It is time to start believing – Labour can change Britain

by Jonathan Todd

Labour and the Tories were both in the mid-30s in the polls at the end of 2021. Briefings that Boris Johnson would govern into the 2030s followed the Hartlepool by-election. Labour government was a two-term project, experienced campaigners insisted.

This seemed too pessimist to me. It was, I wrote, time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election.

Check my working:

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019: Far from governing into the next decade, Johnson’s reputation is irredeemably low.
  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit: Neither the Tories (because of Brexit’s failings) nor Labour (due to its enduring sensitivities) want to talk at this election about the only topic of the last.
  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader: Even less after the short, benighted, economically ruinous reign of his successor.
  1. Liberal Democrat revival helps Labour: In a political environment most characterised by antipathy to the Tories, Labour is strengthened by having viable vehicles for the expression of anti-Tory sentiment as widely dispersed as possible, as the byelections of North Shropshire, Tiverton and Honiton, and Somerton and Frome have evidenced.
  1. Labour strength across the UK builds Labour recovery in Scotland: As the probability of PM Starmer has increased, the prospects of Scottish Labour have improved – with polling now pointing to 28 Scottish Labour MPs.

 We should now believe that Labour can not only win the election, but profoundly change Britain.

Liverpool Football Club experienced the power of belief under Jürgen Klopp, who urged fans to move from doubters to believers.

“Given the scale of Labour’s defeat in 2019,” I wrote in December 2021, “the idea that Labour could win in 2024 might be as unlikely as Liverpool overcoming Barcelona after a 3-0 defeat in the Camp Nou. The starting point for that famous victory in May 2019 was that 60,000 believers arrived at Anfield, determined to back their team to the hilt. Even Lionel Messi doubted himself in this context.”

Here we are in our Anfield of 2024: millions of Labour supporters believe that victory awaits; Messi still shines at Inter Miami, while Johnson is washed-up; and Klopp is leaving Liverpool Football Club in a city transformed.

The belief that Klopp brought to Liverpool was more pervasive than that expressed in the stadium.

Klopp has, writes Lynsey Hanley in the FT, “given Liverpudlians the feeling of being at once on top of the world and the centre of the universe … a sense that Liverpool has finally, and comprehensively, come back from the cliff edge of inexorable decline, just as football clubs can slog their way from the lower leagues back to the top flight.” Or political parties recover from crushing defeat to triumphant victory.

The real glory for Labour will come not from returning to power – but from rebooting Britain. Just as Klopp’s greatness is not only expressed on the pitch – but deep in the city’s tapestry.

It won’t be easy. “If you think,” said Starmer in his conference speech last year, “our job in 1997 was to rebuild a crumbling public realm. That in 1964 it was to modernise an economy left behind by the pace of technology. In 1945 to build a new Britain out of the trauma of collective sacrifice. Then in 2024 it will have to be all three.”

We must, in the face of these challenges, believe that we can change Britain. There are reasons to sustain this belief:

  1. There is a groundswell of civic energy waiting to be unleashed. After 14 years of struggle, we are determined to do much better for one another.
  2. The economy is on the turn. The latest GDP figures are encouraging (but won’t save PM Sunak). As we continue to move beyond the shocks of Covid-19 and energy crises, continued improvement in the UK’s economic performance is likely.
  3. This improving economy is part of Sunak’s legacy to Labour. Another is relations with the EU out of Johnson’s deep freeze. They will further warm under Labour. Mutually beneficial partnership with our neighbours will be propelled by the shared challenges of Putin’s Russia, climate crisis, and mass migration.
  4. Nigel Lawson, as Steve Richards reminds his listeners, once noted that the party that wins the battle of ideas wins elections. This battle is being won by the left. For all the bombast of Braverman and co, the right lacks coherent ideas for Britain’s future. In contrast, when Will Hutton was recently interviewed by Richards, he described the much more hospitable welcome for the interventionist economic ideas in his latest book than was received when he first argued for similar in the 1990s.
  5. These ideas will get a massive boast by Joe Biden’s re-election in November. Biden has turned on its head the trickle-down consensus. Instead building the American economy from the bottom up and the middle out, sustained by the largest-ever investment in combating the climate change.

We should take nothing for granted – fight for every Labour vote, as Biden fights for every Democratic vote. We should, though, believe that we are fighting not only to avoid the worst – right-wing government – but to secure much more than that: deep-rooted, enduring, and regenerative change.

We should take this belief into our party conference in the city that Klopp reinvigorated by amplifying what Liverpool always had: hard work, determination, passion.

We will succeed by similarly tapping into Britain’s best instincts: the progressive patriotism that knows the right thing is to give Britain its future back.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut  

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