Johnson has made undeliverable promises to win from Sedgefield to Sittingbourne. This is what Labour needs to focus on, not his latest culture war dead cat

by David Ward

If there’s one thing we’ve seen with the Johnson government so far, it’s that they aren’t going to be content with gentle managerial government. Like a five year old with a remote controlled car, he wants to move fast and break things.

To cut through in the next five years, the new Labour leadership is going to need a hugely disciplined operation focused on how we will make a positive, and credible, difference to people’s lives.

It’s clear that the Johnson government has a tall order in restoring growth to areas in long term global decline. We’ve been talking about HS2 since God was a boy, so forgive my scepticism about it happening in the next five years.

So to keep their voting coalition of leafy shires and newly won northern and midlands towns together the Conservatives will want to be on the front foot on other issues. One thing that unites these groups of voters is socially conservative instincts.

Much ink has already been spilled about the patriotic values of former Labour heartlands. But the seam for Conservatives to mine goes much deeper than that. In August 2019 Yougov produced some interesting research on the surprising views held by people who describe themselves as left or right wing. It found 72% of those who want redistribution of wealth also believe the criminal justice system is too soft. 66% who support Trade Unions want more restrictions on immigration. While 60% of those who support renationalising the railways also want to reintroduce capital punishment.

Of course Labour should always be the party of progress and progressive values, but we have to be mindful of bringing a majority along with us. Just as the party has in the past. In the 1960s Roy Jenkins gave tacit support to backbench bills to legalise abortion, decriminalise homosexuality and abolish the death penalty. Tony Blair’s government scrapped Section 28 and banned fox hunting, but combined those with Anti Social Behaviour Orders and a points based immigration system.

You only get to make progressive change if you’ve convinced people from Sedgefield to Sittingbourne you’re on their side, and you’re going to make their lives better.

The ability of ‘Events, Dear Boy’ to change the landscape is an old political maxim. Yet Johnson’s government has already shown a great ability to manipulate their own events. Talking up a willingness for no deal Brexit during the leadership campaign stirred up parliament to pass the Benn Act, which had been anticipated and nicknamed the Surrender Act. Proroguing parliament for a short period stirred up another wave of anger leading to court cases that allowed their Remain minded opponents to be defined as an intransigent establishment. By the time the election was called the Tories had already set the trap – all that remained was to Get Brexit Done.

Imagine the smoke and mirrors that could happen in the coming years. There could be proposals to shut down the Supreme Court, or draconian hurdles for potential immigrants in the Immigration Bill. Perhaps even casual remarks from a minister wondering if capital punishment was all that bad.

As an opposition Labour has very little scope to make the weather. To avoid being buffeted by the storms it will be essential for the new leadership to have a clear sense of direction with the flexibility to jump on the right things. Not just a sense of what the party stands for, but a laser like focus on the issues that matter to people’s every day lives. A strong economy that provides good secure jobs and decent homes, combined with efficient public services and safer streets.

Johnson’s weakness is he has made promises over which has no control. Like getting a trade deal that allows the UK to adopt its own rules while having no impact on manufacturing areas. Or reversing global trends of economic challenges in former industrial towns with a reheated policy programme. It is on these bread and butter issues he can be challenged, but that will require cutting through the noise.

The danger for Labour, especially while a leadership contest is taking place, is to end up chasing its own tail in response to the latest manufactured outrage. In the process confirming in the minds of former voters a great distance from their own views and priorities.

David Ward is a Labour member in South London

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4 Responses to “Johnson has made undeliverable promises to win from Sedgefield to Sittingbourne. This is what Labour needs to focus on, not his latest culture war dead cat”

  1. Alf says:

    We need mandatory reselection. Labour won’t win *anywhere* until the right-wing wreckers within the party are removed. Members should vigorously push to get this back on the agenda for Conference.

  2. John P Reid says:

    I think Gordon Browns British jobs for British workers and Ed milibands control migration mugs
    Plus the London media’s the writing of history it was only the GLC who were against Aparthied and Section 28 meant they could tell people there were only 2 wings in labour blairites who criticised migration and Corbyn who lead the left over identity politics

    When the Corbynites ignore the working Class they refuse to accept that having concerns about migration
    And still be against section 28 or Aparthied to the point the left refuse to accept they’re close to blairites on guardian middle class liberal remain London ,and then smear wotking class labour who aren’t remainers as homophobic and racist

  3. John P Reid says:

    Alf the problem with your plan is you think of a non corbynite candidate was deselected they’d be replaced with a Corbynite, theres constituencies just because of the make up of the local party who’d put in another non corbynite look at Barking where Margaret hodge was challenged she’s made those who attend the meeting by into her brand of centrist stuff
    When anyone showed concern about the working class in council estates getting touched up by Somalian refugees she ignored it so they joined the greens then
    She has enough other people to vote for her

  4. Alf says:

    John PR.

    No! If the members choose another non Corbynite, that’s fine. Just so long as they support the Labour team and don’t bad mouth the party in public aheaed of key elections. Labour *is* a broad church.

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