by David Ward
As the leadership candidates set out their stalls, the party’s focus must be on the future, not the past.
Too often in the last five years it’s felt like we’ve been trying to rerun the 2010 election result all over again. Now the people have told us – they prefer 2015. We can’t make the same mistake next time.
Firstly, whether people are feeling the recovery yet is now immaterial, we should assume by 2020 things will feel for many like they are ticking over again. At some point Osborne, tactician to the core, is sure to move away from austerity and use renewed growth to distribute its proceeds. Labour need to be considering how we help people get on in this scenario, avoiding accusations of ‘tax and spend’, and bringing business groups along with us.
Second, things are never quite as bad as they seem when you’re losing. Take sport. In 2013 the Australian cricket team lost the Ashes 3-0 in England and were roundly criticised, while England batsmen like Ian Bell scored 500 runs in the series. At Christmas the same England side faced an only slightly changed Australia and were comprehensively outplayed 5-0. The Australian players were zeroes then heroes in the space of a few months, but they were only as good as before. So there will be some things we need to salvage.
Ideas like increasing the minimum wage, increasing competition in utilities and other industries, and a focus on social mobility. These are all still good policies, but they can’t be all that voters hear. In our heartlands outside London, and in the seats across the north and midlands we need to win, people want to hear more.
They want to hear us talking up local businesses and highlighting their concerns. They want to know what we will do to bring manufacturing and jobs back to their communities. There was some of this in our manifesto, but worthy talk of a National Infrastructure Commission or a Green Investment Bank is too abstract. We have to give clearer signals of our approach the way we did by bringing Nissan investment to Sunderland or the car scrappage scheme.
Thirdly, soon there will be an in/out referendum on the European Union at which concerns over freedom of movement will once again come to the fore. Many in the party are rightly supportive of remaining in the EU, but we must be careful that we do not alienate current or potential voters by appearing to ignore their concerns. We saw the result in our seats in Scotland of very publicly defining ourselves against the views of many of our supporters in a binary vote. One option might be to consider allowing prominent Labour politicians to be associated with the ‘Out’ campaign, as Foot and Benn were in 1975.
As John Denham has already noted, we have a battle on our hands around belonging and cultural identity. From Morley and Outwood to Southampton Itchen we lost or didn’t gain seats where UKIP made significant progress. It is notable that in a number of wards across areas we need to win, UKIP finished second in the local authority elections.
We need to be unafraid of identifying with the things many ordinary English people up and down the country are proud of. To take a local example, one of Ian Austin’s campaigns has been to restore a mural of Winston Churchill in Dudley town centre. There will be causes like this on a national level too, and we need to be part of them.
Lastly, as Dan Hodges has said, voters preferred David Cameron to Ed Miliband in a straight choice. But we know that Cameron won’t be around in 2020 – he’s already said so, and it’s hard to see him carrying on after the EU referendum whatever the result. Whoever replaces him – Osborne, Johnson, Truss or someone else – they are our real target. As we fill in our ballot papers this autumn, we should be thinking of a leader who we can be confident the average voter would choose over them.
David Ward is a Labour campaigner in south London