Labour can avoid a rerun of the wilderness years, but only if it modernises

by Gareth Williams

Possibly the only redeeming feature of the Ed Stone is that it provides an apt metaphor for the Old Testament level of righteous anger Labour activists should feel. The fact that greater efforts were expended by party elites on debating what to do with the 8ft monstrosity in the event of a defeat than on what they could do to avert one, speaks volumes.

There are of course fundamental differences between the exodus from Egypt and the party’s utterly unnecessary exodus from electability. Labour will have faced 10 years in the political wilderness by 2020, rather than 40 in its literal equivalent. In the meantime, members and activists should channel everything towards preventing a slow-motion rerun of the election train wreck.

Decisions made over the next few months have incredibly serious implications not only for 2020 but 2025 and 2030. The party must make the right calls right now.

The independent variable remains the leader. A leadership candidate who describes the manifesto which took the party to its worst defeat in a generation as one of its best should give anyone who truly wants a Labour PM on the steps of Downing Street in May 2020 pause.

Perceptions early on matter. The factory preset Tory attack will be to treat every Labour leader as Lenin incarnate; we can ill afford giving them further reasons to. Tony Blair won on a platform pledging a minimum wage and a windfall tax on energy company profits – both sizable interventions in the economy – largely due to the political capital he had accrued from Clause IV and the wider modernisation project.

Ed’s pronouncements, no matter how centrist had they been in intent, would have struggled to shatter the “Red Ed” prism through which he was seen and which had been formed the moment he announced his candidacy.

Labour needs workable and relevant policies which are cross-cutting in their appeal. While much of the die had been cast when Ed was elected leader, a victory was still possible had the party not adopted his platform and its underlying assumptions regarding the electorate.

The category error that Tory votes could only be gotten by adopting current Tory policies, and the naïve view that a winning coalition could be cobbled together from winning over non-voters and defectors to other centre-left parties was Ed’s cardinal mistake.

It compounded the sunk costs the party incurred with his election. It had the effect of shutting off a wider pool of winnable Tory votes and hedging everything on a fickle coalition of left-leaning voters and “traditional” Labour supporters. It was blindsided by the rise of UKIP and ignorant of how Labour’s woeful policy concessions to stem the flow of defecting votes would conflict with the pursuit of factions on the left. That the Labour party’s chances were even remotely dependent on Green party voters is an utterly damning indictment of party strategy, not – as the usual suspects have argued – a reason to adopt their autarkic, neo-agrarian Moonbattery.

The engravings on the Ed Stone, sadly expanded on but not elucidated on in the manifesto, were a patchwork quilt of vaguely trendy, poorly focus-grouped soft left proposals. The political version of a 500 calorie meal, minus the health benefits. Substance free policies couched in language so inane they made One Direction’s back catalogue sound like Bob Dylan.

Activists who received free copies of the manifesto at campaign events may not have paid for it monetarily, but they did in dignity. One can only feel sadness for the unfortunates who invested in a mug. More importantly, those who most needed a Labour government are paying for it and will every day for the next five years.

Those who want a Labour victory in 2020 have to start now. Devising the policies, poring through the returns, crunching the numbers and knocking the doors. Arguing with Owen Jones or Eoin Clarke is fine up to a point – not to mention unavoidable – but the principal focus of Labour modernisers should be on getting a practical programme for government ready for 2020.

If they do, the task of turning UK constituencies in to a sea of red will be somewhat less challenging than parting the red sea itself. If they don’t, get ready for a long walk to 2050.

Gareth Williams is a Labour member from Cardiff

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12 Responses to “Labour can avoid a rerun of the wilderness years, but only if it modernises”

  1. swatantra says:

    I don’t know if you missed it but the last time Labour rebranded itself, it didn’t go down too well. People came out and whinged saying it was a completely different Party, when really it was the same old Labour, which just called itself new Labour, and had a front man with a toothy grin. That’s why we need to get away from the Labour label and call ourselves the Progressive Party, which is in tune with the times. Everyone can relate to progressive because everyone wants to be a progressive and not a stick in the mud like your Conservatives. modernisation means breaking away from the chains that bind us.

  2. David Walker says:

    I’m really starting to come around to the idea that Labour’s best option is to go with Jeremy Corbyn. The public’s view is that his policies are the ones that at least 2 of the other 3 candidates would like to put forward, but they just don’t have the courage to do so.

    It isn’t just the economy that Labour isn’t trusted with. Voters don’t trust what they say about anything at all. They believe that the party will not be straight with them and that it will always attempt to be more left-wing than it claims. Labour is seen as a movement which despises the electorate for not sharing its values and which now seeks to implement those values by stealth.

    No matter what you think about Corbyn, the guy is just straight-up honest. Labour would gain a great deal more respect if they just stood up and campaigned for what they believed in. They might not win another General Election in his lifetime, but the party’s best hope might be to offer voters a completely different way of life and to wait for them to come around to their way of thinking. It might take 20 years and might never happen at all, but what is the alternative?

    He may share many of Michael Foot’s policies, but Corbyn looks like a much more capable leader. Foot was a 70 year-old man who looked as though he was about 90. Corbyn looks more like he’s in his mid-50s. He would be a formidable opponent for the Tories. I’ve watched many of the debates he has been involved in and he always seems to come out on top. He just refuses to be pushed around by anybody, arms himself with the facts and speaks with passion and conviction.

    I am not even entirely convinced that he could never be Prime Minister, even though he would be a massively divisive one. Corbyn would need to come up with an offer to people that would make them vote for Labour, even if they disagreed with the party on many issues.

    If Corbyn announced that he would scrap tuition fees, replace the student loan with a grant and write off all outstanding student loans, there are a huge number of people who would get out and vote Labour – many who had never voted before.

    The cost of higher education doesn’t just effect students, it is a huge burden for their parents. They might well decide to stomach five years of a truly left-wing Labour government, if something like that was on the table and it is an offer that the Tories would never match.

    Politics becomes interesting again, if Jeremy Corbyn is made leader of the Labour Party. If you are on the left, Labour and the Tories currently present you with two different options – a kick in the balls, or a harder kick in the balls. This is why people don’t get out and vote.

  3. Helen says:

    It does not seem to matter what the truth of Labour policy is – the Tories will distort it with their half truths and misleading statements – public school educated they are masters of rhetoric – avoid the detail go for the headline – I remember Tony Blair emphasising how the devil is in the detail. Cameron at PM questions gives a master class in rhetoric – horrible – nasty and so macho
    That’s what labour need to overcome

  4. Mustafa Leek says:

    Dear author, at least 50% of the party think in a different way. Loopy la la’ism is ingrained. So the real question is when does the divorce occur?

  5. Tafia says:

    Swatantra Progressive Party, which is in tune with the times. Everyone can relate to progressive because everyone wants to be a progressive

    Everybody has a different definition of what ‘progressive’ means. Pick any policy you like and it’s just as progressive to be in favour of it as it is to be against.

  6. Tafia says:

    Swatantra Progressive Party, which is in tune with the times. Everyone can relate to progressive because everyone wants to be a progressive

    Everybody has a different definition of what ‘progressive’ means. Pick any policy you like and it’s just as progressive to be in favour of it as it is to be against.

  7. Noel says:

    David Walker – you have articulated the common sense truth. Labour can stand up against contrived inequality or it can abdicate its responsibility, because for all the pleading for ‘business friendliness’ and ‘aspiration politics’ and ‘there is a place for pfi’ the only thing it serves is to widen equality and disallow hope and opportunity.

    Modern Labour is naïve, blind and weak becoming more naïve, blinder and weaker. And when it writes its own scare stories to suggest the remaining true social democrats are ‘loony left’ they do nothing less than stand aside for corporatism to canter to a final perhaps irreversible victory over fairness and decency.

  8. Noel says:

    oops widen inequality

  9. Madasafish says:

    I am sorry.. I am going to be extremely eude.

    Ed Miliband was pants (to put it very very kindly) as a Leader and the only people who voted for him were the “I’ll vote Labour if the candidate is a donkey and wears a red rosettte” voters. They exist mainly on LabourList visibly but can be found in any constituency.. So used to being conditioned by decades that they have no capacity for original thought… the Conservatives have as many so I am not being partisan here…

    If he could not organise a drinking session in a brewery – or so it appears – the voters who think – about 10% at most – would not vote for him.

    His policies were a jumble… and his lieutenants were as bad if not worse. What were those who authorised the Ed Stone thinking ? I if indeed they were thinking.

    As for the alternatives now? Well if I were a Tory strategist I’d welcome Burnham – soiled and a Liverpudlian AND thought Ed’s manifesto was great,- was ideal – for the Tories. Ditto Mrs Balls .. I have no doubt she hides a sense of humour – but it’s 10 kms deep.
    And Jeremy Corbyn? A superb choice.Makes UKIP seem a party of realists..

    Labour needs a realist as Leader with no track record of failure.. and a complete Tory shambles…

    PS anyone – but anyone who suggests that Cameron is weak or is rubbish – should remember he has kept a Coalition together for five years , then stuffed his Coalition Partners AND Labour – and is more highly regarded by the electorate than his opponents… Under-rate him at your peril.. (Labour did.)

    Basically Labour needs a normal human being as Leader- someone people can relate to even if they don’t particularly like him/her.

    And some sensible.. (PS criticisng Osborne for failing to meet his targets and then criticising austerity looks stupid , sounds stupid and is stupid…Voters think a Party which behaves like that has zero economic credibility)

  10. Dave Roberts. says:

    Well said Tafia. As far as the neo cons are concerned they are ” progressive “. Ken Livingstone’s campaign was called ” Progressive London” and we know what happened to that.

  11. Noel says:

    David Walker – good post. I had posted a reply yesterday supporting your post that wasn’t accepted by moderators it sees so have tried again without the bit of detail that mind-bogglingly must have caused offence.

  12. Noel says:

    This is crazy, now I’ve posted my new reply I see the earlier reply has instantly got through after all when there was no sign of it when I accessed site before on number of occasions too. Thank you though, Mods, please therefore disallow my today posts.

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