While Labour should remember the past, we cannot live in it
‘Blair’s dated, right-wing version of Momentum are having a get together’ was how one Twitter user described to me Progress political weekend. But I and over 130 others, young as well as old, knew the reasons for attending. In this vital quest to rebuild the centre-left and make the Labour party a credible party of government again – no heroes were made, and no homages were paid.
Over the weekend we were treated to many brilliant speakers who resemble the bold, futuristic approach that Labour needs in order to be listened to again. Liz Kendall was bold as well as ambitious in setting a target for Labour to win 400 council seats in the upcoming local elections. Pat McFadden rightly reminded us that with the Tories ripping themselves apart, it is up to rank-and-file Labour members to secure Britain’s economic future by speaking to people about the European Union’s benefits and future potential in terms they can understand. Angela Smith, member of parliament for Penistone and Stockbridge, passionately called for no stone to be left unturned in the effort to develop a sound policy base which Labour can build upon from next year. And John Woodcock pointed out Labour’s loyalty is towards the people who need a Labour government most.
There were the breakout sessions on speechwriting and dealing with the media. The most important session however was the one I least enjoyed. It was titled, ‘Learning from losing’, and contained quotes from former Labour voters that I had never imagined could be associated with the party I love. Quotes concerning welfare, our former leader and our attitude towards middle income voters arose regularly. Barely any were positive. Remembering the past means remembering those voters whose trust we desperately need to win back. Spencer Livermore added valid and valuable comments about how, a year on, there is a danger we still have not got the message.
So it is true that Labour needs to regain economic credibility. It is at that point where voters will start to take us seriously again. From there, they need to see and be sure that we will never compromise on national security, then fully understand that we understand they do not want big government dictating how every pound of their income should be spent. Remembering the past is partly therefore to recognise the progress we had made in government; a past that supported and championed enterprise, enabled the economy to grow and public investment to rise reducing inequality.
Just defending the record of the last Labour government however, as the leadership election showed, is not going to be enough. Just as Tony Blair encouraged us to move on from the 1980s, we have to move on from the successes of the 2000s. Times have changed, and so should we. Labour should acknowledge its shortcomings, not least on how much we spent in office, and regain, at the very least, the attention of the British people.
With Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation causing yet more rumblings of discontent in the Conservative party, Labour has a great opportunity to position ourselves as the credible party of government, not by offering a shopping list of measure, but a focused set of solutions that matter to the British people. A bold vision, bravely and effectively communicated, along with the political will and leadership to carry it out, is how the Labour party stays future-focused.
Liam Martin-Lane is a Progress member
Angela Smith, economic credibility, John Woodcock, Liz Kendall, national security, Pat McFadden, PPW16, Spencer Livermore