I joined the Labour party in late 1979 and had to wait another 18 years until we were in government. And I lost my seat in 2010 so I know what it is like to be on the rough end of our democratic system. I frankly have not got time now to wait another 13 years for a Labour government and, while my heart goes out to good friends who lost their seats, the party as a whole cannot afford to mope around mourning what could have been!
First, a ‘silver lining’ – we are pretty good at opposition now, so let’s not fall into the 2010 trap when we failed to nail a Tory narrative about our record which went on to form the soundtrack to this election. We must be challenging any lies about us and holding the Tory government to account for the lies they told in the election campaign – for example, let’s see the colour of your NHS money; keep an eye on crime figures which began to tick up in the most recent stats; watch taxes on middle-income families going up. Any future leader should promote the shadow ministers who hit the ground running and do not let the new Tory ministers settle in comfortably.
Second, how should we go about the necessary period of reflection about how we win next time? There is no shortage of comment around this weekend – if it comes from commentators who got this election wrong, I am giving it a cursory read. If it is from Tony Blair who knows a thing or two about winning elections, I am poring over it. If it is from potential future leaders I am pleased that they are setting out a stall.
However, the people I am really keen to hear from are those who are probably spending the weekend thanking their teams, sleeping and meeting their families again – the candidates, successful and unsuccessful.
I am Middle England, middle class and, as one of my special advisers once rather cruelly put it, middle brow to the core. Rather more unusually, I have been Labour all my life. The problem is that, unless people with my background and experience vote Labour, no one gets a Labour government. So let’s hear from Gisela Stuart and the posh bits of Birmingham and from Ben Bradshaw who increased his majority in Exeter about what they did right and where they need the party to focus. Let’s hear from Wes Streeting about how he appealed to aspiration in the London suburbs.
‘I told you so’ alert! I have consistently said that the United Kingdom Independence party was as big a threat to Labour as to the Tories. I was right. If you cannot engage with people who fear being left behind in a rapidly changing and uncertain world and offer them hope for the future, Ukip and others like them will capture and exploit their fears. I would like to hear from Ian Austin how he saw off the Ukip challenge in Dudley.
Peter Kyle won a great victory in Hove – I hope he is writing the manual on campaigning the life out of the Greens. And Caroline Flint should be listened to on what happens when you treat a core seat like a marginal – you increase vote share and majority.
But even more important are those who should be members of parliament, but are not. Our top 100 target seat candidates will understand well from what they were hearing on the doorstep what worked and what did not. There is a bit of a tendency in our party to say a brief thank you and then goodbye to losing candidates. This is wrong on two fronts. First, these people have often put their lives, their families and their jobs on hold to fight for Labour. With lost earnings and promotions, and family and personal sacrifices, they are among the largest donors to the party – they should be treated with the same respect we rightly give to those who write out large cheques.
And they are closest to the people who voted Tory or Ukip when we needed them to vote Labour. The design of our leadership contests means that contenders will be currently sounding out Labour MPs for support to get nominated – however, the real test is not whether they can persuade a sitting MP or a Labour activist, but whether they can persuade a Tory voter in Redditch. That is what I will be looking for in the person I support as our next leader.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.