Expectations for Labour are high. Policy is the way for Jeremy Corbyn to meet them

by Andy Howell

So, the deal with the DUP is well and truly in place. Tonight its MPs dutifully trooped through the lobbies with the Tories, blocking a Labour amendment to scrap the public sector pay cap. The deal buys May and Tories time although just how much will remain to be seen. It seems designed to last for two years by which point Tory optimists hope that a decent Brexit deal has been finalised. However, as always, political events do not aways go to plan and it is quite possible that this government will not last to the end of the negotiation period.

Corbyn is right to continue to make the case that Labour is ready to form a government at any time. At Glastonbury it is reported that he told organiser Michael Eavis that he could be Prime Minister within six months. This is not just a fanciful boast. The conference season will be a major test for May. If she continues to make the wrong choices, continues to appear wooden and inhumane and — critically — continues to be a subject for ridicule then the end could be quick.

In such a climate Labour’s biggest problem may well be the temptation to sit back and rely on its current campaign strategy and manifesto. At the moment both strategy and manifesto look to be effective but time always changes the context in which both must sit. The more that Corbyn is seen as a credible Prime Minister, indeed as the likely next Prime Minister, the bigger the challenge he faces in fleshing out the manifesto and in beginning to address detail.

Take one of the issues that devastated the Tory campaign plan, social care. The electorate was spooked by the Tory manifesto programme and singularly unimpressed by a series of subsequent U-Turns. Everyone in this country knows we face major challenges in this area. If we are not yet thinking personally about our own social care we will have parents and grandparents who, today, face the future with a great deal of uncertainty and fear. As we get closer to becoming a Party of government it will not bee enough for us to simply talk about more cash, we will have to spell out how and where we will make our investments. It might be acceptable — in a political campaign — to simply call for a new Social Care Service but it is clear that we might form the next government the health and social care sectors will look for more detail and will expect to be able to enter into a real dialogue with the opposition about the future.

It would be wrong to expect the Labour front bench to have a fully formed solution to the social care crisis in its back pocket, but there is much it can do ramp up the intensity of the campaign and to begin to drill down and to nail key policy dilemmas.

It became clear during the campaign that the Tories were to use an autumn Green Paper to accelerate their own plans for the future of social care and, seemingly, to begin to distance themselves from Andrew Dilnot’s 2011 report. This Green Paper commitment has survived the cull of Queen’s Speech although he government’s expectations of it may be more modest. For Labour the Autumn consultation will be a great opportunity to not only raise the stakes for the government but to cement and build new partnerships both within and beyond Parliament.

Corbyn should build his attack around some key principles, all of which will be uncomfortable for the Tories.

Firstly, Labour should be insisting that this debate be one that searches for a greater degree of political consensus. Dilnot’s report needed to be followed by a genuine attempt to build consensus across the political spectrum. All Party talks did begin but were quickly closed down amidst the policies of austerity. The spirit of cooperation must be revisited. It would be a crime if such a key policy was to be simply determined by a minority government backed-up by a bunch of political opportunists from Northern Ireland.

Secondly, this is an issue so important that in this modern age it cannot simply be left to Westminster politicians. If there is to be a consultation process in the autumn it should be the start of a process rather than something definitive. It could map out mechanisms for wider engagement and discussion, perhaps through some form of commission. It should lay down timescales for political decisions, progress and potential systemic change.

For Corbyn, such an attack can further underline his credentials for being a leader of the country rather than simply the leader of the Labour Party.

There are many reasons for broadening the debate. Much work is being done by academics and by social care commissioners and providers. New models of cooperation between commissioners (local government and health) and the institutional investors who create and maintain services are being mooted. The social care crisis of skill development, workforce development and recruitment are being better understood. Few of those engaged in this world are confident that their input into the debate will be secured and their ideas properly explored.

If Corbyn deepens his campaign in this he way he will also find that there will be a significant impact on Westminster politics, though it will present new challenges as well as new opportunities.

A more open approach to the issue should set out to make the best use of Parliamentary expertise across the Board. In Norman Lamb the Lib Dems have one of the most knowledgeable and respected politicians in the field. Tory Stephen Dorrell, though he stood down as an MP in 2015, has spent much time looking at the issues of social care both through Select Committees and work in the outside world. Cameron’s Minister of Health Alistair Burt is another who has spent much time pondering these issues not only as a Minister but as a Select Committee Chair. And back on Labour’s side on of the key players nationally is Andy Burnham now the Mayor of Greater Manchester who now has the responsibility for bringing health and social care together in one of our major conurbations. These — and many others — will have a major role to play in building a new and last social care system.

Corbyn should one of the biggest issues of our age, and one of the greatest failures of the election campaign, to genuinely illustrate how a new form of politics could work.

One of Corbyn’s problems so far has been a failure to develop a proper policy debate within the Labour Party let alone outside in the wider world. The longer this Tory government manages to survive so the context of debates will change. We should all be aware that unexpected events can challenge ourselves as much as they can derail the government. Deepening to policy content of our campaign will help edge against the unexpected.

Ultimately, a move to a deeper and broader campaign may be critical in securing the success of a Corbyn-led government which may well have to govern without an overall majority or without a comfortable majority. Potential allies across the political spectrum wonder whether Team Corbyn can ever break free of their closed world. Developing a deeper policy dimension to the day-to-day political campaign will build confidence in Corbyn as a potential Leader of a wider progressive left.

Some will, of course, prefer to stay on the current course and to pin their hopes completely on a ‘one last heave’ mentality. It is worth constantly reflecting on the political realities of 2017. Despite running a fine and effective campaign Labour gained only 30 seats. At the next general election Labour needs to win over 60 new seats simply to have a majority of 1. A comfortable majority of 40 or so seats will require Labour to win 100 seats at the next election.

In preparing for the future Corbyn can only gain by deepening his campaigning in this way. Social Care is but one key issue and, of course, there are others that would benefit from a similar approach.

In today’s world — in 2017 — the big issues cannot simply be left to Westminster. If we deepen our policy making,as a campaign tool, we are more likely to convince an ever-skeptical electorate that Labour is the Party to deal with the big issues. Back in Westminster such an approach is likely to convince others that Corbyn would be a serious partner in power, if indeed it comes to that.

Andy Howell is a Labour activist based in Birmingham

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13 Responses to “Expectations for Labour are high. Policy is the way for Jeremy Corbyn to meet them”

  1. Leslie48 says:

    Social care, health, schooling – all have to funded and likely on higher income tax which most voters are probably near to. But the economic plan must be impressive showing how Corbyn would grow the economy and currently it looks threadbare as it was just 1980s socialist stuff which does not address how we go forward.

    Labour need another 60 seats to overtake the Tories and I am not convinced the trio will get there. We we were a proxy vote for remainders, a protest vote on public services decline and a young upsurge. Have we reach the high water mark? We still need those working/ lower middle class voters in seats not in the big cities and the trio are still looking too leftist. The fact that people like Yvette Cooper or others similar were not brought back tells me that this party will be unlikely to get another million votes. Normally having lost a GE by. 55 seats leaders resign. The delusion that a very left wing government can win goes on despite our recent defeat.

  2. buttley says:

    Here is an unverified list (Gruaniad) of MPs who voted to keep us in the EU tonight, some notable absences too.

    Mr Adrian Bailey (Labour (Co-op) – West Bromwich West)
    Luciana Berger (Labour (Co-op) – Liverpool, Wavertree)
    Mr Ben Bradshaw (Labour – Exeter)
    Chris Bryant (Labour – Rhondda)
    Ms Karen Buck (Labour – Westminster North)
    Ruth Cadbury (Labour – Brentford and Isleworth)
    Ann Clwyd (Labour – Cynon Valley)
    Ann Coffey (Labour – Stockport)
    Neil Coyle (Labour – Bermondsey and Old Southwark)
    Stella Creasy (Labour (Co-op) – Walthamstow)
    Emma Dent Coad (Labour – Kensington)
    Stephen Doughty (Labour (Co-op) – Cardiff South and Penarth)
    Maria Eagle (Labour – Garston and Halewood)
    Mrs Louise Ellman (Labour (Co-op) – Liverpool, Riverside)
    Paul Farrelly (Labour – Newcastle-under-Lyme)
    Mike Gapes (Labour (Co-op) – Ilford South)
    Kate Green (Labour – Stretford and Urmston)
    John Grogan (Labour – Keighley)
    Helen Hayes (Labour – Dulwich and West Norwood)
    Meg Hillier (Labour (Co-op) – Hackney South and Shoreditch)
    Dame Margaret Hodge (Labour – Barking)
    Dr Rupa Huq (Labour – Ealing Central and Acton)
    Darren Jones (Labour – Bristol North West)
    Susan Elan Jones (Labour – Clwyd South)
    Peter Kyle (Labour – Hove)
    Mr David Lammy (Labour – Tottenham)
    Mr Chris Leslie (Labour (Co-op) – Nottingham East)
    Kerry McCarthy (Labour – Bristol East)
    Alison McGovern (Labour – Wirral South)
    Catherine McKinnell (Labour – Newcastle upon Tyne North)
    Mrs Madeleine Moon (Labour – Bridgend)
    Ian Murray (Labour – Edinburgh South)
    Albert Owen (Labour – Ynys Môn)
    Jess Phillips (Labour – Birmingham, Yardley)
    Mr Virendra Sharma (Labour – Ealing, Southall)
    Mr Barry Sheerman (Labour (Co-op) – Huddersfield)
    Mr Gavin Shuker (Labour (Co-op) – Luton South)
    Tulip Siddiq (Labour – Hampstead and Kilburn)
    Andy Slaughter (Labour – Hammersmith)
    Jo Stevens (Labour – Cardiff Central)
    Wes Streeting (Labour – Ilford North)
    Gareth Thomas (Labour (Co-op) – Harrow West)
    Stephen Timms (Labour – East Ham)
    Chuka Umunna (Labour – Streatham)
    Keith Vaz (Labour – Leicester East)
    Catherine West (Labour – Hornsey and Wood Green)
    John Woodcock (Labour (Co-op) – Barrow and Furness)
    Daniel Zeichner (Labour – Cambridge)

  3. john P Reid says:

    leslie48, don’t think we were a proxy vote for remain, in Essex anyway ,it was obvious we accepted leave ,ok most Essex people voted leave, but the greens would have got more votes and didn’t and most labour voters who voted for us,accepted beexit

  4. Mark says:

    We’re no longer just a pale imitation of the proper Tories. We’ve got a strong narrative to sell on growth; and we’ve ditched that Tory-lite look at the top. Our shadow cabinet team no longer look like a bunch of personnel managers.

  5. Anne says:

    We have got to start listening to the economists – they are saying that to jump over a cliff edge or to leave the EU without a deal will be very bad for our economy. If staying in the single market and the customs union which will be most beneficial for our economy then that is what we have to do. We have got to put jobs and the economy first.

  6. Vern says:

    The party has peaked. The GE is now a distant memory and worryingly the nastiness has returned too. McDonell politicising Grenfell, bitching about DUP deals when 2 years ago Labour were doing the same, Corbyn spouting togetherness and fairness but displaying “hate” towards anyone disagreeing with him. And to top it off sacking 3 members of the party for having “a different opinion”.
    Leopards don’t change their spots and Corbyn wil continue to ruin Labour if he is alowed too. Too many have allowed theirselves to be duped into thinking he is a nice guy. He has hate coursing through him and he has infected others with it.
    There must have been good reason why he was kept in a political abyss for 40 years! Wake up guys!

  7. For the rest of this year, talk of policy has to cease. The manifesto cannot be unpicked, and what Corbyn is said to have told Eavis at Glastonbury – In number 10 in 6 months and will abolish trident – has to be taken seriously. Labour denied the second, but not the first.

    On this basis, Corbyn is expecting the TOries to collapse, they certainly are not going to call a general election unless May loses support massively. So the manifesto has to be held in place. Change anything and the support base starts to unravel.

    And on Brexit, the Labour manifesto is unsustainable. The promises need growth to fund. The economy is slowing and the BRexit negotiations will worsen this. While there is no appetite for a 3rd referendum (1975 was the first – Labour called it to stuff the Bennites) as the reality starts to bite this will become clearer

    Last night I was at a lecture in London and started talking to a young local Labour woman who knew Catherine West and was shocked she had voted for CHuka’s amandement. I started talking about Corbyn being a Bennite and she had no idea what I was talking about. Young people are about to enter a world of hard choices they have little idea exists. FOr the rest of this year, keep the lid on policy debate.

    Trevor Fisher

  8. john P Reid says:

    actually I think MArk we’re now a pale imitation of the libdems we’re full of middle class liberal fabians, who can afford to have morals and tell the working cals sto have the same morals as them without realising living on a council estate the working class may want stop and search to stop knife crime ,or self employed new Dads may not be able to afford to have 2 weeks paternity leave or if thy have a unsympathetic boss have to do 3 weeks work in one,when they return form work
    and the remain, read the guardian view of middle class liberals that the working cals are thick ,we don’t need their vote as such let’s stop brexit explains why we did well in Islington and , had swings against us in seats like Dagenham and Bolsover

    te annoying thing is these new liberals who’ve joined the party, think they can get rid of the working class labour members as the Mc can afford to buy influence in the party to win middle class areas, well that way it’ll end up in us losing working class seats next time

  9. Tafia says:

    @Anne – We have got to start listening to the economists
    Any economist – which is nearly all of them, that failed to see 2008 coming is little better than a fairground crystal ball reader. In addition according to the Financial Times, in the last 50 years only two (yes two) economic forecasts from the major forecasters were actually correct. All the rest had to be continually revised. Therefore economists are almost always wrong.

    they are saying that to jump over a cliff edge or to leave the EU without a deal will be very bad for our economy. If staying in the single market and the customs union which will be most beneficial for our economy then that is what we have to do.
    That UKIP vote that returned from UKIP to you last month will just as quickly disappear if you persue that policy. Not only that, but the Labour voters who voted Leave but remained loyal will also scarper. I don’t think you quite grasp how important BREXIT is to the Leave voters – most of who want the full deal and expect to be worse off for a few years afterwards.

    @Vern – . And to top it off sacking 3 members of the party for having “a different opinion”.
    They were junior Ministers. It is standard practice that they have to go if they defy a whipped vote. If you are of Ministerial status, you vote with your party on all things at all times. What is unusual is Corbyn now has the courage to do it and do it swiftly.

  10. Anne says:

    I don’t agree that Labour ministers should be sacked for disagreeing about staying in the single market. I believe this should be left on the table – this should still be a negotiating position – the team should be working to get the best deal they can and if that means staying in the single market and the customs union – then they should go for it. All economists (the money people) are stating this is the best interest of the country financial wise – it is in this way that there is finances to pay for our public services.

  11. Tafia says:

    Anne. it is norml Parliamentary process that Ministers who vote gianst the whip either resign or get sacked.

    I am absolutely staggered you didn’t know this.

    If you accept a Ministerial position then you support the party position – all the time every time. Why on earth do you think Corbyn has suddenly started promoting Blairites. Learn your Lenin – sell them the rope with which to hang them.

  12. Anne says:

    Really? This lesson from a ‘Tory Troll.’

  13. Tafia says:

    Anne, stop being dumb. You know what party discipline is. You know what a whipped vote is and you know what the duties of ministers are in a whipped vote and you know what the punishment is for failing to adhere to it – resign or be sacked. When you accept a ministerial role you accept the rules.

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