Ten hard truths for Labour

by David Butler

Labour looks like it is coming apart at the seams.  A big Labour rebellion on welfare, a leadership contest that is dragging the party ever further from the centre ground and George Osborne busily moving the Tories onto the territory vacated by Labour – this is the backdrop to Labour’s long hot summer.

Just over a week ago, Tristram Hunt called for a summer of hard truths.  Anthony Painter gave an excellent starter for ten. Here are ten more:

1. The state can be just as oppressive, destructive and amoral as market forces. This manifests itself in actions from the harsh sanctioningof benefit claimants to NHS staff behaving in an unpleasant, uncaring and unaccountable manner.

2. Power in the modern world is more fragmentedthan in the past. This reduces the governments to impose change from above.

3. Labour has offered no convincing answer to the challenges posed by secular stagnationand the UK’s productivity puzzle.

4. The idea that Labour loses elections because it is insufficiently left-wing has no basis and is a myth that should not be indulged.

5. The public are not interested in the talk of bold, radical plans so beloved of certain sections of the party. In a post-election poll by GQR Research on behalf of the TUC, when asked to choose between parties offering “concrete plans for sensible changes in this country” and parties promising “a big vision for radical change in this country”, the public overwhelming preferred the former. This result was replicated across social grade, country, 2015 vote, gender and age group.

6. Many of the policies we implemented in government have been eroded in just five years of opposition. As Anthony Painter arguedin his superb book, Labour failed to build or renew institutions that embedded our values and policies.

7. There is a deep vein of intellectual conservatism within the party. There are lots of great (and not-so great) ideasand policies being developed, and experimented with, outside of the party. We should be open and curious about the means by which we seek to change the country.

8. The talent and experience of the PLP has been hollowed out. The heavyweights of the New Labour era left the stage a while ago and the SpAd generation that followed are distinctly middleweight. We lost potential ‘greybeards’ partially through their own individual decisions to leave the stage and partially due to Brown’s brutalising of any potential challengers.

9. We need to be able to talk about Tony Blair, his victories, his government and his failings in a calm and reasoned manner. There can be no place for beatification or demonisation. Only a critical and constructive reflection upon New Labour will allow for political closure and renewal.

10. We must develop a “realistic idealism”. Trying to build a better world is, at least in part, what motivates most people in politics. However, our hopes and designs for that New Jerusalem often fail to account for the limits of the human condition; limits recognised by thinkers down the ages but made clearer by recent developments in behavioural science. Revising our thinking and policy to take this in account is vital to governing well in the future.

David Butler is a Labour activist

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5 Responses to “Ten hard truths for Labour”

  1. Robin Holden says:

    Labour isn’t working !

  2. tim says:

    That’s all well and good but the current labour party agrees with TTIP and was an enthusiastic backer of PFI contracts. You can talk ideological fluff as much as you want, but the backing of these policies means that anyone can see that big words and grand schemes are simple ideological opportunism.

  3. Tafia says:

    Some observations:-

    leadership contest that is dragging the party ever further from the centre ground
    It isn’t at all. Corbyn is no more left wing than Harold Wilson or James Callaghan – hardly a raving trot.

    George Osborne busily moving the Tories onto the territory vacated by Labour
    This is a myth that emanates mainly from the now discredited Blair wing. The tories have moved rightwards. This is the most rightwing tory government this country has ever seen – even further right than Thatcher at here peak.

    And it’s the second point that highlights Labour’s true problem – it no longer has a national identity. The people of southern England in particulalr have moved to the right of centre. Not centre, not centre left, but right of centre. If Labour perues them it will never regain Scotland and it’s Wales vote will continue to decline while at the same time UKIP will continue to grow in the north where the traditional Labour vote is moving towards a sort of left wing nationalism.

    No matter who it picks as leader, no matter where it sits on the ppolitical spectrum or policies it persues it will continue to alienate one or more of thoise sections – be it the north, the south, Scotland or Wales.

  4. Tafia says:


    As things stand, Labour is facing total collapse in Scotland in the Sottish elections next year where the SNP is now polling north of 60%,, possibly finishing third behind the Tories (in Scotland ffs), losing the Glasgow Council (a bastion), and in Wales seeing Plaid and the Tories increase their representation and UKIP taking Assembly seats for the first time, all at the expense of Labour and the Lib Dems.

    Any councils in England will make dismal reading for Labour as well. The GLA will be interesting.

  5. Will says:

    I have heard it asserted elsewhere that the Tory’s are taking over the centre ground. I think this must be because they have renamed the Minimum Wage, the living wage and are going to increase it more or less in line with the LPC ( while sidelining it, we’ll see the LPC abolished soon)
    Most evidence points in precisely the opposite direction, we face the most hard Right government ever.

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