Camped in our comfort zone, Labour poses no real threat to the Tories

by Simon Danczuk

‘Time is running out to save the NHS’. This was the polling-day message thrust through thousands of letterboxes early in the morning by an army of Labour volunteers.

Every Labour MP and member should find one of these leaflets and keep it in a drawer. Forget the Ed stone, these are the real monuments to Labour’s defeat.

It’s a simple rule of politics that the party that wins is the party that owns the future. That’s why Bill Clinton chose Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” as his campaign song.

People want a government that can sell them a vision of a better tomorrow and map out how to get there. The fact that Labour went into the final day relying a scare story about the NHS shows how far we were from offering that positive vision.

Those leaflets are a window into the comfort zone where Labour has been firmly camped for the last five years. For all the seminars and lectures, re-launches and re-brands, we ended up basically where we started; opposing ‘Tory cuts’ and warning of the doom to come if David Cameron was elected.

This is essentially the same message we were pushing in 2010. It’s an argument that warms the hearts of Labour activists, but leaves the public cold.

The truth is that despite the deep thinking and introspection, Ed Miliband’s leadership was unwilling to engage in any of the real intellectual heavy lifting necessary after the 2010 defeat. On the economy, public services, welfare and immigration Labour didn’t challenge the received wisdom within its own rank and file.

As a result we found ourselves on the wrong side of too many of Lynton Crosby’s famous ‘dividing lines’. Whether it was an EU referendum, the welfare cap or English Votes for English Laws, Labour too often seemed to be caught defending an unsustainable status quo. We allowed ourselves to be painted as the resistant establishment rather than the radical reformers.

Welfare is perhaps the best example of this. I was raised on benefits and will always defend the safety net that is vital for so many people in this country. But by 2010 everyone could see that something was wrong with the welfare system. Too many people trapped on benefits for years, a claimant culture developing on some estates and a deep sense of injustice felt by the working poor.

For me, addressing this problem is one of the main reasons I came into politics and joined the Labour party. I am a firm believer in the transformative power of work. I’ve seen it change people’s lives and am convinced Labour could have built a powerful policy platform around a welfare reform programme that protects the vulnerable but also encourages, rewards and champions work.

We could have showed fiscal realism by addressing universalism and demonstrated our credentials as the party of work by restoring the contributory principle. It would have been a bold and popular offer that would have challenged perceptions of Labour as the party of welfare.

Instead our main policy on welfare was that we opposed the bedroom tax. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it is another example of a message aimed squarely at the base rather than the public. It confirms perceptions and convinces nobody. Instead of offering reform based on Labour values, we seemed to be the half-hearted defenders of an unpopular status quo.

If we are going to come anywhere close to winning in 2020 then we have to leave the comfort zone pretty quickly. Coasting on cruise control doesn’t help anyone; we’ve got to go to where John Cruddas calls our ‘dark places’.

The Labour party needs to be challenged on its love of centralisation, its reliance on high taxation and its disconnect from business. Most of all, we need to do some serious soul-searching about why the party is so reluctant to even discuss the cultural and emotional issues affecting traditional working class communities. Whether it is on welfare, immigration, family or national identity, we need to understand how we have lost a cultural connection with many of our core supporters and how we can re-establish it.

All of this requires a leader who has the courage to take on the big arguments and the determination to win them. We need someone at the head of the party who is not tied to the past but can drag the party kicking and screaming into the 21st century. This is what should be the driving concern of party members in the months ahead.

If we have five more years in the comfort zone then there is a real risk of the Labour party becoming a complete irrelevance in British politics. Because the path of least resistance can often lead to a place of great indifference. We have no divine right to win elections and if we are unable to challenge ourselves and think creatively then quite frankly we don’t deserve to.

Forget the NHS, time is running out to save the Labour party.

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale

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23 Responses to “Camped in our comfort zone, Labour poses no real threat to the Tories”

  1. Caracatus says:

    Great article – much the same could be said for the Lib Dems – where was the vision of a better future and how to get there. I imagine though that the disconnect between the Labour Party and the public is so great that most Labour MPs will not understand this article or argument.

  2. swatantra says:

    Maybe Simon D has insiders knowledge of the Tory Party?
    But with a majority of 12, they’ll be ok for a year or two, then as some die off, that majority is going to dwindle to nothing.
    They Lib Dems may well be recalled to save their bacon. And if I were Clegg I’d jump at the chance to get back into Govt.

  3. Mike says:

    Great article. Very true that Labour don’t want to talk about the cultural or emotional aspects facing the white working class. NIR surprising when the Labour brain trust is metropolitan London. Ed M may represent Doncaster in parliament but he was never “from” Doncaster and could never represent them or similar areas well. Ed was a metropolitan, Islington elite. Very different world view.

  4. James says:

    Well said

  5. Robert says:

    This article worries me because it seems to be written in some sort of code. On welfare, the compulsory job guarantee showed that staying on benefits would not be an option if Labour had won. In any case, the UK’s welfare system is not very generous and benefits only keep you going until you get another job.

    The other problem with Simon’s approach is that it would alienate as many people as it would attract. We should remember that Labour has been wiped out in Scotland for being too right-wing. That is what turned a disappointing result into a disaster!

  6. wg says:

    Well, good luck with that – I think that horse has bolted.

    The majority of Labour activists now have a visceral hatred for the C2s and Ds that used to be the backbone of the Labour Party, and those feelings are reciprocated; as evidenced by the shift to UKIP.

    The relationship’s gone, and it ain’t coming back. The Labour Party has nothing to offer them.

  7. John Jones says:

    Wow. Clarity, concision and, I feel, the problem nailed.

    Regardless of how you feel about the Tories’ NHS reforms the fact that they’ve been in power for most of the period since 1948 without ever looking like abolishing it, and in any case are now mostly doing things that the last Labour government also did when in power, means an election pitch which relies on convincing voters that if the Tories remain in office they’ll actually destroy the NHS is simply not plausible to the sort of people Labour needs to win over.

    Similarly, regardless of how supportive you are of the principle that there should be no upper limit to how much non-workers can claim from the taxpayer in welfare payments or of the view that mass immigration and radical multi-culturalism have been unalloyed blessings which cannot decently be criticised, those are not even popular stances with Labour’s traditional working class core vote, never mind the swathes of Middle England that the party needs to win over (especially now that Scotland has gone AWOL from Labour, probably permanently).

    Meanwhile a Labour Party which allows itself to sound at odds with business, with the free market and with material aspiration will always unnerve too many voters in a society where mass affluence and consumerism are endemic and where the suspicion that if it follows its traditional ideological instincts a Labour government will wreck the economy and people’s finances runs deep.

    Simon is right. Labour either wises up to the fact that it’s no longer operating in 1893 or 1945 or even 1997 or else it risks becoming an irrelevance.

  8. John Jones says:


  9. Robert says:

    Well you have your three terms in power timer to get use to being out for the same time period. The fact is the Tories are back, Scotland now has socialism in a different colour, and labour which became blue, pink, Purple, but never red just plainly does not matter any more..

  10. David Walker says:

    The bedroom tax is actually just another welfare cut. You can’t tax housing benefit, anymore than you can tax job-seekers allowance.

    If Labour wants to establish a reputation for economic competence, it really needs to cut this sort of language out.

    What are voters meant to think, when Labour makes vague promises of tax cuts for the least well-off? More welfare spending, based on the reversal of Tory cuts that seem to be fairly popular amongst the sort of voters Labour wants to target?

    One place Labour should consider trying to plant its flag is on the lawns of the self-employed. If they can outflank the Tories on these millions of people, many of whom earn much less than the minimum wage and would laugh at the idea of a day of work sick or taking a real holiday, then they would have a credible platform to attack big business.

    For many of us, self-employment is less about economics and more about not wanting a boss or to spend our days with colleagues that we don’t really like. Personally, I would rather go on the dole than take a PAYE job with a firm or the government. Financially, it is a real struggle but worth it when you look at the situation as a whole. At least it is for me and several other people I know.

    Labour needs to stop treating poor people who want to work for themselves as class-traitors. The pitch to the public was jobs and the NHS. To people like me, that’s just saying ‘Vote for us! You can have a boss and you can get ill!’. Please excuse me if I don’t queue up to vote for that.

    This was yet another election where none of the parties reached out to single people. The presumption seems to be that we can’t be trusted to get out and vote. Is that a surprise when parties act as though we don’t exist and that it is only families that are ‘hard-working’?

    Millions of us have tried playing house several times and decided that it just isn’t for us. Partners drift in and out of our lives, but we either find them incompatible or we simply get bored with them.

    Single people get a rotten deal from both Labour and the Tories. Those of us without children pay the most into the system and take the least out. We are growing in number, but no party shows the slightest interest in engaging with us.

  11. Ex labour says:

    A good article and reflection on Labours woes. Sadly you are a voice in the wilderness and from what I read of the proposed favourite in Burnham, you and he are a hundred miles apart.

  12. Frederick James says:

    There’s virtually nothing here that David Cameron or even IDS would disagree with. You’d be better off making these arguments from within the Tory party rather than shouting impotently at your deaf and soon-to-be-obsolete party.

  13. Kevin says:

    All true. Sounds like you need to cross the floor of the House, Simon. Go on, you know you want to!

  14. Steven M says:

    Simon, You are wrong and Ed Milliband was right. The country as a whole had moved towards the left as evidenced by the enormous surge in the Green membership and SNP who were both advocating an anti-austerity approach. Ed Millibands decision (probably under pressure from the Blairites and Westminster MPs like you) to reverse his opposition to austerity eroded the publics confidence in his leadership and their ability to represent the needs of the 99% of us. It was no coincidence that his and parties opinion polls slumped after this fateful decision. When Rachel Reeves jumped on the poor-bashing bandwagon in 2013 i knew for certain Labour would lose. Why vote Tory-lite?? You may as well vote for the real thing!!

    The Tories only got 35% of the popular vote despite the overwhelming backing of the press. In fact this time it was unprecedented as even papers like the Independent who are normally more neutral or slightly left-wing gave the coalition their full backing and even urged people to vote for them!!

    Labour have to offer a proper alternative to the Tories like the SNP/Green which should revolve around investing in the economy and building social housing. Your policy prescription Simon would be a disaster.

  15. Madasafish says:

    Steven M

    You need to do some sums…

    “The Tories only got 35% of the popular vote”

    Err it was 36.9%

    Ukip got 12.9%

    That’s 49.8% of voters saying NO to left wing policies..

  16. Tafia says:

    Steven M. Have a look at the winning share of the vote at every election since 1945 and which party won it. 36.9% is not that bad a share.

    As an aside, add together the share of the winner and the second largest at every election since 1945 and one thing you will quickly notice – both Labour and the Tories are dying slowly but surely and have been for decades. In fact, this is the third election on the trot that Labour has polled below 10 million, despite the electoral base in creasing in size every election. ( – click on each year to see breakdown)

    In short, both Labour and the Tories are getting smaller and smaller slices of a bigger and bigger pie.

  17. Steven M says:


    UKIP portrayed themselves as the “party of the people”. They downplayed their right-wing agenda and promoted a few token populist polices like free hospital car parking, ending “health tourism”. scrapping the bedroom tax etc. That is why some working class more traditional Labour voters defected to UKIP. I wouldnt call these people “right-wing voters” though. It was in fact a major failure of Labours election strategy not to attack UKIP (especially in the North) and expose their Thatcherite ideology….. many people I spoke were not even aware of Farages extreme right-wing ideology (eg. wanting a US style healthcare system. weaker trade unions, more regressive tax etc).

  18. Steven M says:


    Yes, 36.9% isnt bad but Labour werent that far behind with 30%. I expect UKIP to slowly fade away after the referendum. Their whole platform is standing against the EU so once the referendum question is settled they will become largely irrelevant.

    Although, in the longer term the Greens are likely to grow as the effects of climate change become more visible. Unless Labour become more green themselves(unlikely) then likely they will lose voters.

  19. Madasafish says:

    Steven M

    If you want to know why Labour lost, you ought to read this

    Basically Labour does NOT appeal to the electorate in its key target seats. The ones it has to win to defeat the Conservatives. The ones which reflect “the exodus of the middles classes from cities (apart from London)

    And guess what? Going left as Ed M did, is NOT going to win the electors’ votes.

    So Labour has a simple choice: doctrinal purity or win power. If it is run by a metropolitan elite, it cannot make that change.. As it will mean losing the more left wing supporters.. and eventually seats in its city heartlands.

    By effectively choosing Leadership candidates from a narrow gene pool, it’s decided not to turn left but to appeal to a broader audience. The only problem is, most of the candidates are unelectable.

    And with a bunch of very left wing unions bankrolling the Party, its stance is unsustainable in the long term.

  20. Ex labour says:

    @ Steven M

    The people you were talking to were clearly living in their Miliband inspired Marxist utopia. Your (and presumably your friends ) views are what’s wrong with Labour and continuing to believe that left wing policies will deliver a labour government….um….let me think….Foot, Kinnock, Miliband…..err….no.

    Farage resonated with a large section of labour voters, particularly on issues such as immigration. Until labour understands that we are not sheeple anymore that can be relied upon to vote in a pig with lipstick if it was the labour candidate, then nothing will change.

  21. John.P Reid says:

    Steven M, or the 9 labour victories since 1945 only 2, have the Tories got 7 percent less than labour, and if the fact that labour did that little but less was a sign of the Tories not being , clear winners, then the Attlee ,Wislon, gives shouldn’t gave had a mandate,

  22. Robert says:

    Madasafish says:
    May 25, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    Steven M

    You need to do some sums…

    “The Tories only got 35% of the popular vote”

    Err it was 36.9%

    Ukip got 12.9%

    That’s 49.8% of voters saying NO to left wing policies..

    Left wing policies when the hell did that happen.

  23. Tafia says:

    Their whole platform is standing against the EU so once the referendum question is settled they will become largely irrelevant.

    If you seriously believe that then you are stupid. People are not voting UKIP because they want a referendum. They are voting UKIP because they want out and they will still want out even if they don’t win the referendum and UKIP will still campaign to leave.

    And you only have to look at the last couple of years and Scotland to see that. ‘No’ won the referendum, the SNP wiped their arse with the parties a year later and a significant chunk of Scotland still want out and are voting for a party that wants out.

    UKIP are here to stay and the danger is they will evolve and become more savvy politically thus broadening their appeal.

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