Labour is lost, here’s the way out

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

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15 Responses to “Labour is lost, here’s the way out”

  1. swatantra says:

    Makes sense. Security. We all want it .
    But even security costs money to pay all the staff that will keep us safe and secure.

  2. Jim Westhead says:

    An excellent article. A broadbrush approach with detailed and believable explanations to back it up is what is required at the next election and in the years leading up to it.

    Fantasy land economics, disreputable or just dubious political alliances, a past history in local government with Militant links – all these are things which, if demonstrated by a leader, would give the media plenty of chance to make hay and severely damage the Party.

  3. Tafia says:

    Have you left school yet?

    Labour’s core vote by and large does semi-skilled and unskilled work. Go and speak to people stacking shelves in Tescos, labouring on building sites, working as security guards etc etc and fiond out what they want. And remember, if you don’t offer it to themn the way they want it they won’t vote for you. Why should they.

    Excuses that it’s economically unfeasible are of no interest to them. For example, most of them do not want tax credits – understand that? They do not want them. They want the job they are doing to pay a high enough wage for them to afford a decent place to live and afford an acceptable lifestyle and they don’t want tax credits and housing benefits to do it – they want their actual earned pay to do it. They – despite being reliant in them, regard tax credits and housing bebefits and free school meals as a failure of the system not the system helping them. So all you have to do is come up with proposals that will allow someone on minimum wage to be able to afford a flat, a decent life without any form of state assistance. Or a couple with one earning full time minimum wage and one earning part time minimum wage to be able to afford 2 kids, buy a small house etc again without state assistance. Simple eh?

    Square that little conundrum and they’ll vote for you. Be unable to square it and they’ll ignore you as of no further use to them and no different to what they get now.

  4. Tafia says:

    The dual ‘threats’ of the SNP and a supposedly ‘economy-crashing’ Labour Party did massive damage to our chances of success.

    I was out campaigning in May for Plaid Cymru and spoke to thousands of potential voters and I am also a union work place rep. I have never ever come across anyone who voted the way they did because of either of those points nor have I ever heard anyone raise either of them. Most people that should have voted or used tovote Labour but didn’t, didn’t because the thought Ed Miliband was a cock, Labour wasn’t left wing enough in the traditional way (they mostly went to UKIP), Labour had screwed up the NHS in Wales, or Labour was too concerned with England (they switched to Plaid which saw it’s vote increase by 17% across Wales).

    Not mentioned (and I was very surprised in some cases):-
    Immigration (other than inward from England)
    The economy
    Scotland and the SNP

    Brought up continually:-
    Ed Miliband is a cock and a middle class twat and snob
    Labour don’t give a toss about the low paid thinking they can cure it with tax credits etc.
    Labour don’t give a toss about the regions.
    Labour don’t give a toss about the unions
    MPs are way over paid for any use they are.
    Appalling lack of council housing
    Benefits levels far to high and too easy to live on (actually a big complaint amongst the lower paid and social housing tenants in work).

  5. Matt Moore says:

    “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” – Benjamin Franklin

  6. Matt Moore says:

    “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”- Benjamin Franklin

  7. john P Reid says:

    Tafia,while i accept that the Welsh vote laobur needs, and htey may have different views,,region informed me at meetings. in 2005, and 2010 that for the first time more middle class people voted Labour in England that working class, possibly due to the defenition changing,and that included 1997, i’m sure 2015 was no different in England as public sector workers feeling their pensions being cut for the future stuck with us, and the issues that labour certainly in 2010 was more popular than the tories on was pension and Law and order, although ,at the time the only two, after tory reforms it was easy for Labour to appear more popular on Education/NHS, even though it wasn’t enough of a vote winner

  8. john P Reid says:

    madasafish, assuming that the Tories know they;ll have a landslide and may in safe seats stay at home like Labour voters did in 2001, then 25% is still wildly over the took, i’d guess under 20%

  9. “Fantasy land economics……”

    If there is any fantasy about the mainsteam economic view, ie we need to balance our budget etc and live within our monetary means etc, it is that the national economy can be treated in the same way as a household economy.

    Yes we have to live within our means, or real means. They are the real resources which the economy is capable of delivering. If we have too many people unemployed and too many factories lying idle then we are living BELOW our means.

  10. Madasafish says:

    This article could be written by a 12 year old.

    Lots of promises – financial security etc. Lots of costs.
    No mention at all of money, how much it will all cost. No mention of how to fund it.

    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.

    Sorry but this is cloud cuckoo land … no-one – but no-one with any ability to think critically is going to be so dumb as to switch votes to a Party if this kind of claptrap is teh best you can do to try to convince people.

    The world is neither simple, easy nor is there an inexhaustible supply of money.. Do do what this article does will cost a lot of money. So taxes will have to rise.. a lot.

    You really must think readers stupid to write this. It insults our intelligence and makes Ed Miliband seem attractive.

  11. James Thursday says:

    Has Brian been out of the country for a while?

    The above starts with being sensible with the nations finances, then goes on to promise to spend £billions and opposing reforms or cuts, without explaining where it comes from.

    Isn’t that the Ed Miliband approach that didn’t work to well?

  12. David Walker says:

    This is exactly what Labour offered at the election. You have just added the word security, presumably in the hope that it will be enough to fool the voters.

    No mention of the private sector, other than banks and ‘the 1%’. Why can’t Labour get its head around the fact that millions of people run a small business, or are self-employed? Many of these are working-class, pensioners, or both.

    The Labour Party is just about dead. That’s why it’s worth giving Corbyn a go. It probably won’t work, but there is no other viable option. Today’s Labour Party has nothing to say to anyone.

    In the unlikely event that rebranding its tired old policies with the word ‘security’ proved popular, the Tories would just steal it for themselves. What then for Labour? Pick another word? Hope? Aspiration? Fairness? Caring?

    Under Corbyn, the party can at least go out with all guns blazing.

  13. Stephen W says:

    If only a 35% strategy had worked. That would have been a dramatic improvement. Labour seem to have spent the last 10 years with a 31% strategy. That being what they’ve got in the last two general elections.

  14. Dadad says:

    Yes, security; what we all want and the first responsibility of any government, to keep its people secure by defending its borders. So, look at Calais. What does labour propose should be done ? Nothing I’ve heard so far.

  15. Blair says:

    John P Reid “,region informed me at meetings. in 2005, and 2010 that for the first time more middle class people voted Labour in England that working class,

    From the horses mouth that the supposed party of the workers is that no longer. And the workers are starting to realise it.

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