Especially given we were fighting county councils which were natural Tory or Lib Dem territory, Labour had some good results last Thursday: new mayors in Doncaster and North Tyneside, taking control of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire councils, and even winning a county council seat in Witney – Cameron’s backyard. Our progress in the south was encouraging in places like Cambridge and Norwich where we need to win MPs in 2015.
The results showed we’ve come a long way under the leadership of Ed Miliband since 2010, but they also showed we have a way to go. If a general election was held tomorrow, Labour wouldn’t win a majority. This was always going to be a big ask – under any leader – after our terrible result in 2010.
But Ed has made great strides over the last two years, we have re-energised our activists, rebuilt our base, reached out to disaffected Lib Dems – all crucial steps to victory in 2015.
We’re halfway there, both in terms of time lapsed and progress made. I’m confident we’ve done enough to stop the Tories winning outright, and produce another hung parliament. But the truth is if we want a majority in 2015, we need to be performing better than we are now.
The old Tory-Labour duopoly has been broken. UKIP will remain a force at the next general election, with momentum from next year’s European elections. The right will remain split, at the Tories’ expense. The Lib Dems will do badly in the national share of the vote but probably hold onto all or most of the seats where they are well dug in and contesting with the Tories; where they are fighting us they will lose. Labour is well placed in this new four-party arena.
While we shouldn’t dismiss people’s concerns about Europe and immigration, this is not what will decide the next election. Nigel Farage will not be prime minister. Labour’s focus for the next two years should be squarely on the economy and living standards.
We cannot afford to be equivocal about our economic policy. We need to be more upfront with the public about our intentions. Yes, we will borrow more in the short term in order to generate the growth that will reduce borrowing in the medium term. It makes sense to do so with interest rates so low. We will borrow to invest in new homes, in major infrastructure projects, refurbishing schools, creating employment. Schemes that will stimulate the economy. But we will nevertheless run a tight fiscal regime.
The Tories are trying to cut their way out of the recession. We need to be clear we would grow our way out of it, a less painful and ultimately more successful approach. We need to make this case with confidence and defend it robustly.
I’m confident Labour can win the economic argument if Ed has the support of a loyal team around him, it’s important that all members of the shadow cabinet play their full role in explaining and defending Labour’s policy and approach. Labour’s Treasury team need to get out on the stump now and work even harder. It shouldn’t just be left to Ed and Harriet to carry the heavy load, whether on the World at One, the Today Programme or anywhere else.
Victory in 2015 is in our grasp, and we’ve made great strides toward it under Ed’s leadership so far. But ‘one more heave’ won’t deliver a majority. We need to up our game.
Peter Hain is former secretary of state for Wales. He tweets @PeterHain
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.