Ten hard truths for Labour

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. Here’s Jonathan Todd with his top ten.

1. Most people are not interested in politics. At best they see it as irrelevant to them. At worst they are actively hostile. Most politics, therefore, passes most people by most of the time. They only pay attention when things they hadn’t expected happen.

2. People get that Labour cares. Labour did not lose the election because we were insufficiently stout in our defence of the NHS and other causes typically dear to Labour hearts. Most voters expect Labour to care about the NHS and other institutions – like local schools and Sure Start centres – that tend to (but not always) make the world better. Because they expect this from Labour, noting point 1, they don’t really register Labour providing this.

3. It’s the economy, stupid. Doubts about Labour’s capacity as custodians of the economy and public finances, as well as Labour’s ability to have mutually productive relations with business, contributed toward this year’s defeat.

4. We need to show we’ve changed on business and the economy. If we accept that only counter intuitive political moves gain real public traction and that concerns about Labour’s economic and fiscal management gravely imperil the prospects of Labour government, Labour should be seeking strongly counter intuitive moves that challenge these negative perceptions. This means more than mouthing platitudes about being pro-business or fiscally responsible. It requires actions that show and reshow this to the public. Till the political professionals are bored stiff and the activist class are blue with frustration. Then the public might hear.

5. The case for a reformed EU needs to be made. While voters are paying little attention to UK politics, they are paying even less to EU politics. For the majority of the time that the UK has been in the EU, pro-Europeans have asked Brits to be part of a successful club. The Germans prosper. The French have fast trains. The Italians are well-dressed. Attachment to these successes has been the bedrock of the UK’s EU membership.

Economic calamity in southern Europe is undermining the sense that the UK is a member of a successful club. This calamity is driven by profound flaws in the Euro, which may only be overcome by creating a fiscal and political union run on consistent geographical boundaries to this monetary union. It is not at all clear that the Eurozone countries want or are able to make this transition.

Nor is it clear what their behaviour implies for countries, like the UK, that are in the EU but outside the Euro. Pro-Europeans in the UK need to sharpen their arguments, both for the UK staying in the EU and for the kind of EU that we want to support. It is not obvious, though, that pro-Europeans in the UK, necessarily removed from a position where we can shape the Euro, can do anything that is coherent, credible and big enough to meet the challenge of events.

6. But there’s more to foreign policy than just Europe. On the global stage, Europe is increasingly a sideshow, surrounded by ever more troubled regions (the Middle East, Putin’s Russia). The global marginalisation of Europe is the inevitable consequence of the economic rise of the east, especially China and India. But is being accelerated by Europe’s poor economic performance (which is itself bound up with the Euro – point 5) and inability to reverse the instability in its neighbourhood (which is also involved with the Euro to the extent that Europe’s economic malaise limits resources that would otherwise be assigned to these issues).

7. The character of power is changing. Point 6 might be interpreted as saying that power is shifting east, which to a significant extent it is. However, reality is more complex and subtle than this. Power is not just shifting. It is changing character, as Moisés Naim has documented. Social and technological changes – e.g. the decline of deference, the spread of higher education, and the rise of social media, which act to dissolve previous barriers to power – create new constraints on political power in the east, as well as in the west, where we are more familiar with them. A mature politics needs to confront not just shifts in power but changes in the character of power.

8. The world might be changing, but political parties are not. The social and technological forces that drive change in the character of power are closely related to those that disperse possibilities for economic opportunity and creative self-expression. Put simply: there are more ways for more people to be whatever change they want to be in the world than ever before. For many, this change does not involve membership of a political party. For growing numbers, it does, however, entail starting their own business.

The fall in political party membership no more implies a lack of civic engagement than the rise of micro-businesses means we have become a society of turbo-capitalists. Of course, money matters to people. But so does autonomy, a capacity for creativity, and a sense of making a positive difference to the world. Many people feel they satisfy these motivations by setting up their own business. They are often not wrong to think this. Fewer seem to think they can do so by joining a political party. They are not wrong in thinking this either.

9. Labour is disinterested in this new world in which people live. Labour is an inward-looking party in an inward-looking country. Labour displays limited understanding of or interest in the social and technological changes identified here (points 7 and 8), while the British public and their politics seem relatively unengaged by the seismic geopolitical shifts of our times (points 5 and 6).

10. The leadership contest is addressing none of this. I’m struggling to retain interest in the leadership and deputy elections, not least as much of what I note here, which seems important to me, does not feature in them.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut      

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5 Responses to “Ten hard truths for Labour”

  1. paul barker says:

    You should put this up for the guest slot on Libdem Voice, it would attract a lot of interest I think.

  2. Janice says:

    Point number 8 is particularly interesting, as I keep on reading how Labour politicians want to get out into communities, and increase support this way, and they seem so enthusiastic, but to me it suggests lack of boundaries. I don’t want Labour activists turning up and bothering me, just concentrate on coming up with sensible ways to run the country in that caring way you are supposed to do, without spending too much money.

    This £3 supporter thing is a perfect example of this failure to recognise boundaries, it was daft idea, it is almost as if Labour couldn’t believe that there might be people out there who didn’t like them. I have been struggling to work out the thinking beside this ridiculous idea and it seems to fit in with point 8.

    A political party needs to be competent, competent political parties don’t just let anyone chose their leader, its an important job, they might be wanting to run the country one day.

  3. Matt Moran says:

    I’ve never doubted Labour on the economy. I’ve been facepalming again & again each time Labour have conceded to Tory lies on this front, but seriously, accepting the austerity myth is not going to help Labour at all.

  4. Mike Stallard says:

    What troubles people more than anything is immigration and the gradual shift of power away from Anglos to immigrants.
    The EU is encouraging this. There are laws which need looking at and the EU is not looking at them.
    Bleating on about the vulnerable may make people sound good and it may be popular with a certain set. But it is very dangerous and living off charity and the State ought not to be an option. Labour did a lot of damage here, especially under Mr Brown. That needs looking at.
    The Academy system has worked a miracle where I live – not just one school, but lots of them. In a neighbouring county, where the Grammar School-Sec Mod system is still in place, it works well too and people really do emigrate there. the Labour party is at least lukewarm here.
    All over the place there are challenges. Instead all we seem to hear about is the bedroom tax, tory cuts and bleating. Fingers out guys!

  5. Phil says:

    I agree with Mike Stallard completely. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants competing for jobs (not just unskilled stuff, but areas like IT too) and school places does cause resentment. Labour has to have some response to people’s feelings on this other than ‘you racist!”.
    (Also, on point 9, I think you mean “Labour is uninterested in this new world”, not disinterested. The words are not synonyms.)

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