If you haven’t already made any New Year’s resolutions, here are my suggestions for collective resolutions that the party, from top to bottom, should make:
• Don’t panic. We have turned into a bunch of neurotics who act like headless chickens whenever the polls move against us. If they move against us permanently, we need to respond, but if it’s a run of bad polls for a couple of weeks then we shouldn’t overreact. Remember that events can cause short-term blips – William Hague had a poll lead after the fuel protests for about a week. It’s the long-term trends that are important.
• Don’t expect miracles. If we are not in a commanding position it’s as much because of voters’ perceptions of our performance in government as our performance in opposition. They gave us just 29 per cent of the vote for a reason – they were angry. We can’t expect them to suddenly love us again just 18 months later. There is no magic wand or white knight who can save us, it is going to be a hard slog to rebuild trust.
• Enough theorising. There has been a healthy debate about ideology in the last 18 months, with some interesting ideas generated that have proved there isn’t just a binary choice between New Labour and Old Labour. But the voters couldn’t give a stuff about the theory and values that drive us or the intellectual credibility of our arguments.
All the ‘isms’ we talk about mean nothing to them. They are a lot more interested in whether we understand their lives and have realistic proposals for improving them.
• Don’t be sniffy about populism. We are supposed to be the ‘people’s party’ so we should tap into and reflect the people’s concerns, using language they would use. One of the great things about Tony Blair was his ability to tap into the concerns of what he called ‘Middle England’ on crime, ASB, welfare reform etc. Although he called it ‘Middle England’ these were as much the concerns of our core working-class vote. We need to recapture that instinct for being the political voice of majority opinion in the UK.
• Embrace localism. We don’t just need a compelling national narrative about why voters should trust Labour again, we need a local narrative about what Labour will do for each local authority and constituency.
The proof of that narrative’s veracity will be what we actually do when we win office and power locally. The national party can advise, build capacity and support, but ultimately it is people in each patch who have to write Labour’s story on the ground as campaigners and councillors. The story won’t be the same in every locality because the issues and needs will be different, and there is scope to do innovative things, such as Lambeth’s cooperative council model, that then provide a model for other places. If you campaign and govern well enough locally, you get a bonus in votes at general elections.
• Refound your local Labour party. We passed a sensible and comprehensive package of organisational reforms at annual conference. They won’t get implemented on the ground unless local activists pick them up and run with them. Has your CLP started recruiting people to the supporters’ network yet? Has it looked at campaigning best practice from Oxford, Barking and Birmingham Edgbaston and tried to emulate it locally? No one is going to do this for you.
• Earn the right to be critical. I think we should stop listening to anyone who commentates on what Labour should do unless they’ve earned the right to critique our performance through hard graft for the party. I’m not interested in the views of armchair critics, I am interested in the views of members who knock on doors and whose take on what voters want is shaped by meeting and listening to voters.
• Take personal responsibility. Making Labour re-electable isn’t just the leadership’s responsibility. Every active member needs to ask themselves what they are doing to turn round our political fortunes.
• Reunite the two wings of the labour movement. There’s been an alarming tendency growing for Labour party people to talk about trade unions as though they were something separate from us. They are not – they are as much a part of our structures as CLPs are, and we are two wings, industrial and political, of the same movement. If you don’t like the politics of the trade unions do something about it, get active in your trade union. Every party activist ought to be a union activist too.
• Bank the good bits of the last 18 months. We may not have reached the sunlit uplands but we are not in the mess we were in after 1979 because we have avoided forming a circular firing squad in reaction to defeat. We haven’t lurched off to the left, we haven’t had a massive blame game against former ministers, and the party is relatively united rather than having indulged in infighting. Let’s make sure having not done those things for 18 months we don’t start doing them now.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.