Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

New Year’s resolutions for Labour

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.


Luke Akehurst is a constituency representative on Labour’s NEC, a councillor in Hackney, writes regularly for Progress here, and blogs here


Photo: Mike Corpus

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Luke Akehurst

is director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of Labour's National Executive Committee


  • Absolutely spot on Luke! Dare I say it, some of the things Pragmatic Radicalism has been trying to achieve ticks many of your boxes. Particularly – focusing on the quality of the idea rather than the ‘ism’ or faction; uniting people in a shared endeavour of thinking about solutions to problems; reaching out to all wings of the party; working with trade unions (GMB, Unions21, Unison, unionlearn have all sponsored PragRad events and continue to do so); encouraging ‘ordinary’ members and activists to share their ideas and not deferring to ‘experts’ or ‘big beasts’. Anyone interested in PragRad can find out more at / @PragRad.

    We’re running a series of Top Of The Policies events in 2012, starting off with one on skills on 17 Jan at the Barley Mow pub in Westminster. This follows our successful fringe event in Liverpool which saw big beasts and ordinary folk presenting new policy ideas in 2 mins followed by robust, rapid questioning for a further 2 minutes, followed by a vote and a…you’ve guessed it….TOTP Top 10. If anyone would like the chance to present an idea, please contact me @JohnSlinger or

  • Interesting post but my worry is the three things you name Blair as being good at reflecting in Middle England concerns, crime, ASB and welfare reform, are three things I think people even within the Labour Party do not view as Ed Miliband’s strong point. If anything, his vacillation on the issues (are we left or right on crime, soft or hard? I genuinely don’t know) has alienated his core support and never convinced those (the majority) within the party that didn’t vote for him.

  • I’d agree with all of these, especially the “Earn the right to be critical”, except perhaps the “Enough theorising”. Early on in opposition is the best time to theorise and navel gaze. Without this debate and ‘theorising’ I don’t see how we can do the second part of your argument, which is “have realistic proposals”.

  • “Hard graft”, however well intentioned, doesn’t guarantee success. The Party’s machine appears to have been taken over by managerial types focussed on processes and targets rather than on real outcomes.

    I was horrified to hear one senior party manager describe the 2009 campaign in the South West as having been a success. His evidence was that everyone had worked jolly hard and more voter contacts than ever before had been made. That we had lost our only MEP along with several councillors and that our leader was demonstrably an electoral liability didn’t appear to be of overmuch concern to anyone.

    During the 2010 campaign a league table of CLPs making the most contacts in our region was regularly broadcast and greeted by those near the top with loud huzzahs. I wonder if anyone else has noticed that many of its highly ranked constituencies are also near the top of table showing the biggest swings against Labour in the 2010 election.

    It all reminds me of a long-established company I once worked for. Year by year its results got worse yet the internal meetings got more and more upbeat. Performance targets were set and generous pay rises were given to those of us lucky enough to be in teams that exceeded them. A shame we had stopped doing any of the many untargeted things we should have been doing and that the company’s core product offerings had lost their sparkle.

    Fortunately for that company wiser heads eventually prevailed and it began to look outside the cosy world of internals. Labour still seems mired in navel-gazing.

    Maybe it’ll all come right; perhaps someone will be bold enough to mention that Contact Creator is a useful tool but a terrible master or that having poorly-articulated and muddled policies is a bit of a handicap. Alas it seems just as likely that Labour is doomed to go the way of the old Liberal Party. I bet few of its members in the early twentieth century would have believed that it would go from being in government to having just six MPs in less than fifty years…

  • Hi Brian

    the stats I’ve seen at a national level show the opposite – the 10 CLPs with the highest contact rates in 2010 were pretty much identical to the 10 with the best swings.

    Obviously there is a certain level beyond which even the best campaign won’t save you if the politics and policies don’t resonate and the national swing is too high, but where things are tight (e.g. Hammersmith, Westminster N, Edgbaston or Oxford E in 2010, Hastings, Dorset S or Enfield N in 2005), the quality of the constituency campaign makes the difference between holding and losing a seat.


  • A lot of good sense in this article.

    But is there a single, overwhelming, undeniable advantage perceivable to the general public in voting out the current government? Honestly, can’t think of one.

    Perhaps we should admit that we’d prefer a poor government under our own party flag to a moderately good government under the flag of the opposition.

  • There’s more to the quality of a constituency’s campaign than the raw number of contacts – it’s a shame that the quantity of contacts is the only thing that’s easy to measure (apart from whether the seat be won – but that measure alas comes too late to be of any use to the campaign manager).

    It would be quite interesting to see some properly peer-reviewed analysis of the contact numbers vs. swing vs win/lose vs marginality data from the 2005 and 2010 GEs for all the 419 seats that Labour won in 1997. Results from only the top ten may be misleading.

    Making (good quality) contact with voters is certainly a Jolly Good Thing to do but too great a focus on a simple quantitative measure is probably counter productive especially as it’s about only one of the many aspects of a successful campaign.

    Qualitative measures are damn difficult, that’s what makes managing by targets so dangerous.

    Happy New Year.

  • Thanks Luke for an excellent article with many practical suggestions on how we can restore trust with our voters and reach out to new supporters. I agree with you about arm chair critics – I doubt very much whether Maurice Glassmann got up bright and early to give out Ken’s leaflets at his local train station on Tuesday morning!

  • parthenogenesis,it CAN happen,Labour shall beget Labour ,yeah baby (only get females though,but hey ,may not be a bad thing !)

  • In summary then,

    1) Pretend the people like the Leadership for the Authoritarian uninspiring bullies they are hence their contempt for open democracy and debate (see below as we go through this). Well the people are right to be wary of Labour and so should its card carrying membership or have they so soon forgotten the broken promises even at Conference by their own Leaders on issues such as ID cards, and how many polices have changed since the “re-founding”?

    2) Don’t expect change because there is nothing you can do about it even if you such changes would increase Labours chances, the Leadership have to placate big business that politicos were placed to support and they will “compromise” on policy, there is no rush as the business interests of the Leadership are the same as the Tory Party and so they all doing well at the moment at a difficult time and are in it together during a terribly stressful time because they can’t claim the expenses they once could…yet…or get caught working for other companies whilst going through the motions of representing the plebs…like David Milliband etc.

    3) you don’t want your members to theorize or “think”. This would be a good idea as we now see what the “re-founding” project was really about.

    4) “Popularism” is based upon what the Leadership tells you the public wants on a given issue. It rests upon their interpretation of focus groups and polling, I would advise that historically the Leadership have been more than happy to address symptomatic issues and not the core root for political expediency, in other words, they go Tory whenever they can to continue the agenda of slower privatization rather than the Tories swifter move in that direction.

    5) Localism is essential for winning elections, finding volunteers and engaging with community groups, however the upside for local people is democracy that Local Authorities despise. Whilst it also allows planning to be handed over to the Corporate beasts because local people cannot afford to pay the costs of a first class lawyer when an application is challenged. Labour failed with local authorities historically removing the democratic system for the weak scrutiny system. This is probably the only good thing being suggested overall though it is for entirely selfish reasons as Labour learnt that Localism is truly the way to win elections and get people involved.

    6) Its up to you to “refound” Labour, it’s up to you to recruit more members, knock on doors in all weathers, slog your guts out for your Feudal masters who may spend an afternoon visiting you once a year to pretend you matter. You will do it! You will re-build a new Party, a new Movement just don’t expect to ever be promoted, selected unless you are a friend of the Leadership or a family member that knows them. if you are good on the ground that’s precisely where they’ll keep you until they no longer need you then you can xxxx off.
    I recruited plenty of members where did it get me? Nowhere and was even treated with contempt because I “worked” in fact I was seen to be less valuable than those people who did no work, the perception was that if you if work was avoided it raised your profile as you were too important to be concerne3d with such matters.
    As an Independent Councillor I have recruited more members as its an investment against the BNP but I shall not do it again anywhere.

    7) Don’t believe it for a second. Labour ditched me without even consulting me, I found out I had been ditched when I received a phone call from the Press telling me, they didn’t even have the courage to meet with me or phone me directly. You are not allowed to be critical even if it’s in the best interests of your people, I refer you back to No3. Finally whatever you do don’t ask questions. Questions are “attacks” and they don’t like being “attacked”.

    8) The majority of the public understandably hate the Leadership who are a nepotistic embarrassment and an overt insult to equality and democracy you have to win the elections and do all the work because you are gullible plebs and they are your betters, like all feudal dictators you will notice they are mostly brothers, sisters and pals, they are more like the French Aristocracy before the revolution or the Roman Elite before Caesar.

    9) If you want rid of the Unions, join them and their tribalism will blind them to their own destruction. This is happening now as the country pays off the banking bill (MPs work for the bankers/City in the end) as redundancies are “negotiated” and public servants get the boot. It’s a gradual numbers game and the Unions will blame Cameron (he doesn’t care) as the political elite across the Political spectrum laugh as it will please their Corporate masters, free Labour from the Unions and it will be as intended, it will be as though there never was a Labour party in a “Modern” world where China makes things to satisfy their rich masters and the investors in the City who will weather the storm with quantitative easing etc. Your Socialism will die its long drawn out death.

    10) We are in control now and there is no stopping us, the best thing you can do is try and claw some positives out of the mess as you wil be doing all the work to keep your betters rich.

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