Wes Streeting sets out why our Labour tradition is needed more than ever
Thank you Progress for dragging us from our beds two days after polling day.
So, to the election results.
We won control of Plymouth and Kirklees Councils and became the largest party in Trafford.
We gained seats in places we need to win in the next general election like Thurrock, Calder Valley and South Swindon which, replicated at a general election might even see us replace the Tories as the largest party.
And our results in London were the best since 1971.
It is true that we didn’t win our most ambitious targets in London – that’s always the risk you run when choosing to have ambitious targets.
But the huge campaigns waged there saw gains in Tory heartlands and Labour within just 200 votes of winning in Wandsworth.
So our candidates, and the activists who poured their time, effort and energy into supporting them – including my mate Owen Jones who’s taken a kick-in during the past 48 hours – can hold their heads high today.
But the aftermath of any election should be a moment of serious self-reflection.
Last year, voters refused to give any party a majority in Parliament and these results suggest they haven’t really changed their minds about that.
The Tories were the net losers overall, but we also lost seats:
- In places where we only recently returned Labour MPs like Lincoln and Derby.
- And In places where we need to gain Labour MPs like Amber Valley, Milton Keynes and Redditch.
And let’s remember:
- The Tories lost their Home Secretary over the Windrush scandal – in Polling Week.
- The Health Secretary announced that women may have died needlessly because of a failure to invite them to breast cancer screenings – in Polling Week.
- Tory Peers have given their Government a battering over Brexit in the House of Lords – in Polling Week.
And, remember too that, Ed Miliband’s results in 2014 came a year before we crashed to one of our worst defeats in history and can hardly be regarded as some high water mark.
The results of Thursday were neither triumph nor disaster. Some solid performances, but room for necessary improvement.
As for our own terrible news coverage, let’s talk about Barnet.
I am so sorry for those brilliant Labour councillors who lost their seats in a Borough that we were supposed to win.
I’m sorry for those candidates who I know would have been some of the best councillors in the country.
I’m sorry because these defeats were entirely avoidable and entirely self-inflicted.
But most of all, I am ashamed, because I never thought I’d see Labour losing seats because of our failure to tackle racism in our ranks.
In my own constituency, the Jewish vote collapsed.
Our biggest problem with antisemitism hasn’t been the small number of Jew-hating racists with Labour membership cards or even the larger number of people who carelessly use antisemitic tropes like comparisons between Jews and Nazis or about Jewish money, Jewish power and Jewish influence without realising what they’re doing.
It’s with those people – including some of the most senior figures in our movement – who’ve repeatedly denied, downplayed or dismissed concerns about antisemitism as ‘smears’, accusing those of who’ve repeatedly spoken up for our Jewish constituents of ‘weaponising antisemitism’.
So imagine what Jewish voters thought when a week before polling day the General Secretary of Britain’s largest trade union appeared on the front of the Daily Telegraph threatening Labour MPs with deselection for having the temerity to speak out.
Well, I’ve got a message for people like Len:
When you dismiss concerns about antisemitism you create the conditions that allow it to fester.
When Jeremy Corbyn accepts that we have a serious problem, why won’t you get behind our Leader?
And if you think that throwing your weight around like a pound shop Tony Soprano will silence our concerns over antisemitism you’ve got another thing coming, because silence is complicity and no abuse, intimidation or threats of deselection will stop me from standing up for my constituents in Ilford North.
I have had just about enough of having my motivations impugned and being told to join the Tories.
I won my Council seat from the Tories in 2014.
I bucked the trend to win Ilford North from the Tories in 2015.
This week, we won every target ward in my constituency and our Borough made more gains from the Tories than any other Labour Council in the country.
So here’s a message for the Rachael from Swindon twitter account and every other alt-left troll squawking in the swampbox: instead of telling me to join the Tories, why don’t you ask me how we beat them.
So how does Labour move forward? Together, ideally.
As Paul Mason said this week and I quote: “to win swing seats in the Midlands and South of England, Labour needs to get even more outside its comfort zone and fight for centrist votes”.
Paul’s right, but I did laugh when I read it.
This is the same Paul Mason who came here to tell us all to set up a new centrist party last year!
Of course, we don’t need to do that. They’re like buses it seems. You wait thirty years for a new centrist party and then three come along at once. But these buses are on the road to nowhere.
I’m not a centrist. My politics are centre left.
Sure, I have much in common with the social liberalism of Ruth Davidson, I’ll happily walk through the voting lobbies with Anna Soubry to defeat a Hard Brexit and when Tom Tugenhadt warns of the threat to our national security posed by Russia I take him seriously.
But there’s a reason they’re in the same party as Jacob Rees Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith and why I’m in the same party as John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn.
Our parties are coalitions of people whose politics have shared roots, even if they occupy different branches.
It’s why when John McDonnell talks about clamping down on tax havens and money laundering I’m with him 100 per cent on the Treasury Committee or when Kate Osamor warns of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen I’m in the House of Commons chamber backing her up.
For the past three years, our coalition inside the Labour Party has fractured and, collectively, we’ve struggled to put it back together.
We seem to barely understand each other, which is why we’ve made the terrible mistake of lumping in so many idealistic, energetic and young new members who want to change the world in with the old battle-hardened Millies from the 1980s who want to carry on the internal fight.
And it’s why some of them think centre left politics is about the pursuit of power without principle or purpose and labour under the misguided illusion that they could eject social democrats from the party and still win a general election.
I love the Labour Party, which is why I hate to see Labour losing general elections.
Only a broad coalition within the Party can win the broad coalition of voters we need to win the next general election.
The only question facing every member of the Party is whether we have the collective will to do it.
I want to conclude with some straight-talking honest politics about the state of the centre left.
With a few exceptions, centre left parties around the world have been routed. We’ve taken a battering in internal Labour Party selections and there is no quick fix or instruction manual that can tell us how to fix it.
For too long now we’ve been, not just out of office, but out of answers, too.
Mainstream Labour politicians have sounded too much like tinkerers and technocrats and, worse still, sore losers.
So let’s stop licking our wounds and complaining about somebody else’s ideas and start standing up for our own.
Our Labour tradition is needed now, more than ever, in the battle of ideas about the future of Britain beyond Brexit.
Across western democracies people are sending a clear message to their leaders: that they feel left behind, unheard and increasingly dislocated in a world that is changing around them.
They know they’ve borne the pain of an economic crisis they didn’t create, while those responsible have made the biggest gains in the last ten years.
They’ve seen the hollowing out of traditional industries that provided decent jobs and good prospects for their towns.
And they know that their children face the prospect of growing up to be poorer than their parents.
We’re at the start of an industrial revolution on a pace and scale the world has never seen. It will have a huge impact on the future of work, making the founding mission of our Labour Party even more relevant in this century than it was in the last.
So in the spirit of 1945, ‘let us face the future’ and apply our traditional values to the challenges ahead.
The values that formed the basis of the postwar consensus that founded the welfare state are needed now as we reimagine the modern state for the challenges of the 21st century.
And the values that formed the basis of international institutions and the NATO alliance are needed again to forge a new future for Britain on the global stage in an increasingly uncertain world.
These are our enduring values:
To protect people against the problems they cannot face alone, to protect their rights at work and to spread power, wealth and opportunity.
To tackle poverty and climate change.
And international crime and terrorism.
To defeat those who would threaten our security, our freedom and our democratic way of life.
This isn’t a moment for Britain to retreat from the world.
Or to believe at a moment of crisis for the worst excesses of capitalism that there is no alternative.
So let’s pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, roll up our sleeves and get stuck into the battle of ideas that inspire people our Party and people across the country.
Wes Streeting is member of parliament for Ilford North. He tweets @wesstreeting
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