What next for Labour’s moderates? Start winning people round

In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory and Labour’s continuing poll struggles, Uncut is running a short series on what Labour’s moderates need to do. Here is David Ward’s take.

What should Labour moderates do? It’s a question playing on many minds at the moment and, in the true spirit of the new politics, some Corbynistas have given us a few suggestions via Twitter and Facebook.

In a sense that’s the starting point, because we want to stay and fight to get Labour back in government. As Jonathan Todd said on these pages “cut Labour moderates and we bleed Labour red”.

I don’t have all the answers to how we do that, but I think there’s a danger in jumping to quick fixes too early.

For a start there’s been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about what moderates should call themselves. I disagree. Rebranding is rarely the answer, just ask New Coke. Especially if your problem is strategy, you failed to adapt to a changing marketplace in time, or you want some people to move on from the past.

Changing a name isn’t going to make soft left members attracted to Corbyn forget what they didn’t like about Blair or Brown. Moreover, there’s no point changing the name on the tin if we don’t really want to change our own approach. We have to convince members on the soft left, and maybe even non-members from the centre, to join up and join us.

To do that we have to ask ourselves the hard questions about why we attracted such a low level of support this Autumn. Too often our message has been couched in transactional terms about winning, without telling a story about why ordinary people will be better off and the vulnerable protected by reformed public services or aiming for a balanced budget. Too often we have defined ourselves against those in our own party, rather than the Conservatives. To paraphrase Gloria De Piero, we need to take a trip across Labour and find out why people don’t like us.

Then, moderate MPs, members, think tanks and others need to develop a coherent message which tackles problems of today and what we expect to face in 2020. From devolution to tax credits there will be themes on which we can build a new consensus across the party and the country. We shouldn’t discount everything from the Miliband era here either, after all George Osborne isn’t.

Another topic we hear a lot about is the need for better organisation and structures. Don’t get me wrong, this is important, but to a great extent they already exist. Progress or Labour First are examples of the moderate wing of the party putting effective networks in place. Rather than reinventing the wheel we need to polish what we have and look for efficiencies. Maybe there’s something we can learn from the Corbyn campaign here, which after all was successful in motivating members and non-members through technology and other means.

Lastly, but crucially, we need a credible and likeable leader from the moderate wing of the party we can all unite behind. The reason the ‘Granita pact’ happened was Blair and Brown recognised the need to have a single candidate to present to the party, and one who was acceptable to the country at large. In 2015 there were about four candidates from the Labour right, a couple from the soft left and a single one from the hard left. There is plenty of talent in our wing of the party: Jarvis, Umunna, Hunt, and of course Kendall to name a few. Next time let’s have a clear idea who our best candidate is and get behind them. But to do that we’ll need to bring people along with us.

David Ward is a Labour campaigner in south London


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15 Responses to “What next for Labour’s moderates? Start winning people round”

  1. Robert says:

    This article just proves that Blairites are deluded. 2003 to 2007 was the most depressing period of my political life. We had a Labour government, which just seemed determined to upset Labour supporters. I voted Lib Dem in 2005, while many other held their noses and voted Labour.

    David might be interested to know that people disliked New Labour because of Iraq, benefit cuts for single mothers and the disabled, tuition fees, attacks on civil liberties, worship of the City and bringing the market into public services. Of course, with hindsight, that government was not as bad as a Conservative government with a majority but this government is taking Blairism to its logical conclusion. The tragedy was that 1997 to 2010 was an opprtunity for Labour to dominate politics for a generation and it was wasted by Tony Blair.

  2. Mike Homfray says:

    Completely agree.

    I think the moderates need to recognise that many of us just think their policies are too right wing and not distinct enough from the Tories

  3. To paraphrase Gloria De Piero, we need to take a trip across Labour and find out why people don’t like us.

    Your paraphrasing of Gloria De Piero is spot on. Your problem could be that you may have to change your ideas and policies when you find the answer. The worse solution you may come up with is that you need to change party.

  4. I said it at the time and now having spoken to lots of members and attended meetings I’m even more convinced that one of the main reasons Corbyn won is the other candidates were so weak. They all had some good attributes (even Corbyn as he sounded the least like a scripted robot), but none really offered any hope or inspiration. Unfortunately, neither does the list of choices you offer above. I can say “possibly, maybe, not bad, has potential” about one, but the rest are just more of the same tired formula and not even particularly good mixes of the formula.

    This is the biggest problem for moderates. There is every chance that the current direction of travel just self-combusts, but there is currently no credible alternative. So it’s hard to see how we can coalesce around a single candidate when they are all so weak as it’s hard to see anyone choosing to back down.

  5. paul barker says:

    The longer you spend thinking the more time The Left have to isolate you, put their own people in place & move the centre of gravity of The Party. What, perhaps, Labour moderates do need time out for is to accept just how badly you were defeated.
    Centrist Labours problems go back to the start of the Century when you abandoned making Reforms. There is no point to “Reformism without Reforms”.

  6. Bob says:

    Start acknowledging basic economics, such as that the fiscal deficit is not under control of the government and should never be a target.
    Start talking about real resources (“stuff”) and not money and your long term plans (e.g. energy policy, policies to fix housing market, healthcare, jobs, etc.)
    And stop the irrational nonsense about “printing money.”
    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=1623

  7. steve says:

    ” we need to take a trip across Labour and find out why people don’t like us.”

    Allow me to help you out.

    Labour voters don’t like you for the same reason they don’t like the Tories.

  8. Janice says:

    Look at these comments, there is too much hate coming from the corbyn supporters, there is no solution to this problem other than waiting for them to realise that the electorate is even less likely to vote for their version of labour than the moderate, or right wing, of labour.

    A shame, as this sort of stupidity is just what the tories want, but the “angry left” have always been a deadweight around labour’s neck, as they use the poor to justify hatred and envy, and display a degree of self righteous moral superiority that would be embarrassing to anyone with any degree of self awareness.

    They will never like you, they only like people who agree with them, Labour is starting to look like a very nasty party, a tragic ending but unless corbyn messes up badly, and does it quickly, which is not impossible, this is the end of the labour party. The voters will not tolerate this nonsense for long.

  9. Tafia says:

    The Labour Right is in the minority now and getting smaller by the day. The Labour Right expected the Left to work with them for the good of the party. That is a two way thing and the Labour Left have the same right to expect the Right to do likewise.

    If the Right can’t or won’t, then it will be isolated and slowly picked off until it collapses in on itself.

  10. Chris says:

    @Janice

    I’m sorry but where is the Corbynista hate? The rudest comment by far is your own condescending missive. Underneath the last Rob Marchant post you said you agreed a comment that stated the left were:

    “…worthless, demagogic, ridiculous, out of touch, tasteless, weird, deluded, unpatriotic, illiterate, innumerate, cowardly, trolling, no-life, often mentally ill nut-jobs…”

    Maybe you should examine your own degree of moral superiority and self awareness as you seem to be projecting on to the imagined comments of the Corbynistas.

  11. John P Reid says:

    It all depends what defines right of the party, Kinnock Frank Dobson, Jon Cryer ,is being anti the eU ,a view of the left of the party,does this include Cruddas or Hoey,or Field

  12. Richard says:

    Janice said the left are causing an ‘unhappy ending’ but I think she needs to pause and think.

    It wasn’t the left who lost the last two elections. It wasn’t the left who have alienated the once mighty Scottish Labour Party electorate. It wasn’t the left who went to war with Iraq. In fact, nothing since the mid 1980’s can be blamed on the left and just look at the state of the party at the polls in May and you wonder why we’re angry!

    Then people like you say we’re unelectable when we realise that to save the party we have to do something different, so you try your hardest too make the party look divided and unelectable, thus trying to create a self fulfilling prophecy.

    The gall of people like you knows no bounds. If we are so unelectable then piss off to a party you think is electable and leave us to our own destruction. One nation Tories like you will be unhappy under Cameron, it’s what you wanted the LP to become, one nation Tory lite.

  13. TCO says:

    Labour moderates: it’s pretty clear that your party now doesn’t like you, and given the turnover in membership probably won’t ever again.

    Go and look hard at your principles, and make a decision about how you are best served in getting those principles into government. And I wish you the very best of luck.

  14. I have to echo what Bob said earlier ie Start acknowledging basic economics.

    Or at least start THINKING about deficits and what they mean etc. At one time all Labour politicians understood that the Government’s budget wasn’t like a household budget.

    But over time the Thatcherite “we must balance the books” neoliberal approach (even though she never quite managed that herself) has infected not just the Tory Party but the Labour Party too. Especially, but not exclusively, its right wing.

    So before anyone mentions the words “deficit denier” ever again they might just want to have a bit of a think why a balanced government budget is just not possible, when the country runs a 5% of GDP trade deficit.

  15. Robert says:

    You must lobe the Progress lot with we are the moderates, we will win back labour. Interesting view.

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