Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Out of the wilderness

Moderates must develop the ideas, policies and sense of mission to extend Labour’s coalition beyond the university-educated and those that work in the public sector, writes Chris Carter

‘We need to reconnect with our working-class roots’, ‘we need not be afraid of the word “socialist” anymore’ were the cries that rang out across Newport working men’s club. I, along with a school friend, were attending one of our first Labour leadership election hustings. It was so exciting for both of us a few years ago to be young, idealistic and socialist. To witness the passion of members, utterly ferocious following devastating defeat at the polls. This was the year not of 2015, but 2010.

The charges levelled against that era of Labour governance are familiar to many, even to those whose party membership stretches from two to twenty years ago. Awash with criticism, leadership contenders admitted in 2010 ‘we ran out of ideas in government.’ Though painful to hear, it was difficult to deny.

Responding to this, that leadership election led a group of moderate Labour member of parliaments to come together to own the idea that the party should refresh and renew its offering to the country. After 13 years of exhaustive government, this effort culminated in the production of ‘The Purple Book’. A vast array of policy proposals ranging from devolution to the economy. The moderate wing of the Labour party had – and still has – some of the greatest minds of our party’s generation. The Purple Book gave ballast to the theory that the Labour party could be led back into government after just one term in opposition, a platform which could quickly dispatch the notion the party was bereft of ideas.

The Purple Book’s themes were rooted in creating measures to reengage communities who felt disappointed by Labour in power. Reconnecting with voters was the core theme.

Years, and a couple more leadership elections later, Corbynism is doing precisely the opposite of reconnecting with working-class voters. Our estrangement from the working classes of Britain grows more profound by the day. Canterbury and Kensington are fantastic seats to hold, but come at the expense of Mansfield and Middlesbrough.

The voter coalition our support rests on is brittle too. Young voters are the most promiscuous of voters and cannot be relied upon indefinitely. The troubling realities of power and government will drive away those with the highest hopes and most unmanageable expectations. We cannot return to the era of one-term Labour governments, too many have suffered from our time in opposition. Across Europe in France, the Netherlands and Italy, socialist parties are lucky to last more than one term. Examples of multiple termed, leftwing European parties are a rare breed.

Labour need the ideas to solidify, reach out and hold onto support. Corbynism benefits not from the support of skilled working classes, but university-educated, middle classes and public sector workers. If Theresa May’s election was anything to go by, we need far more support to win power and reconnect with some of the 13 million voters who chose not the Labour party.

For that must be the basis of modernisers renewal. We have the brains, ideas and energy, I challenge those who ought to be leading us out of the wilderness to have courage to act. Give us the ideas, policies, and sense of mission to take us forward.


Chris Carter is a Progress member. He tweets at @ChrisJCart



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