does that manifest? I live in Wales – if you write to or ask your local MP a question regarding any devolved issue, they won’t get involved – they aren’t allowed to, but the refer you to the devolved government instead. But the voters still blame the MP at general election time and it works. That’s why the tories won Vale Of Clwyd off Labour – because of Welsh Labour’s handling of the Welsh NHS and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in particular.

    And most MPs in the big city areas are?……… So they end up carrying the can for something that not only can they not get involved in, they aren’t allowed to.

    It’s a win/win if you’re the tories. Shrug off the English cities and let the incumbent Labour MPs carry the can if it goes wrong.

  15. Simon Noakes says:

    Want to know why labour lost? Read Callum’s articles, the party is full of detached from reality public sector fantasists.

    The loss of the economic argument is framed as the ignorance of people to work it out for themselves. The arrogance of this man is breathtaking.

    Callum voters are not stupid, they know more than you credit them for and largely the size of the population means we get the right result. For blinkered labour types such as yourself the truth is Labour aren’t good enough.

  16. John P Reid says:

    Landless peasant, have you any proof that labour lost because we were too right wing, apart from Scotland, I dont think even half the green voters are left wing, witness their criticism of the bin men’s strike in Brighton, if there was this huge save for a left party in England, then the TUSC would have got more than the 36,000 votes they got, Havering Labour got more votes than that in the 2014 council elections,

  17. Landless Peasant says:

    I have my ear to the ground, I walk the walk, I am the man in the dole queue, the man at the foodbank & the soup kitchen. Ignore me at your peril. Labour won’t get reelected by supporting Benefit Sanctions, Austerity, and thatloathesomew word “aspiration”. Stop trying to emulate the Tory scum and start backing strikes.

  18. Tafia says:

    Landless Peasant. I’m as left wing as they come – but you have to get the context right. You want to be left wing of the 1970s early 1980s- those days have gone, there is no large-scale heavy industry anymore, no industrialised organised unionised workforce. You are trying to re–fight the 1970s and the Thatcher era – they just are not relevant at all in this day and age.

    We are in the 21st Century now and you have to fight a left wing war in that context. The threat to the poor and the low paid is depressed wages caused by excess labour in the bottom of the market and restricted access to affordable rented housing and state services such as health, justice and education caused by the demands and costs of uncontrollable immigration. Remember what Marx said – Immigration is the reserve army of capitalism.

    And much as it stuns me to say it, but UKIP are more left wing these days than Labour are.

  19. Tafia says:

    “Whoever criticizes capitalism, while approving immigration, whose working class is its
    first victim, had better shut up. Whoever criticizes immigration, while remaining silent
    about capitalism, should do the same.”

  20. James says:

    Have to agree with Tafia when he says UKIP are more left wing than Labour. That’s because UKIP represent the working class in this country. I know this because I’m working class and now support UKIP and if you don’t “get” Nigel Farage and his message then you’re not working class and probably drink coffee in Starbucks and use words like “aspiration”.

    Labour has lost the votes that came with heavy industry in this country and despite stupid remarks from people like “Tory scum” (which just alienates any of the majority who voted Conservative) and disliking things like Top Gear and The Sun newspaper is just a way to stay in opposition.

    As long as Labour choose to sneer at and “take on” things that the majority of people enjoy and then support the BBC and The Guardian Newspaper they can look forward to staying out of office. Labour lost because people don’t like them anymore and unless they change their ways people will continue to dislike them and they will continue to lose.

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