How to think about the next ten years for Labour

by Jonathan Todd

We have transitioned from a summer of hard truths to an autumn that painfully strains credulity. On BBC Question Time, we’ve had everything from John McDonnell’s non-apology apology for IRA comments to Chris Bryant’s self-depreciating “aww shucks” routine when Labour is reduced to mirth; from Stephen Kinnock’s failure to make anything straight from the crooked timber of Labour on the nuclear deterrence to Lisa Nandy’s struggle to disassociate Labour with violence at the Conservative Party conference.

At the time, I thought we’d reached the bottom of the market for the Labour currency on 7 May 2015. That the cycle would move in our favour from that point. Things could only get better. Actually, we’ve not only continued to fall, we have debased our stock. And debasing money, as Zero Hedge notes, debases trust.

Parties win general elections, as Uncut has long observed, when their leader is most trusted to best execute the functions of prime minister and their capacity for economic decision making holds the trust of the electorate. Electing the most unpopular new opposition leader in the history of polling does not seem the way to build these forms of trust.

The breakdown in relations between Labour and the country is such that we can arrive at another hard truth: It is unlikely that Labour will form a government after the next general election, expected in May 2020.

Maybe realisation at how far Labour has to climb electorally helped Jeremy Corbyn become leader. Better to lose in style, the logic goes, if we must lose. But to fail to take the most electorally plausible course is to tacitly concede that there is nothing so tremendously objectionable about the Tory-run country that we purport to rail against.

For the first time in my adult life, I struggle to see an electorally plausible route to Labour winning the next general election. In fact, we are sufficiently far from one that the Tories will likely comprehensively win, taking 2025 beyond us too, which would mean that we won’t see another Labour government before I am over 50 years old. That is a frightening thought to me but should be more so to all of those who depend upon Labour government.

Let us make explicit another hard truth implicit in this: We are no longer in the winning in 2020 game but the trying to give ourselves a chance of winning in 2025 game.

If we spend the whole parliament being humiliated every week on Question Time, we can forget about a Labour government before 2030. If we care about the long-term viability of Labour, we need to start being taken seriously again ASAP. It needs to happen well in advance of the next general election – at least two years before – for us to have any chance of winning the one after that. This is the grim reality of getting through the cardiac arrest that we now endure.

But beyond this traumatic experience, we can look with more positivity and open mindedness upon the future. As the due date for Labour government recedes, the vista of its possibilities expands. What a political party can become a decade hence can be something very different from what it can become half a decade from now. This absolutely shouldn’t be an invitation to indulgence – we’ve pushed ourselves to heart attack through excess of that – but to rethink the basic purposes of the party from first principles.

Thinking back to another period of Labour reassessment, Siôn Simon has previously recalled the mood of Labour staffers drinking in the Palace of Westminster on Margaret Thatcher’s last night as prime minister:

“In the backs of our minds, we know that she been right about some things that we were wrong about; but this is a notion with which we cannot yet cope. It is, literally, a disgusting thought. (Though somewhere in our deeper recesses, some of us recognise this truth will eventually have to be confronted).”

When this truth was confronted, Labour rebuilt public trust, then as diminished as it is now. This allowed us to return to government and secure tremendous change.

We will require similar confrontations before Labour is again electable. But these confrontations are not only about the hard yards of recovering Labour’s electability. Labour’s soul is to be salvaged in them too.

Yes, we need, for example, to be prove that we can be trusted with other people’s money, that we won’t run large fiscal deficits, to form another government. But we’ve rushed in the past to spend too much of other people’s money due to misplaced convictions that government is the answer to all problems and that the more government we have the more socialist we are. There are deeper misconceptions in play here, which reach into Labour’s soul, than simply those of electoral pragmatism.

Labour’s soul, as well as our electoral prospects, can be patched up by 2025. Provided that we still have something to patch up by 2020. Time is critical after heart attacks. Every hour now counts.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut  


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16 Responses to “How to think about the next ten years for Labour”

  1. Richard says:

    ‘Every hour now counts’ huh. Inject a note of desperation. Make sure the ‘Fightback!’ comes quickly and all this so we are ready for 2025.

    I think there is actually something else motivating this sense of urgency, perhaps even desperation, and at is fear.

    Corbyn with a master stroke is using the tactics of Progress in order to take over the party. Momentum will allow the left to organise and rally, to prepare for the inevitable special conferences where fundamental rule changes will be discussed. This will take place without the interference of the moribund right wing who have control of much of the party structure and it will have the added benefit of allowing the young and enthusiastic to remain so and not have the life strangled out of them by a right wing bureaucracy. Little wonder that people like Luke Akehurst are foaming at the mouth at Corbyn’s move.

    I think Todd can see the game is up as well. I think he knows that if Corbyn isn’t toppled and quickly then the party may well be out of the grasp of the right for a generation and I believe it is this that is distressing him more than 2020. If people like Akehurst, Todd and the PLP cared about a Labour victory then what they would be doing is dropping their dislike of the lefts victory and getting on with criticising the Tories rather than undermining Labour with their constant criticism and repeating the refrain that we are unelectable over and over again.

    Well enjoy the rid Mr Todd as we use the self same tactics used by the right in the form of Progress to steal the party from us. Hoist by your own petard.

  2. anne says:

    Usually when someone experiences a heart attack – if not fatal- then a recovery plan is put into place – this may be radical such as coronary artery surgery with an after care plan, probably including some lifestyle changes – this is usually delivered with a team work approach. It would appear than the Labour Party requires a similar approach if it is to survive as a viable opposition party – this will probably involve some very painful lifestyle choices – looking at leadership, polices, direction, vision etc.

  3. paul barker says:

    So your idea is that Labour Centrists should spend the next decade figting their own Party just to get a chance to govern -why? Britain already has a mainstream, progressive Party – The Liberal Democrats. Why not join us & get on with the job of being an Opposition right away. What is the point of being in a big Party, most of whose members want something completely different ?

  4. historyintime says:

    Doubly wrong. Anything can happen in 5 years. Especially as modern communications have made the political world much more immediate and much less centrally controllable. The danger comes if Corbyn is still leader in two years time and even then the situation is repairable given an change before the election.

    On fiscal matters, serious economists everywhere except the EU are dumbfounded at the needless and economically perverse austerity strategy. The lack of defence of the last Labour fiscal record is both tragic and a major contributor to the loss. Politician with good communications skills and rationality are needed.

    By the way, declaring my biases I am both ‘old right” and a professional economist. I also lived through the late 70s and early 80s leftism in real time. Corbynism is no where near as dangerous as that period because most of the party are not his ideological supporters. They are just hugely fed up with non fighting, non authentic, fudgers.

  5. I would suggest that the humiliation which Jonathan feels isn’t so much caused by the party as a whole, but by his now rather small New Labour part of the party. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell seem to be doing fine while those more in tune with Jonathan in the PLP do seem to be struggling as we saw with Kinnock’s boy. It’s not all doom and gloom, Jonathan, just look at the membership numbers.

  6. John P Reid says:

    Depressingly true, unless the EU referendum, causes us to unite as inner London and the Corbyn areas vote to leave

  7. paul barker says:

    The next ten years start with next year – a bunch of local elections but only one of those in in London, where all the Journalists/bloggers/experts live. The result of the Mayoral election will drown out all the rest & as of now that election looks like a tie. Labour might lose but not badly enough to damage Corbyn.
    After May we get The Referendum, where both Labour & Tories will be on both sides.
    Then we are into Midterm when The Opposition usually lead The Government & more local elections outside London.
    All those Labour moderates/centrists looking for the best time to get rid of Corbyn are waiting for a time that will never come. Its time to face the reality that Labour is not your home anymore & time to look for a new one.

  8. @historyintime

    “On fiscal matters, serious economists everywhere except the EU are dumbfounded at the needless and economically perverse austerity strategy. The lack of defence of the last Labour fiscal record is both tragic and a major contributor to the loss.”

    Well said. Its crazy that those who point out that it’s natural for countries like the US and UK to regularly run a budget deficit are labelled as ultra-left and irresponsible “deficit deniers”.

    The deficit could be a problem in that the extra spending could cause too much inflation if it meant that the demand for goods and services exceeded the available supplies of those goods and services. It’s not a big problem right now.

  9. @ Jonathan Todd,

    But we’ve rushed in the past to spend too much of other people’s money due to misplaced convictions that government is the answer to all problems…..

    This all sounds depressingly Thatcherite and shows a high degree of economic illiteracy. For a start Govt doesn’t spend “other people’s money”. Have you ever thought where money comes from in the first instance? No it doesn’t come from Taxpayers. Where does it come from before that? How is it created in the very first instance?

    It’s created by Govt as an IOU of government. Govt can create as many as it likes. If it didn’t create any ££ at all it wouldn’t be in debt but , on the other hand, no one would have ££ in their wallets or purses!

    No monetary debts by govt = No net monetary assets for us!

    If it overdoes the creation of ££ we have too much inflation. If it underdoes it …..

  10. carolekins says:

    I am not a dyed-in-the-wool Corbynista, but I did vote for him, he gained a huge mandate and I am shocked at the disloyalty from PLP members, Big Beasts and others. Give the man a chance: he certainly can’t do any worse than the last lot.

  11. Bob says:

    “Yes, we need, for example, to be prove that we can be trusted with other people’s money, that we won’t run large fiscal deficits, to form another government. ”
    The problem is that is impossible. Fiscal deficits depend on private sector decisions to spend and save.
    All government spending will come back as tax if there is no saving in the spending chain, even with a huge amount of spending and a 0.5% tax rate. Some money is spent. It generates tax. Spending become income and it starts again.
    It is a simple maths progression.

  12. Bob,

    Exactly right but why is it so difficult to get this concept accepted? The more right wing a person’s view the harder it seems to be!

    But it’s just as true for a Tory govt as it is for a Labour govt. That’s why cutting spending and raising taxes NEVER closes the deficit as might be expected.

    Taxation , by central govt in the UK has the sole purpose of controlling inflation. We need a little bit more inflation right now, so we have the options of spending a bit more and taxing a bit less.

    Isn’t economics simple at times? 🙂

  13. Chris says:

    @Paul Barker

    “All those Labour moderates/centrists looking for the best time to get rid of Corbyn are waiting for a time that will never come. Its time to face the reality that Labour is not your home anymore & time to look for a new one.”

    Having read your outrageous cllr, mep and mp predictions over the past five years I realise you have a great capacity for wishful thinking but why would the Labour right join the LDs?

    At the very least they want to be in power not permanent opposition, joining a party with 8 MPs isn’t going to provide a route to government anytime soon. And its not like the Lib Dem membership are all “centre ground moderates” – the comments under this LDV piece are hardly pro-blairite.

    http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-libdems-are-the-natural-home-for-blairites-26970.html

    Your views have evolved quite a bit since 2012!

  14. John Reid says:

    He certainly can’t do any worse than the last lot,, a toey landslide,of which we never recover would be worse

  15. Sean says:

    Are all the writers for Labour Uncut migrations from Tory Uncut? Tory Party membership that way….follow the arrow>>>>>>>>>>>…to the right

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