by Tom Clements
There is much to regret about the leadership of Ed Miliband; not least the election defeat and changes to leadership election rules that have led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But for me, it’s the abandonment of One Nation Labour. At the time, I thought that this was the game changer. A genuinely inclusive and unifying offer with which we could change the country for the better.
I was wrong.
It wasn’t a genuine offer or an ideological framework. It was a cheap parlour trick. One that was designed to win a few headlines and embarrass the Prime Minister by taking a conservative idea and claiming it for Labour. That’s what makes me angry about Ed’s leadership.
It could’ve been so bold.
Instead, the idea fell up against the ‘predistributing’ instincts of Miliband. The instinct that the rich weren’t really part of Miliband’s One Nation. They were just there to foot the bill. He fell into that worst Labour tradition of implying that being rich and wanting to be rich was something to resent.
Not that there is anything wrong with the rich paying their fair share. Far from it, it’s the only way that a society can function in harmony. As the brilliant Senator Warren argues “no one gets rich on their own” and it’s there duty to give “a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along”. And that is right.
And it wasn’t just about the rich.
He forgot about the traditional working class; those who UKIP are trying to woo. We treated their concerns about immigration and benefits with suspicion not understanding. Suspicion that meant that the white van in Rochester was only the tip of the iceberg. Suspicion that meant they stayed at home or put their cross in a different box on election day.
And this is what cost us the election.
Those votes that went to the Tories instead of swinging to us. Those votes that would have won Nuneaton, Pudsey and Thurrock.
But One Nation is the way that we can bring them back.
One Nation Conservatism was Benjamin Disraeli’s response to a very resonant series of problems. An attempt to heal a country divided by poverty, stalked by revolution and a defeated Party. Sound familiar? If we are ever to win back the country, we have to realise the problems we face.
A country divided arguably more so than ever before. Scottish vs English and Welsh. Skiver vs striver. Immigrant vs non-immigrant. And it’s only being made worse by this divisive, uninterested and incompetent Conservative Government.
Our country is crying out for a government to bring us back together. But it won’t wait for the Labour Party. We need to get our act together first.
One Nation is a socialist principle that we have allowed the Tories to steal and have ownership of for far too long. One Nation means collectivism. People working together for good of the many and opportunity for all. It means public services based on need not ability to pay. This is an opportunity for a vision big enough to win back the Party and to change our country for the better.
If we are to succeed, we can’t just take the easy options again. It’s not just about an education policy that offers outstanding education for the whole country paid for from the ending of charitable status for private schools. Or a health policy that integrates social care with the rest of the health service. Or a transport policy that renationalises the railways.
All these are good ideas. They have the potential to be great ideas. But they will never be implemented unless we address the fundamental problems that we face.
We need to bring back the middle class and aspirant middle classes. We need to understand their hopes and not make them feel guilty about it. This was the genius of New Labour. They understood that if higher earners were to accept higher taxes, they had to feel like they were part of the system. That they got something from the state rather than just being expected to bankroll it. That meant universal child tax credits, improved schools and a world class health service.
If we are to return to government, we must focus on these people that turned their back on us on the last election. We must go back to these principles otherwise they will keep us out of power for another generation. We must address their concerns on economic competence, not allow their concerns on security to stick and, above all, give them a positive reason to vote Labour.
Of course this should mean improved schools, a better health service and efficient rail links but we shouldn’t stop there. A People’s Bank to offer support to start ups, SME’s and first time buyers. Tax breaks for small businesses who employ apprentices. And a pledge that we will never take more in tax than people will take home in their pay.
But we shouldn’t stop at the rich for there is another group of voters that we can ignore only at our peril. We must start taking the needs of traditional working class communities more seriously because if we don’t, we won’t just lose power, we might even lose our Party.
Places like Leeds East, Middlesbrough and Deane Valley have always returned Labour members of Parliament because we have always been on their side. But today, in communities where betting shops and pawnbrokers have replaced cafes and independent shops, we cannot ignorantly rely on their support. We need to remember them and not just expect wealth from nearby cities to trickle down to them.
It isn’t true that these voters will only be won back by a radical left wing manifesto; nor is it true that they are only concerned about immigration. Their concerns are the same as the middle classes. Security, fairness and opportunity for them and their children. But for too many of these communities, they are missing more than this, they have lost their hope.
For mining and manufacturing communities whose soul was ripped out along with the factory that bound the people together are waiting. They are waiting for the Labour Party to come back for them. But they won’t wait too long; they can’t afford to. And if we don’t appeal to them, then they’ll jump on the next vessel that appears and they’ll be gone forever.
This means that we need to build a more balanced economy. An economy that brings these communities, and the people, but to life. This means investment in new and renewable technologies to foster the White Heat of the 21st century. This means tax breaks and incentives for businesses to invest in these areas so that these communities have a chance regenerate. It means technical colleges to prepare the next generation of young people for the next generation of opportunities. It means more apprenticeships, it means more bursaries for later life education and, above all, it means more secure, well paid jobs that people can be proud to hold.
If we are to win our Party back from the Socialist fantasy that we are currently engaged in, we must be bold. As moderates, we don’t have to stick to managerialism or to reluctant policy offers. We can’t let the Corbynites claim radicalism. We have to continue the radical centrist tradition of Attlee, Gaitskell, Crosland and Blair. Only through this can we reclaim the Party and the country. Remember, we are at our best when we are at our boldest.
Tom Clements is a history and politics teacher in Leeds