Andrew Adonis opened the Progress political weekend at Stoke Rochford Hall by saying it was important not to be complacent and that the Labour party faced an almighty political battle. In terms of what Labour had to do to win in 2015, Adonis was at pains to highlight that we now needed real programmes and policies behind the headlines. Progress, he said, had a key part to play in ensuring Labour had a winning platform in 2015 and it had a proud history of modernisers stretching back to Tony Crosland. He gave a rallying call to get more young people engaged in local politics. He related how at the age of 23 he become a local councillor in Oxford and what a great platform this is in engaging in your community and making a difference.
It was clear why the first speaker in the session Two years to 2015: where is Labour at?, Michael Dugher, is regarded as such an effective ‘attack dog’, being both articulate and giving very clear offensive lines. There were two key things that Dugher outlined for going after the Lib Dems: duplicity and complicity. Nick Clegg was still very much in Dugher’s sight as he described him as the poster-boy of breaking promises.
As for the Tories, David Cameron is seen as out of touch and increasingly viewed as not for working people and standing up for the wrong people. The Tories would be challenged on their record on the economy – that’s assuming it doesn’t improve by the next general election!
Dugher highlighted Labour’s remarkable unity, something due to the fact that we had learnt that we cannot afford the indulgent rows of the past in public when in opposition, and because of the preponderance of new Labour MPs with a different attitude. Change was a key theme that he pursued: Cameron had promised change before the election and not delivered it. Labour had to own the change for the next election, concluding that 2015 will be the change election around jobs, apprenticeships, fairness and tackling vested interests.
Dugher finished with high praise for Progress, saying that it was a way of bring people together to get Labour winning again, and that it comprised the modernisers of today and of the future and that Progress realised we had to keep changing as a party.
Joe Mann, deputy general secretary of Community the union and an elected member of the Progress strategy board, made an impassioned speech focusing on empowering working people and building better communities, which he said was Community’s primary focus going forward. He was clear that we need a Labour government to achieve that, something that we on the left seem to forget when in opposition. Mann made a powerful point that the Labour movement had shown a will to win between 1992-97 and that during that time the greatest gift to Labour that the trade unions gave to it was silence. I’m guessing that would not be popular message with other trade unions but I thought it was brave of him to make it.
Victoria Groulef , PPC for Reading West, a ‘southern discomfort’ seat, stressed that we must win not only our core vote but also win back aspirational voters. Her mix of policies would be a radical policy on housing, jobs of the future, for young people, backing the technical baccalaureate, and a commuter’s charter. She said spent time in schools and toddler groups to connect with people and argued that we have to frame our policies in a language that people can understand, being true pavement politicians.
Hopi Sen did possibly the most interesting and unique part of the opening session. He had phoned a few Tories (mostly Cameroons) to see how they thought Labour was doing. He asked them three questions: what Labour was doing well, what was it doing badly, and what could it improve on?
To the first question, his Tory counterparts said that we were united, looked like a possible government-in-waiting, that we were an effective opposition, being tactically swift and nimble, we kept hitting the Lib Dems (which probably pleased the Tories!) and that we were asserting our values.
When asked what Labour was doing badly the Tories felt that the poll lead was more about Tory weakness, especially after the 50p tax cut budget. They felt we hadn’t moved on from the past in regard to the economic situation and Labour was still wedded to spend and borrow. There was no doubt that the Tories would hit us with that message time and time again, and try and hold us to 35 per cent share of the vote.
Finally, in reply to what Labour could improve on, Hopi’s Tory friends said that we had to flesh out ‘One Nation’, but that it was a good message. They still saw Ed Miliband as a weakness, but they thought that Labour had to get Ed over better. I thought it was interesting that they didn’t refer to him as ‘Red Ed’ any more! I certainly agreed with the last point they made, which Adonis also referenced in his opening address, which is the need to define an industrial strategy based on the white heat of technology, something which could potentially be a powerful message of change for the future.
Vijay Riyait is secretary of Leicester West CLP and a small business owner. He tweets @vriyait
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