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Labour urgently needs a new narrative on the economy

20/05/2015, 11:15:22 PM

by Dan Cooke

One thing we learned in the election campaign was that the younger Ed Miliband, while apparently much in demand, was a lousy date who “only wanted to talk about economics”. We also learned something much more serious: the mature Miliband and his advisers were completely wrong to think Labour could win an election without talking about the economy.

The Tory narrative on the economy, before and during the campaign, was so clear and powerful that friend or foe could recite it in their sleep. They had a “long-term economic plan”, that got the economy “back on track” after Labour “crashed the economy” and the “money ran out”. This account of the recent past provided powerful rhetorical support to their forward offer of prosperity for all, including more investment in the NHS than Labour promised.

If this grates with unfairness to many of us, we have to bluntly ask:  did our party ever pose a counter-narrative to challenge this one?  The frank answer is – at least during the campaign – clearly no. The line to take, when it was put to Labour spokespeople that the Tory plan was working, was apparently  to say that the recovery was not felt by all, the proceeds of growth were unevenly distributed or, more abstractly, that the economy was run for the benefit of the rich and not ordinary people.

Unfortunately these were talking points only to avoid talking about what for most people is the central question of economic debate: who can be trusted to deliver growth and jobs. It sounded as though we were saying this did not matter because it was the “wrong growth” and the “wrong jobs”. By building a campaign around issues of how to regulate a successful economy, like banning zero hours contracts, we forfeited the debate on who can be trusted to deliver a successful economy in the first place – in other words the debate that actually decides votes.

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Goodbye Lord Sugar. It’s time for a normal relationship between Labour and business

14/05/2015, 08:30:16 PM

by Dan Cooke

It’s a sure sign you’re in a bad way when someone as pugnacious as Lord Sugar takes care to fire you gently, stressing that they don’t want to “stick in the boot”.

In truth, it is the very blandness of Sugar’s announcement of his resignation from the Labour party that is most damning. Sugar apparently did not even feel the need to explain what were Labour’s “negative business policies and general anti-enterprise concepts” that concerned him, or how these compared with policies of Gordon Brown which he praised.  He probably thought he did not need to because the perception that the Labour party is now “anti-business” has become so wide and deep that, for many, it requires no explanation.

Whether it is actually justified or not, this is a totally untenable impression for a mainstream political party to have created in a modern capitalist society. When too many swing voters decided that a vote for the Conservatives was a vote for a strong economy, the perception that companies on which millions rely for their livelihoods were behind the Tories, reflected in high-profile open letter campaigns, will have been a major contributing factor.  It is quite plausible that this impression was even more important than the debate about the causes and consequences of the deficit, on which the party has agonised incomparably more.

How has this happened? Labour, after all, is not the party that wants to put at risk access for British businesses to the single market in Europe and the network of EU-negotiated free trade agreements outside Europe. Labour is not the party that hinders businesses obtaining crucial work permits for skilled workers because of an arbitrary and undeliverable immigration cap. And Labour is not the party that has put ideology ahead of commercial logic with unworkable schemes like the widely mocked “shares for rights” proposal.

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Welcome new members – here’s some leaflets to deliver

13/05/2015, 11:54:08 AM

by James Noakes

20,000 new members since the election is something the Labour Party should be pleased about but we also shouldn’t squander this opportunity. Aside from updating the introductory email as the current one from Ed asks them to work for a Labour victory in 2015, there are some things we can do to make the membership experience better.

Ask not only why they join but what they want

We live in an age where membership experience of any organisation is increasingly driven by expectations. Except in political parties. Some people are driven to become very engaged and want to be out there flying the flag and canvassing, others want to be part of the policy process whilst there are some who just want to make a donation and receive some literature every now and then. It may come as a shock but not everyone joined to deliver leaflets or attend meetings akin to those of the People’s Front of Judea.

The party can save time, effort and annoyance if we just focus more on this crucial area. Imagine being a CLP secretary who is told that 200 new members have joined. That’s a lot of (somewhat enjoyable) work. Imagine though if the secretary was told 180 of them have no interest in meetings, leaflets or canvassing. It makes for a better directed approach.

Find out who they are

Even as an elected councillor there have been few occasions when I have been asked about my profession and what I could add. People come to the party with skills – life and work skills we can really make use of but invariably fail to do so. I’m not just talking about ‘professional’ skills or in depth knowledge of a particular subject field – though that is important to tap into. Sometimes it is a bit more straightforward. A colleague of mine worked in the pools industry and was used to stuffing envelopes at a ridiculously fast pace (and had friends who could help too). It was silly it took to so long to ask her to coordinate that!

Remember that they need help too (more…)

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Labour should bin the expensive overseas consultants and just talk to the British people

12/05/2015, 02:47:13 PM

by Rhiannon Hughes

Since Thursday’s crushing election defeat for Labour, we’ve seen no end of analysis from figures from Labour’s past and present, giving their take on where the party went so desperately wrong, and what needs to happen next.

And rightly so – it’s a time to re-focus, re-group and learn from our mistakes. Senior figures are talking about direction, approach and policy development, and these are all important elements in moving towards the future.

But we also need to have an honest – and perhaps difficult -conversation about our party’s purpose.

The Labour party needs to exist to serve the people. Our direction should be dictated by the values and philosophy which we all hold dear, but we also need to recognise that Labour should evolve – as it did in 1997 – to best serve the interests of the British people, including those who didn’t vote Labour on Thursday.

Of course, the members, affiliated union colleagues, supporters and party staff who work tirelessly, stuffing envelopes, knocking on doors and travelling the length and breadth of the country to campaign (not just at general election time but year-round) are important. I am a member of both the party and a trade union, and I definitely want a say in the party’s future.

But our numbers alone are not enough to win an election and our priorities aren’t always reflective of the general public’s. We need to accept this and change to win.

Already it looks like this could be something of a stumbling block for the members, activists and even some members of the PLP, who still seem unable to accept that Labour lost the election because too many people at the ballot box simply did not feel that a Labour government would be in their interest.

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Reflections from an unwinnable seat

11/05/2015, 05:00:32 PM

by Matt Wilson

Along with a couple of hundred other PPCs I went into May 7th knowing with absolute certainty that Labour would lose.

In my seat.

Yes, I had been chosen for the peculiar ordeal of standing in an unwinnable, in my case the Tory heartlands of East Surrey. I would lead a team of wonderful, long-suffering, grassroots activists into a hopeless constituency battle, hoping that across Britain we would win the electoral war.

Why would anyone do this?

As someone relatively new to capital ‘P’ politics, transitioning from a career in the third sector, I saw the experience of being a candidate and running a campaign as uniquely valuable. Furthermore, I like that election time provides an opportunity to speak up for issues and causes that haven’t had the airtime that they deserve. In a one party state such as East Surrey alternative and dissenting viewpoints are rarely heard in the public square. If opposition candidates won’t speak out then no-one will. And of course there’s also the chance to generally rattle local Tories and ensure they stay put rather than hoofing off to campaign for their chums in more marginal constituencies.

I was determined to put up a fight and run our campaign as if we actually stood a chance. That involved a proper canvassing operation on the ground, lots of online engagement, and seeking to win the debate at each of the five hustings events where I faced the Tory incumbent and also opponents from the Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP, plus an independent, who was too right wing to be the UKIP candidate! All of this meant spending lots of time engaging with people who don’t see the world through spectacles tinted with the Labour rose. That experience furnished me with some fresh perspectives on how Labour needs to change in order to become the party of government once again.

The lessons I took away can be understood as three fundamental political tensions:

Progress vs Preservation  

During three months of campaigning I witnessed primal emotive forces at work in the hearts and minds of voters. Pulling one way was the desire for progress, the hopeful voice, making promises, articulating dreams of a better future. Labour speaks this language quite naturally. Yet, pulling the other way, I heard fearful voices too, instincts of preservation, concerns about the loss of traditions and of patterns of living that afford people identity and meaning.

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Labour’s Scottish election campaign is a disaster

29/04/2015, 03:00:44 PM

by Calum Wright

Scottish Labour’s campaign has been uninspiring, ill-conceived and unsuccessful. A lead in the opinion polls has been squandered and it seems increasingly likely that the SNP will be re-elected with more MSPs than ever. The recent Scotland on Sunday / YouGov poll has given the SNP a 13% lead over Labour in the constituency vote and a 10% lead in the regional list. With just a week until polls open, Iain Gray is relaunching the Labour campaign. As a Labour party member, this state of affairs is above all frustrating: a campaign which had the potential to show Labour rejuvenated instead indicates that lessons have not been learned. Here I will highlight four main areas in which the campaign has come short: the anti-Tory, then anti-SNP, stance; the absence of distinctiveness; the lack of realism; and the leadership problem.

The recurring motif of most of the Labour campaign thus far has been “now that the Tories are back”. The idea, presumably, was to reawaken latent Scottish fear and hatred of the Conservatives, and insist that only Labour could save Scotland from the cuts. The problem with this strategy is first that the Tories are not the main opponents in these elections, the SNP are. Second, there is no clear evidence to show that the Scottish people believe that Labour rather than the SNP are best placed to “protect” Scotland from the Conservative-Lid Dem coalition.

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Miliband could have a legacy even if Labour lose

17/04/2015, 08:04:26 PM

by David Ward

Most people don’t realise that the guy who invented the computer was a bloke called Tommy Flowers who worked for the Post Office.

Sure Turing made some logic sketches, but it was Flowers who designed and  actually built the machine that broke the German codes. After the war he thought there might be something in it. He wasn’t allowed to say he’d built one before but he took his idea to British banks for funding to build another one. Of course they laughed him out of the office, the Americans took over the industry and the rest is history.

I mention this story because it shows big ideas can quickly become bigger than their creators, and I think Ed Miliband could be on the verge of a big change too.

It’s not exactly news that the post-Thatcher consensus is coming to an end. You only need to look at the fracturing of politics a la the late 1970s to see that the predominant mood out there is uncertainty.

As we know, the entire case Ed has been making since 2010 is that the left doesn’t have to accept rampant capitalism on its own terms. We don’t have to accept that those at the top should reap unsustainable rewards. We don’t have to accept that markets and big corporations can’t be reformed so society and employees benefit too. And we don’t have to accept that people in work still don’t earn enough to live on.

That’s been the pitch. It’s seen him derided in many quarters – even in his own party on occasion. In any normal circumstance Labour should be expecting a chastening during this campaign.

But the funny thing is it hasn’t quite happened. It’s taken a few years of sharpening to get the pitch right but Labour’s message is beginning to cut through. Take a look at this Ipsos Mori published a word cloud of the issues that people have remembered from the last few days. Since the first few debates Ed’s approval ratings have improved markedly.

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What if the conservatives move…left?

10/04/2015, 06:30:18 PM

by Joe Reddington

Let us consider the popular (and backed by the data) narrative.  Large numbers of former conservative voters are ‘defecting’ to UKIP, which they believe better represents their views.  UKIPs policies are somewhat significantly to the right of the conservatives, even if there is a perception difference, and it is clear from the polling data that it’s a certain type of conservative that is switching.

The average conservative voter in 2015 is younger, more urban, less likely to own a house, more likely to be non-white, and more likely to have a degree than the average conservative voter of 2010 (see here, p15).  We can then infer that they are also less pension-obsessed, more much likely to be pro-(at least neutral on) Europe, much more likely to favour things like equal rights to marriage, adoption and social care than the average conservative voter of 2010.

Now answer this.  Given the group that is *leaving* the Conservative party, who are the remainder? We see that the Conservative leadership has lurched somewhat to the right in an attempt (and it may be working to a small extent) to stop the bleeding.  But it remains to see what happens if it becomes clear that those voters are staying with UKIP.  The thought that should be keeping Labour strategists up at night is this: what if the new Conservatives listen to their thinned down membership and move left?

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Don’t be an April-fool – RegistHER to Vote!

01/04/2015, 04:44:19 PM

by Sophie Duder

Today on 1st April, RegistHERtoVote – an online action group – is launching our campaign with one very simple message: Don’t be an April-fool – RegistHER to Vote!

Register-postcard (1)

We’re doing this because as Harriet Harman has been so brilliantly active in pointing out 9.1 million women didn’t vote at the last election. That is a staggering number. It’s almost equivalent to the population of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland just not turning up at the polls. Whilst that’s a scenario that might please Nigel Farage, it gives a sense of just how many people we are talking about.   Women are also 10% more likely to be undecided than men – 35% of us don’t know who we are going to vote for. So it’s the job of our party to convince those 9 million women who didn’t turn out in 2010 not just to vote – but to vote Labour.  We need to show the 35% of women who are undecided that Labour is the right choice.

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Is socialism still at the heart of the Labour party?

31/03/2015, 07:23:18 PM

by Daniel Charleston-Downes

Just before the Labour party conference in 2013 Ed Miliband was asked when he was going to put socialism back on the agenda of the Labour Party. ‘That’s what we’re doing sir’ was his reply. As we approach the election he has again been asked to defend his record as ‘Red Ed’, being told that the party was still not left wing enough for one supporter. The party is plenty radical enough for Mr Cameron however who described the entire party as a ‘bunch of hypocritical, holier-than-thou, hopeless, sneering socialists’.

To some extent you can ignore Cameron’s quote as an uncharacteristically desperate and overt personal attack on Miliband in response to a surprise poll bump for his party. But there are growing voices in the party, especially when faced with having to defend austerity measures, that are dusting off their berets and bringing their Marxism out of retirement. Already within the Labour party you have Labour Left and Red Labour to name just some factions that draft policy and put pressure on the party to move left. Some of those that feel that the cause is already lost have defected to the Greens or more recently Left Unity.

Labour is still, in at least name, a social democratic party and is affiliated with socialist groups in Europe and the wider international community. Socialism in Britain has always been a little different to its European brother with a tendency to venerate the Lords and the Queen and have a deep respect and even spiritual relationship with the Church. Traditionally, Labour’s greatest and most radical socialists have come from the middle to upper classes, take Tony Benn and Clement Attlee as examples. The Labour party, since it became a large-scale political party, hasn’t always sat easy with the working classes as a true movement for the masses.

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