by Brian Back
The Labour party is lost. It has lost its way, its purpose and identity. Its MPs and members are fighting amongst themselves, rather than fighting against the Tories, or for the people it is supposed to represent.
The Labour party is really struggling; struggling with internal conflict and confusion, struggling with the issues of how to remain relevant and how to appeal to the whole nation (rather than just 35%), whilst remaining true to its core principles. The recent Welfare Bill debacle clearly demonstrates the level of confusion in the Party regarding the problem of reconciling its core principles with the need to become more electable.
Labour desperately needs to find itself; to re-discover its purpose, to re-focus and re-brand, to re-connect with voters and regain their trust, so as to once again become the ‘natural’ Party of ‘the people’.
The way to achieve this is not through a ‘what’s in it for me?’ manifesto, with a shopping list of policies; each aimed at a separate section of the electorate. The election proved this to be not only uninspiring, but also unsuccessful.
Labour needs a powerful, straightforward and clear ‘brand’ and promise. It needs a grand narrative that is not only distinctive and true to its values, but also appealing to the whole nation.
In order to do this, to show that it is the Party of the people- of all the people, Labour needs to step back and take a wider view of our society, in order to develop a true ‘one nation’ approach and message.
Labour needs to ask itself; what cares and concerns are shared by all voters?
What is the universal need and desire of every member of the population?
What does everyone want, that only Labour can provide?
What should be our promise to the nation?
The answer is security.
Our society is characterised by insecurity: insecurity over issues of globalisation, terrorism, immigration, unemployment, poverty, crime, illness, and old age- these are voters’ primary concerns.
It was insecurity regarding the economy that drove voters away from Labour and towards the Conservatives.
It was insecurity over jobs, houses and the breakdown of community that drove people away from Labour and towards UKIP.
As the Conservatives’ election campaign clearly showed; fear and insecurity are powerful motivators. The dual ‘threats’ of the SNP and a supposedly ‘economy-crashing’ Labour Party did massive damage to our chances of success. A lack of security has been very useful for the Conservatives.
However, many of Labour’s greatest successes came from promising and providing greater security for working people: the security of the Welfare State ‘safety net’; the security of the minimum wage.
Labour’s next leader should therefore explicitly focus on the issue of security; which covers voters’ biggest concerns. This would include policies on the following areas:
- Security against another financial crash- sound economic policy, combining investment and deficit reduction, to keep our economy strong and better prepared to withstand shocks
- Secure jobs- rather than casual, or zero hours contracts; jobs that are secure against the threat of outsourcing, or cheap imported labour, through stronger unions and a higher minimum wage which is more rigorously enforced
- Secure housing: secure from the bedroom tax, or homelessness due to housing benefit cuts, and no threat from unscrupulous landlords. A programme to build much more social housing would follow from this promise, which of course would also provide a huge boost to employment figures and the economy
- Secure health provision- protecting our health services from the threat of privatisation
- Restoring the security of the Welfare State safety net, repairing the damage done by the Tories, which would include cast-iron guarantees on pensions, assistance during times of unemployment (whilst reinstating the contributory principle), sickness and disability benefits
- Security from crime- always a concern amongst the elderly and the working class. Labour’s focus on reducing poverty and unemployment will inevitably mean less crime. Promising greater investment in the police force, to combat Tory cuts to the service, would also be a vote-winner
- Security in our old age- better care provision through integrated health and care services
- Security for our children- protecting the NHS and education, addressing the housing shortage and spiralling house prices
- Security from terrorist attacks- through greater investment in our armed forces and police force
- Restoring our military security- By making huge cuts to our armed forces, based on a desire to cut costs, rather than on an accurate assessment of our needs, the Conservatives have put the whole country at risk. Investment in our armed forces would also provide a huge boost to employment figures, as well as a knock-on effect to the economy. This would also be a source of apprenticeships in many skilled trades, which would of course do much to counter the issue of working-class unemployment.
- Energy Security- huge investment into renewable energy can not only bring us greater energy security, it can help us become a world-leader in this field, thereby creating many jobs and boosting the economy. It will obviously also help us to meet the required targets and do our bit towards combating climate change. Renewable energy is the future of energy and it is where government policy must take us.
It has often been said, that the UK (and England in particular) is at heart, ‘small-c’ conservative. If that is true, then that itself indicates insecurity- the fear of change and the need and desire for things to remain as they always were. However, even though insecurity may seem to naturally drive voters towards the Tories or UKIP, as we’ve seen from the discussion above, many of the main areas of insecurity should be naturally strong ground for Labour.
A focus on security should also gain us votes from the groups we most need to win over, who we lost in the last election- the working class and pensioners.
A continual association of security, with the Labour Party, could do much to improve our reputation for economic competence.
A focus on security attacks the Tories on their home ground- issues such as crime, the economy and unemployment have often been seen as Tory strongholds; targeting these issues gives us the best chance of converting voters who chose the Conservatives at the last election.
A focus on security can therefore point out the failings of the Tories, as well as Labour’s superior alternative.
The first duty of government is the security of its people. The Conservatives have failed in this fundamental duty.
The Conservatives have made life much more insecure, for all but the wealthiest 1% of the population. Labour would make life much more secure for everyone.
Even though the Conservatives have prospered through preying on people’s insecurities and fears, they have never explicitly branded or proved themselves as the Party of security. This opens the door for Labour to rebrand itself and regain the public’s trust and support.
‘Labour: securing your future’
This ‘brand’, message and focus would enable us to remain true to our core values and core constituency, whilst simultaneously reaching out to the whole of the population, with an offer that is attractive to everyone.
‘Labour: securing your future’
This would be a true ‘One Nation’ approach.
Security: that’s what we all want- isn’t it?
Brian Back is a sociology lecturer and Labour campaigner who blogs at brianbackblog