With the Tories resurgent, the challenges facing Labour are both clear and urgent: we need to reconnect the leadership of the party with the grassroots and the wider movement. And we need to reach out to those in the country we have lost touch with, to rebuild that crucial progressive coalition which underpinned our first two landslide general election victories, but which was depleted by several million two years ago.
If elected as deputy leader this summer, these will be my twin priorities. The deputy leader’s job is vital: acting as the umbilical cord between the party and the cabinet, and communicating effectively with the public. But the deputy leader also needs to be able to bring members, MPs and trade unionists back together – and the ability to bring people together is one I have demonstrated in all my government jobs, most recently with the dramatic breakthrough in Northern Ireland.
Getting Labour back on track to victory at the next election must not mean turning our backs on our record in government. We must, of course, build on the best achievements that brought Labour three successive victories: economic stability; public investment and public service improvement; and safety and security for every citizen. Going backwards to an old agenda will not secure us a fourth term.
Equally, after 10 years in office, more of the same is not the way forward, either. We need real renewal to reconnect with our broad-based coalition of supporters – in both Labour heartlands and ‘middle Britain’.
To rebuild our progressive coalition of 1997 and 2001, we need to offer a radical vision for the future. That means forging a radical ‘red-green’ agenda to meet the challenge of climate change with social justice at the very heart of government; a much greater push to devolve power out of Whitehall to local communities and individuals; further action to narrow the inequality gap; and pursuing a new progressive foreign policy.
As deputy leader, I’ll also push relentlessly for a different way of doing business in the party. We have lectured too much and listened too little. We have bounced policies on the party and the country rather than developed them in consultation with members and citizens.
To revitalise the party, we must re-engage members with policy development, so that every member and every affiliated trade unionist can be an active participant, not a disengaged and passive spectator. At the same time, I’ll work to rebuild Labour into a broad-based party with a membership that has strong connections to the local communities we serve and reaches out to those who share our values but are not party members.
The choice Labour faces as we prepare for the next election is not optional. Quite simply, we have to reconnect with millions of our fellow citizens if we want to win: if we do, we will; if we don’t, we won’t. As deputy leader, I’ll make that case every day in government. And I’ll make Labour’s case every day to the country.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.