Into the unknown

Into the unknown

A chapter has closed. The era of New Labour is over. It is living history to some, but history nonetheless. A Next Left chapter must now be written for Labour.

The last Labour government was a great success socially, economically and culturally. It made Britain a stronger, more cohesive, place. It was not just the list of achievements, but the way they totalled up to more than the sum of their parts. And it changed our country so much that the Tory party had to move towards it to become electable again. That government’s biggest failure was losing office and letting the Tories wreak havoc on this country. It simply failed to provide a credible forward offer to the country in 2010.

As this magazine has previously argued, the three tenets of New Labour – the people, the policies, the political positioning – were right for Britain and the party at the time.

The people made great things happen but they have moved on and so should we. The policies were an independently verifiable success. Not everything was perfect but, more important than debating all the pros and cons of that era, is that times change – so the policies now have to as well. The positioning – a Labour party that no longer equivocates between social and economic justice but marries the two in a centre-ground, country-first, on-your-side stance – is how the left wins elections. This winning position will not change but it must rise from the ashes in which it currently resides.

In the last parliament, under any of the leadership candidates before the party in 2010, a ‘continuity’ project could have defeated the coalition. Had we admitted the mistakes that actually led voters to remove Labour from office, Labour could have returned to government within one term. But this road was not taken. Instead, Labour’s leadership joined the Tories in trashing the record of its longest and arguably most successful period in office ever. It is impossible to identify the precise moment when the final nail in coffin of the last Labour government was knocked into place. But when the leaders’ Question Time audience, four days before the May 2015 poll, openly mocked Ed Miliband’s claim that the last government did not overspend, it was clear the corpse’s container had been hermetically sealed.

Those who pay the price of this grave error are those who were relying on the abolition of the bedroom tax.

The current reality for anyone involved in or inspired by the last Labour government is pretty bleak. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – both heroes to many in the party – cannot save us now. They have done incredible service to our party and country over three decades. Both will contribute now and then. For good or bad, no well-written or well-intentioned op-eds or speeches can provide an argument to win over the couple of hundred thousand who signed up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as leader nor provide a future for our politics. Advice is always welcome but the baton must be handed on. It is time for a new generation to step up.

Indeed we should not be longing for them or even describing ourselves as a follower of either. Being a Blairite or a Brownite under Corbyn is like being a Gaitskellite under Michael Foot; it is tired, dated and redolent of a time that has been and gone. New Labour had what co-chair of the thinktank Policy Network Patrick Diamond called ‘an unbroken line back to the New Liberals’ who founded the party, via Ernest Bevin and Hugh Gaitskell. In the same way, the politics that inspired 13 years in government will have a future beyond New Labour. This is what we have to now build.

New Labour did not come out of the previous Labour government, nor the rightwing of the party alone. It was a rejection of the machine politics that wanted to control the party but not lead it; and it was centred around ideas for the world to come. Crucially it did not argue for simply a more moderate version of far-left poses. It drew on the Tribune group in the parliamentary Labour party as well as the rightwing Solidarity grouping. It owed as much to the Labour Coordinating Committee as it did to Labour First. It was nurtured on the pages of Marxism Today and rejoined by the Jenkinsites who wanted to come home to a pro-European, modern Labour party. It was inclusive and forward-looking, albeit a challenge to both the old left and old right of the party, which may explain some of the difficulty it later had in finding a home.

It is a Next Left project on New Labour’s scale, and not New Labour’s blueprint, that must be built. It will include different people, friends and allies. Too often over the last 20 years we have let personalities, politics and minor policy differences lead to giant rifts in the party. No one side was entirely to blame but we all have to be determined to leave it in the past and work together in the future.

The Next Left should be the result of rigorous debate and active inclusion of the blue Labour tradition, the ‘old right’ in the party and those traditionally at home in Progress. It will embrace thinking from social democrats abroad and the ‘soft left’ at home. It will be informed by practice in town and city halls across the country. And it will have in its sights winning the hearts and minds of the party so we can put Labour values into policy and Labour policy into action.

Winning for a purpose will be its aim. As LabourList’s Conor Pope has written, ‘Some things remain as true as they always were. Non-voters tend not to vote. Protest voters do not vote for parties who want to govern. And, perhaps most importantly, Tory votes count double – every vote you take off your main rival [simultaneously] brings you closer to their tally.’ Our party must always keep this at the forefront of our mind as we look to get Labour back into government.

Only a modernising Labour party can win the trust of voters and change Britain for the better. The precise form that takes in 2020, 2025 or 2045, no one yet knows. For anyone who wants to be back in government – and engage in a thoughtful, rigorous and challenging debate about how we get there and what we would do with the resulting power – please join us as we journey into the unknown.

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  • bishblaize

    One of the silver linings to the cloud over our heads is that we have time to think, talk & understand. We’re not just in opposition now – we’re in opposition in opposition. You rarely get a moment away from the fray in order to think, in politics or in life, but if ever a moment existed, its now.

    • Politics… no BS

      Any “opposition in opposition” will, rightly or wrongly, get the blame if Corbyn is not successful.

      Corbyn was democratically elected. I frankly find it astounding how hard it seems for the moderates to accept… they lost! Badly!!

      • bishblaize

        And saying that we should take the time to think why our policies were rejected is losing badly?

        • martivickers

          It is when the article clearly presupposes, dogmatically, that the answers MUST lie on the right of the party, a right that has been humiliated so badly that Kendall’s career is probably now dead on arrival. Yet again, the right want to go away, sulk about how they’re right, and cool and clever, if only those nasty people would see it, with their stinking democracy….

          • bishblaize

            How would you interpret the data (the bits we’ve seen, or from the other polls)?

          • martivickers

            I wouldn’t, that’s the point – there’s not close to enough data to be making any sensible decisions on, and what’s there is being wilfully misconstrued.

            For instance – this trope of our worst ever result in England, we’ve “lost England.”

            Bollocks. The vote share of Labour in England under a lefter leaning Miliband ROSE 3.6%

            Yes, ROSE!

            between 2010 and 2015. which was 2.1% MORE than the Tories rose by. And that’s AFTER the northern spillage to UKIP. You also GAINED 15 seats in England, and won marginally more from the Tories than they won from you (10-6)

            This was DEMONSTRABLY, MATHEMATICALLY a BETTER election result than 2010. In England. Not much better, but certainly no worse. in England.

            Source : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results/england

            The Coalition parties went in with 341 English seats, and came out with 325. Of course, it was the Liberals, as it always is the junior partner, whose seat numbers and votes collapsed. and the Tories, being the second party in most southern LibDem seats, swept them up – they notably took none of the northern and scottish lib dem seats, funny that…This wasn’t a labour rout in England. It was Coalition cannibalism.

            In 2005, under the sainted Tony in the post Iraq election, Labour had 8,043461 English votes. in 2015 under the doomed Ed, 8,087,684 – 40,223 MORE ENGLISH votes. Despite leakage to UKIP. And about a million more than poor Broon in 2010 – 7,042,398

            source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_breakdown_of_the_United_Kingdom_general_election,_2010#England

            But we DO know, that Tony managed to lose about 1 million ENGLISH votes between 2001 and 2005. Votes the hard facts show have never returned, though.Wonder what happened in that period?

            Source : http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/vote2005/html/england.stm

            What DID happen in 2015, was a an Utter, and quite possibly permanent, Labour Rout in Scotland. and that was damn all to do with not being right wing enough.

          • Christabel Cooper

            It rose entirely because the Lib Dems collapsed, with their votes going BOTH to the Tories and Labour.

          • martivickers

            It rose three times as fast for Lab as the Tories. And the bottom line is, it rose.

          • Christabel Cooper

            Not clear where you are getting your figures from. Of those who voted, Tories got 36.9% in 2015 +0.9% on 2010. Labour got 30.4% +1.5% on 2010. Not sure how this translates to three times as much?

            The Lib Dems lost 4.5 million votes between those elections. A staggering amount, which we always believed would all go straight to Labour. In the event we increased our number of votes by a mere 738k, with the gains from the Lib Dems offset by loses to the SNP and UKIP. We’re not going to have the benefit of that gain from the Lib Dems again.

          • martivickers

            IF you actually read the comment, you WOULD be clear where I got the numbers, because I listed the sources. Do your homework.Your figures are for the UK, not England.

            Give me strength.

            Second if you were relying on getting LibDem votes in a host of southern constituencies where Labour has barely existed for a decade, you’re a fool. That was never going to happen.

          • Christabel Cooper

            OK take your point about UK vs England, but don’t understand what you’re saying about the Lib Dems – will never be relying on them for anything anymore!
            My point was (just as bishblaize said more eloquently above) that the only reason we saw any gains in votes AT ALL was because of the Lib Dem collapse, and where there weren’t any Lib Dems to be beaten, we tended to do pretty badly. If that one-off of the Lib Dem collapse hadn’t happened, we would see our overall votes fall.

          • martivickers

            I quote

            “The Lib Dems lost 4.5 million votes between those elections. A staggering amount, which we always believed would all go straight to Labour. ”

            You see, there, right there. “WE ALWAYS BELIEVED WOULD ALL GO STRAIGHT TO LABOUR”

            IF you believed that, you were a fool. An absolute blatant complacent fool.

            It was NEVER likely. Lib Dem-Tory swing southern seats were, frankly, a choice between two tories – a proper tory, and a softer tory – AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN. Hence why the most ‘progressive’ of them – who you might have believed would come to labour, jumped straight to Greens, etc in those areas.

            The Labour vote held up, what it gained from Lib Dems, it lost, not to tories, but to UKIP. Not for reasons of economic liberalism, but, to be blatant, the long standing and oft ignored insularity of the upper working class in England – white van man and gal, for want of better phraseology – an insularity the Tories belatedly realised was a winner when they saw the response to SNP on English doorstep. Because it rises from the same, dark, not terribly rational place – “Them. It’s their fault. They’re getting stuff And i’m not” – same instinct that on a larger scale gets poor white US republicans to vote against their own economic interests, while spewing nonsense to justify themselves. ‘cos nobody, or at least very few, people ever admit to the randomer with a clipboard that they’re actually a good bit racist, a fair bit sexist, and don’t really like people not exactly like themselves. So I’ll vote to tell them’uns to get stuffed, even if it’s bad for my town, and my job. Because I’d rather feel vindicated. Sneering’s more fun, ye see….

            ~I’m not a Kool Aid drinker for any party, and as I will never be a candidate, I don’t have to pretend about the impulses of voters to make them like me. The Problem with Progress, with Compass, with Fabians, with the academic Marxists, is an insistence on ‘intellectualising’ what is a gutteral, instinctual reaction. On the idea that you ‘convince’ or ‘persuade’ voters.

            Voters don’t vote their mind, or their heart. They vote their gut, and in the must gutteral, tribal, hind-brain way. Tribal, bigotted, frightened. angry. time after time. Hell, see Scotland for that, and understand why your party is dead there for at least a generation.

            UKIP, a party of petty basketcases (and you know damn well, however much you fear to offend their voters, that that’s the truth) still do extraordinarily well on a manifesto of lunatic meccano fascism for dolts they’d never actually implement if the DID win. Because, whatever nonsense they put in the manifesto, most of which they couldn’t care less for, they know the land. And they trade in it’s base currencies. Anger. Fear. Tribalism. Xenophobia. As, frankly, through gritted teeth perhaps, do the Tories.

            Understand those impulses, and use them against themselves. Make selflessness the selfish choice. Make bigots the ‘other’ to be hated. And yes, reinforce that the ‘thieves’ taking their stuff are Bankers, not polish plumbers. And stop thinking you can make an economic ‘offer’. It’s ludicrous.

            I would think, by the way, that ‘self-reporting’ of the kind cited by bishblaize has been shown to be the farce it always is.

          • bishblaize

            I’d refer you to the analysis of voter migration patters in the last election.

            http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/Analysis_votermigration.html

            Labour lost votes to UKIP, the Tories, the SNP and Greens, but made back slightly more from the Lib Dem vote. The overall turnout was higher too, going from 65% to 66.1%. The combined upshot of which is that we got more votes from the same kind of people in the same areas. In many places, such as London, we increased our majority in seats we’d already won. But in places where there was no Lib Dem presence to take advantage of, our vote collapsed.

            Now look at these results from Greater Manchester.

            http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/greater-manchester-election-results-mp-9201756

            UKIP are posting huge gains in votes, regularly finishing 3rd or 2nd, often getting close to 10,000 votes. They probably averaged about 1000 votes at the last election in most bits of Manchester. The vote appears to come from the Lib Dems, in terms of simple vote share, but polls show that in fact the Lib Dem vote went to Labour and the Labour vote went to UKIP, which was also our anecdotal experience on the ground. The simple fact is that where losing votes hand over fist in the North.

            Finally take a glance at the colour map.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_2015#/media/File:2015UKElectionMap.svg

            From the Midlands downwards there’s almost no Labour seats outside of London any more, just a couple of seats here or there.

            As for the future, consider page 30 and 31 of the following report.

            https://smithinstitutethinktank.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/red-alert-why-labour-lost-and-what-needs-to-change.pdf

            The simple fact of the matter is that of the 100 odd seats that Labour needs to win, 90 are held by the Tories, of which 80 have no appreciable Lib Dem and Green presence.

            For anyone choosing to look, they’d find ample evidence detailing the problems that Labour has. Its vote is eroding in the Northern strongholds. Its lost as many votes to the Tories and UKIP as to the SNP and Greens. It has almost no presence outside the cities from Birmingham downward. Most of the seats it needs to win are Tory helds, and only a minority are even marginals. Those are the facts. You’re very welcome to explain those facts in a different way to Cruddas, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  • Progress needs to affiliate to the Labour Party. As does Movement for Change.

  • Ralph_Baldwin

    Just sounds weird to me.
    Not sure the public like weird.
    It’s going to be years before any of you realise how far away you have wandered from 1997
    In the article it is truly remarkable how much denial there is thus rendering the gestures within as mere empty and vain placating dribble.
    Until you have normal advocates speaking reason it will not matter what strangely labelled group or category you may identify with you are just speaking weird and weird is for people who are all but inclusive….hope you have a long exile from politics, it’s a journey you have all earned and can share in for a very long time.

    • Marco Fante

      Sour grapes, anyone?

      • Ralph_Baldwin

        Lol no quite the opposite…a fine pleasant wine…which yes is made from the sour grapes of Labours end 😉

        • Will

          You sound about 13. :s

    • John McCormack

      Ralph,
      Your Conservative friends are never going to help our country realize its potential, because it wants each of us to think only of ourselves. That can be useful, but in the end it just reinforces the position of the elites – and they don’t care about you. Fight with us for what is fair and just.

      • Ralph_Baldwin

        Keep deluding yourself…my friends create job, opportunities and hope, your friend crush it, smash meritocracy and sit on your backsides cashing in whilst relegating people to the dole que. There is nothing fair about Labour corruption, abuse and criminal behaviour.

        • John McCormack

          Meritocracy is key, and I am pleased your friends are creating jobs. More power to them. You vision of us is, however, wrong.

          By the way, there is nothing meritocratic about starting off life with a huge inheritance vs parents on the breadline. I hope you can see that.

          • Ralph_Baldwin

            See it…I did it lol. Unlike any of your leaders few whole ever had a job and who so quickly forget the poor as they use the State to live a life they never would have in a fair meritocracy lol…gTurkeys do not vote for Christmas so nothing will change in your Party.

  • LeedsUnited

    This is a positive, forward thinking article, but the Labour right must also accept that Labour left has made a big contribution to progressive social change in this country. Taking on board and accepting the argument presented in this article it is helpful to remember that the Attlee government was hardly New Labour.

  • John McCormack

    Thank you for this article.

    In the end, if our policies are right then we will win party and country.
    Those policies will be needed if, and when, our left-leaning party discovers that it is being unrealistic and we should be working to develop them now.

    What exactly would we do differently from the far left and Tories?

  • Bill Cook

    Very good, well argued article. Where/when is the Next Labour discussion going to start? Who is going to provide the organisational structure? Where will we find an effective secretariat to co-ordinate work and create coherence?

    I really hope that we are not still writing articles like this in 5 years time. A project is not a project just because we say it is. It needs setting up, managing and driving through to the achievement of its objectives. Is anyone putting their hands up for this?