Posts Tagged ‘economic dynamism’

Our new leader will need to ‘fess up, stop spinning and start inspiring, says Sally Bercow

20/08/2010, 11:30:10 AM

At a drinks party recently, I got chatting to someone who said that if Labour is to win the next election, it needs ‘rebranding’. This chap did something in marketing, so he would say that wouldn’t he. Nevertheless, it was rather depressing to hear, and in my view it is wrong to boot. Our party is not a packet of sweets or a jar of coffee awaiting new packaging; in fact that is precisely where the last Labour government went wrong – by substituting idealism and vision with spin. Our new leader must break decisively from the past; he (for it will be a he) cannot simply change the advertising agency (although he should definitely look at that), rehash what’s gone before and embark on a rebranding exercise.

Encouragingly, all five Labour leader candidates seem to appreciate this – at the moment. However, the persuasiveness of the spin doctors, advisers and pollsters that will flock around our newly elected leader should not be underestimated. They will bandy about empty phrases like ‘progressive centre left’ whilst arguing that Britain is fundamentally a deeply conservative country and so Labour dare not move more than a milimetre to the left of the Coalition. As a result, the temptation will be to tinker at the edges and carry on much as before, banking largely on the Con-Libs becoming increasingly unpopular. This will not wash. It does not, however, mean lurching drastically to the left on every issue. What it does mean is fashioning a new approach based on three concepts.

First, if Labour is to start to regain the public’s trust we have to be brutally honest about where we got it wrong and (dare I say it) where the coalition might be right. ‘Fessing up to a few oversights; even ones as significant as being too soft on the bankers and allowing the state to become too controlling, will not cut it. Our new leader should own up lock, stock and barrel – even though they might find it a bit awkward because they sat in cabinet at the time. With a bit of luck, the new leader will admit to Labour’s mistakes in areas including civil liberties, ID cards, prisons, housing (or more accurately the desperate lack of it) and the digital economy, then duly consign those policies to the scrapheap.

Simultaneously, and this does not come naturally to the more tribal amongst us, we will earn the public’s respect if we stop trying to score points for the sake of it and actually admit it if the Coalition has a case. It is simply not credible for the new leader to roundly condemn every single one of the coalition’s policies and planned cuts.

Second, on the back of such unflinching honesty, our new leader can go into battle. He must defend the last Labour government, who left a better, fairer, more tolerant country with transformed public services and an economy saved from depression. He must expose the chronic iniquity and manic ideology of the coalition’s policies and seek to thwart or temper them. And, most importantly of all, he must set out a clear, attractive and viable alternative.

Third, beyond adopting this new honest approach, Labour needs to develop a new programme. This should be done not by pandering to media prejudice, by shifting according to fluctuating opinion polls or by becoming overly cautious. Instead, we must craft an inspiring credo, driven by progressive Labour values, which has the potential to improve the lives of the mainstream majority in a way and on a scale that this right-wing government cannot imagine, let alone deliver.

It is time to rediscover our principles, our values and our idealism. An unerring focus on social justice – fighting for a fairer, more equal Britain – coupled with economic dynamism should be at the heart of our new programme. This focus on social justice will mean taxing the rich more, reducing the gap between the haves and the have-nots, creating more affordable housing, reducing the ugly disparities in educational achievement and thereby paving the way for a more socially mobile Britain.

Economic dynamism will mean an explanation of how we would reduce the deficit (by credible spending cuts and bold, but fair, tax rises) and over what timescale. In addition, we must develop a clear plan for growth and an active industrial policy (investing in manufacturing, green industries and apprenticeships), so that we can create a broader, more balanced economy, rather than the skewed, misshapen and city-driven creature of neo-liberal economic theory.

Labour’s new programme must not be imposed from the top but fed and informed by people in communities across the country who have something to tell us and hold our fate in their hands. Never again must we allow ourselves to become so aloof and out of touch. This means listening to and engaging with our councillors, activists, trade unionists, rank and file members and, above all, those who either deserted us in the polling booths or didn’t bother to turn out at all.

Every government runs into trouble and the coalition will be no exception. The biggest mistake would be simply to wait for them to lose the next election. Instead, Labour needs to ‘fess up, stop spinning and start inspiring millions of voters by fighting for a fairer, less divisive and more equal Britain.

Sally Bercow

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