Labour is lost, here’s the way out

The Labour Party is lost. It has lost its way, its purpose and identity. Its MPs and members are fighting amongst themselves, rather than fighting against the Tories, or for the people it is supposed to represent.

The Labour Party is really struggling; struggling with internal conflict and confusion, struggling with the issues of how to remain relevant and how to appeal to the whole nation (rather than just 35%), whilst remaining true to its core principles. The recent Welfare Bill debacle clearly demonstrates the level of confusion in the Party regarding the problem of reconciling its core principles with the need to become more electable.

Labour desperately needs to find itself; to re-discover its purpose, to re-focus and re-brand, to re-connect with voters and regain their trust, so as to once again become the ‘natural’ Party of ‘the people’.

The way to achieve this is not through a ‘what’s in it for me?’ manifesto, with a shopping list of policies; each aimed at a separate section of the electorate. The election proved this to be not only uninspiring, but also unsuccessful.

Labour needs a powerful, straightforward and clear ‘brand’ and promise. It needs a grand narrative that is not only distinctive and true to its values, but also appealing to the whole nation.

In order to do this, to show that it is the Party of the people- of all the people, Labour needs to step back and take a wider view of our society, in order to develop a true ‘one nation’ approach and message.

Labour needs to ask itself; what cares and concerns are shared by all voters?

What is the universal need and desire of every member of the population?

What does everyone want, that only Labour can provide?

What should be our promise to the nation?

The answer is security.

 

Our society is characterised by insecurity: insecurity over issues of globalisation, terrorism, immigration, unemployment, poverty, crime, illness, and old age- these are voters’ primary concerns.

It was insecurity regarding the economy that drove voters away from Labour and towards the Conservatives.

It was insecurity over jobs, houses and the breakdown of community that drove people away from Labour and towards UKIP.

As the Conservatives’ election campaign clearly showed; fear and insecurity are powerful motivators. The dual ‘threats’ of the SNP and a supposedly ‘economy-crashing’ Labour Party did massive damage to our chances of success. A lack of security has been very useful for the Conservatives.

 However, many of Labour’s greatest successes came from promising and providing greater security for working people: the security of the Welfare State ‘safety net’; the security of the minimum wage.

Labour’s next leader should therefore explicitly focus on the issue of security; which covers voters’ biggest concerns. This would include policies on the following areas:

  • Security against another financial crash- sound economic policy, combining investment and deficit reduction, to keep our economy strong and better prepared to withstand shocks
  • Secure jobs– rather than casual, or zero hours contracts; jobs that are secure against the threat of outsourcing, or cheap imported labour, through stronger unions and a higher minimum wage which is more rigorously enforced
  • Secure housing: secure from the bedroom tax, or homelessness due to housing benefit cuts, and no threat from unscrupulous landlords. A programme to build much more social housing would follow from this promise, which of course would also provide a huge boost to employment figures and the economy
  • Secure health provision– protecting our health services from the threat of privatisation
  • Restoring the security of the Welfare State safety net, repairing the damage done by the Tories, which would include cast-iron guarantees on pensions, assistance during times of unemployment (whilst reinstating the contributory principle), sickness and disability benefits
  • Security from crime– always a concern amongst the elderly and the working class. Labour’s focus on reducing poverty and unemployment will inevitably mean less crime. Promising greater investment in the police force, to combat Tory cuts to the service, would also be a vote-winner
  • Security in our old age– better care provision through integrated health and care services
  • Security for our children– protecting the NHS and education, addressing the housing shortage and spiralling house prices
  • Security from terrorist attacks- through greater investment in our armed forces and police force
  • Restoring our military security– By making huge cuts to our armed forces, based on a desire to cut costs, rather than on an accurate assessment of our needs, the Conservatives have put the whole country at risk. Investment in our armed forces would also provide a huge boost to employment figures, as well as a knock-on effect to the economy. This would also be a source of apprenticeships in many skilled trades, which would of course do much to counter the issue of working-class unemployment.
  • Energy Security– huge investment into renewable energy can not only bring us greater energy security, it can help us become a world-leader in this field, thereby creating many jobs and boosting the economy. It will obviously also help us to meet the required targets and do our bit towards combating climate change. Renewable energy is the future of energy and it is where government policy must take us.

It has often been said, that the UK (and England in particular) is at heart, ‘small-c’ conservative. If that is true, then that itself indicates insecurity- the fear of change and the need and desire for things to remain as they always were. However, even though insecurity may seem to naturally drive voters towards the Tories or UKIP, as we’ve seen from the discussion above, many of the main areas of insecurity should be naturally strong ground for Labour.

A focus on security should also gain us votes from the groups we most need to win over, who we lost in the last election- the working class and pensioners.

A continual association of security, with the Labour Party, could do much to improve our reputation for economic competence.

A focus on security attacks the Tories on their home ground- issues such as crime, the economy and unemployment have often been seen as Tory strongholds; targeting these issues gives us the best chance of converting voters who chose the Conservatives at the last election.

A focus on security can therefore point out the failings of the Tories, as well as Labour’s superior alternative.

 

The first duty of government is the security of its people. The Conservatives have failed in this fundamental duty.

The Conservatives have made life much more insecure, for all but the wealthiest 1% of the population. Labour would make life much more secure for everyone.

Even though the Conservatives have prospered through preying on people’s insecurities and fears, they have never explicitly branded or proved themselves as the Party of security. This opens the door for Labour to rebrand itself and regain the public’s trust and support.

 ‘Labour: securing your future’

 – This ‘brand’, message and focus would enable us to remain true to our core values and core constituency, whilst simultaneously reaching out to the whole of the population, with an offer that is attractive to everyone.

‘Labour: securing your future’

– This would be a true ‘One Nation’ approach.

Security: that’s what we all want- isn’t it?

 

Brian Back

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The problem with ‘career’ politicians

Does politics make you angry?

It enrages me.

I’m angry about the bedroom tax and tax cuts for the rich. I’m disgusted by benefit sanctions and the resulting growth of food banks. I’m horrified by flawed ATOS assessments and the subsequent deaths of wrongly reassessed claimants – some through suicide. I’m appalled by cuts to public services. I’m outraged by rising inequality, and incensed by tax avoidance and the ‘one law for us, one law for them’ society we are living in. Most of all, I am enraged by the thought that the Tories now seem to feel that they have a mandate to intensify their assault on the welfare state we all rely on.

This inequality and injustice infuriates me, and I get even angrier every time I hear a Tory politician trying to justify it. It is anger at this injustice that made me join the Labour Party- along with a fierce desire for a less cruel and more humane society. Isn’t that what motivates and drives all of us on the left?

Anger is a powerful motivator, but it is also a useful lens through which to study our political representatives. Ed Miliband’s move back towards ‘old’ Labour values and a focus on social justice was really pleasing and reflects what I believe most of us want the Labour Party to be. However, this shift back towards a more traditional version of the Labour Party was missing one vital ingredient- anger.

Ever since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, I have become increasingly frustrated at the ineffectual responses of many Labour politicians to the pronouncements and policies of the Tories. Time and time again, I heard Tory policies which are ruining people’s lives being discussed in a calm, intellectual, dispassionate manner. I heard phrases such as ‘this is unacceptable’, or, ‘under a Labour government we would seek to find savings elsewhere’. To the people whose lives are drastically affected by cruel and unfair Tory policies, would this have seemed like an adequate response?

Many people are angry about our increasingly unfair and unjust society- about increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity, as well as decreasing support for those who are vulnerable and in-need. They’re angry, why aren’t our politicians?

Our biggest problem in politics today is voter disillusionment and disengagement. People are turning away from politics because politicians are increasingly seen to be all the same: upper middle-class, Oxbridge educated, career politicians, who are only in it for themselves and who just don’t ‘get it’.

The most recent example of this is Harriett Harman’s decision not to oppose Tory proposals to cut tax credits, which will unfortunately be seen as another example of an out-of -touch politician.

This is a much bigger problem for Labour than for the Conservatives. The failure of Labour politicians to show that they ‘get it’ is one of the main reasons that many of our core voters are abandoning politics, or being lured away by UKIP. Had all our ‘natural’ supporters voted Labour, the election result may have significantly different. When Labour politicians like Harriett Harman choose not to oppose policies that will severely affect working-class lives, it will always be seen as proof that Labour have lost their way and abandoned their core principles. Although we can understand Harman’s reasoning; that Labour needs to repair its damaged reputation, this will be seen as putting the Party and its politicians, before those whom the Party is supposed to represent. If the Labour Party wants any chance at winning again, then Labour needs politicians who can win back working-class voters, by showing genuine understanding and concern for their plight.

To address this, we should consider the example of some of our most revered former Labour politicians; Kinnock, Bevan, and Hardie- all known for their oratory skills, for their ability to rouse an audience and ‘rally the troops’. Their impassioned denouncement of inequality and injustice came from their first-hand experience of these things. Their experience of hardship and poverty was the well-spring of their passion. Quite simply, they obviously did ‘get it’, which is why they were successful. Nye Bevan didn’t hide his anger, famously stating: “No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin”. Can you imagine any contemporary politicians saying anything similar? I can’t, and that’s the problem.

The policies of the Conservatives and their attitudes towards the poorest and most vulnerable would seem to deserve that kind of response, and if you ask anyone who is affected by these things, that is the response you get.

If the Labour Party wants to connect with and represent our core voters, instead of losing them to either UKIP or fatalistic apathy, we need to start speaking their language and showing that we really get it. Unfortunately, to really get it, you have to feel it; you have to have experienced it. We have many talented middle class MPs, with great intellectual gifts, but they lack the passion that comes from first-hand experience of poverty, deprivation, inequality and injustice. Therefore we must get more working class MPs, like the Labour titans of old. In the same way that the under-representation of women has been addressed, we need to positively discriminate in favour of working class candidates.

We must find our new people’s champions, who can rouse the troops with their righteous anger, revive people’s faith in politics and lead them back to the voting booths. Only then, will we once again be the party of ‘the people’.

Brian Back

Would Corbyn lead us back into the political wilderness?

Let me make this clear from the start; I am backing Liz Kendall for the leadership of the Labour Party. I believe that she has the vision, the strength, the passion, conviction and charisma that we require in a leader, if we want to be successful.

When I read that Jeremy Corbyn was ahead in the polls, I was understandably dismayed. However, my dismay came; not at the thought of Corbyn leading the Party, but at the thought of how members of the Party would react to this news.

I was right to be dismayed, as various explanations of how Corbyn would be a ‘disaster’ for the Party soon surfaced and the predictable spats on social media dutifully followed. This has clearly demonstrated to me, that the biggest danger we face within the Party, is not the issue of going too far to the left, right, or centre, but the problem of disunity. It is division, rather than political position, which should be our primary concern.

All Labour members must remember:

  • We are defined much more by what unites us, than what divides us
  • We all want the same thing- a fairer society; only our methods for achieving this differ

As long as we are guided by the values and principles we profess to hold- those of fairness, equality and democracy, then any of the candidates should be able to do a decent job of leading the Party.

Every one of the candidates has grown and bloomed, because of the demands of the leadership contest and they have all shown themselves to be very worthy of our support.

So let us not be so quick to write off any of the candidates, because if we do that, then we are doing the Tories’ work for them.

Unity and respect must be our watchwords, which must guide our course. Deviation from that course will also be doing the Tories’ work for them.

So, could we be united under Corbyn’s leadership?

It has been said that Corbyn has always held true to the fundamental values and principles of the Labour movement throughout his political career. So, guided by these principles, if Jeremy Corbyn wins; in the same spirit as that which got him nominated, he will surely elect for a ‘big-tent’ shadow cabinet, in which all sides of the Party are represented, so as to ensure a genuine debate on Party direction and policy.

Just as I have previously advocated for a key shadow cabinet position for Corbyn; if Kendall wins, then in the same spirit; we should all advocate for key positions for each of the other candidates, if Corbyn wins. Now that we have seen the talent, intelligence and support they each have, why on earth would anyone sideline them, their ideas, or their supporters? I have no doubt that each of the potential leaders would feel the same and would therefore also advocate this course of action.

As long as we are united, and we utilise all the talent in the Party, then we will be a truly formidable force to be reckoned with.

If we could all take off our Burnham/Cooper/Corbyn/Kendall-coloured glasses for just a moment, then maybe we could see the value in each of them and get the best out of all of them.

It seems to me, that Burnham, Cooper and Kendall supporters wouldn’t find it too difficult to accept any one of those three as leader, as they are all said to be clustered around the centre-ground of the Party. Corbyn, however, has been derided for being a ‘dinosaur’, for his supposedly outdated, far-left, socialist ideas.

The first thing to say about this, is that insulting terms such as dinosaur are particularly unhelpful and will damage the Party, because of the enmity they will cause, far more than they will damage Corbyn, or his campaign. But, disregarding that, how should we feel about the prospect of a Corbyn victory- would it be as terrible as his detractors suggest? Let’s consider what he represents, before condemning him out of hand.

If we are truthful, we know that Corbyn’s socialist politics is the same politics that drew us to the Labour Party in the first place. Whilst we may have become what we claim is to be much more ‘realistic’, are we really prepared to completely disavow that fervent faith in left-wing ideas and principles that drew us together in the first place? Surely, if we are honest, we can see that, just like Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, he shares many of our values and views, so therefore deserves an equal amount of respect.

It has been stated that to elect Corbyn as our leader, would be to choose more ‘wilderness years’ of the kind that Labour faced under Michael Foot’s leadership. This a selective view of history, favoured by the right of the Party, which ignores the effect of the Falklands war on Thatcher’s popularity and the effect of the SDP on the Labour vote.

If we are comparing Corbyn to Foot, we should recall that Foot was elected as the compromise candidate, who was attempting to bring unity to the warring factions of Healey and Benn. It could be seen that the biggest problem Labour had under Foot’s leadership was not that he was ‘unelectable’, but was instead, disunity, which was of course clearly demonstrated by the defection of the ‘Gang of Four’ to form the SDP. The clear lesson here, is not that the Party would suffer, due to being too left, or right-wing, but that the Party’s biggest problem is disunity and internal strife.

History has shown us that the biggest threat to any party’s success is disunity. It was disunity that cost Labour the election in 1983 and disunity that brought down the Tories in 1997.

So, in answer to the question in the title: ‘Would Corbyn lead us back into the political wilderness?’ The answer is no, and neither would any of the other candidates. It is disunity and division which would be much more likely to take us there.

Now I am not saying that you should back Corbyn. I am going to continue to support Liz Kendall and you should continue to support your favoured candidate.

What I am saying is that we must respect every member of the Party and avoid disunity at all costs. Let’s focus on our similarities- our shared values and goals, rather than on minor differences in preferred methods to achieve those goals.

We must remember that we didn’t join the Party because of any one particular candidate; we joined THE LABOUR PARTY, full stop. So, whoever wins the most votes in the leadership contest, we must support them, because failure to support the elected leader equates to a failure to support the Party.

The new leader will represent the views of the Party that we joined and support, and it is our comrades; our brothers and sisters in arms; our fellow Party members- who share our values and goals, who will have voted them in, so how could they be wrong?

  • The voters are never wrong.

Brian Back

What’s the point of the leadership contest? What’s the point of the Labour Party? – Answers to these questions from the Cardiff hustings

Many commentators in the media have questioned the wisdom of holding a leadership contest so soon after the election defeat, claiming there is no point having a leadership contest, without first undergoing a thorough analysis of the reasons for the defeat.

Some commentators have gone even further; claiming that not only is there no point in the leadership contest, there is no point in the Labour Party, as the election result showed that Labour has lost its way; lost its purpose, its identity, its core supporters and its relevance.

The Leadership hustings in Cardiff proved all those commentators wrong.

Whilst the election result was undoubtedly a huge blow, the hustings showed that Winston Churchill’s advice; to “never let a good crisis go to waste”, has been taken to heart by the Labour Party.

Coming off the back of an election defeat, the leadership contest has forced us to really think about what our party stands for.

The contest has brought a huge response from Party members; at meetings, hustings and on social media sites. Members have very clearly shown that they are not lacking in vision or purpose.

Party members know why they joined the Labour Party; they are unwavering in their belief and are demanding that their representatives in parliament demonstrate the same levels of conviction and commitment. This has forced the candidates to clearly define their vision of the Labour Party; what it is, and what it should be. Under the fierce scrutiny of dedicated, and at times, angry Party members, the candidates have been held to account; forced to prove their values and their worth; to prove their right to vie for the leadership of the Party. Faced with this ‘trial by fire’, the candidates have been forced to raise their game, to become the best that they can be.

Some commentators have claimed that the leadership contest is uninspiring; if that was ever true before, it is not the case now. What we saw in Cardiff; was four strong candidates, at the peak of their powers.

The candidates have been forced to carefully consider their positions on a huge range of issues, to the extent which, they each now have something close to a fully formed programme for the Party.

The contest has ensured that the candidates are ‘firing on all cylinders’, not just intellectually, but also physically and emotionally. The contest has demanded energy, commitment, conviction and passion from the candidates. In short, it has demanded that they become (if they were not already) the kind of politicians that we all want them to be.

At the hustings, the candidates not only showed their passion and commitment; they also all very clearly demonstrated that they share ‘real’ Labour values. Whilst their programmes may differ, their goal is the same- a fairer and better society.

At a time when disillusionment with ‘career’ politicians is rife, the contest has shown us that we have a team of talented leaders who share genuine Labour values.

The contest has shown us that we have leaders that we can believe in.

The contest has shown members how strong our team is; shown us that they deserve our support; shown us that the Labour Party is very much alive and well.

Not only that; the contest has also shown us that despite the occasional angry clashes of their supporters on social media; the candidates are very much part of the same team- they are all on the same side. This was clearly shown at the hustings by Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn, who, despite their seemingly (or supposedly) opposing views, were very respectful and friendly to each other; often seen conferring on various questions and points throughout the event.

Not only were the candidates respectful; the audience were too. There was no heckling or booing, only intense concentration, and spontaneous outbursts of applause.

I was proud to be in the audience in Cardiff- proud of the Party’s MPs and proud of its members.

The hustings showed us that not only are the candidates very much part of the same team; it showed that that we are all on the same side. Regardless of which candidate we may favour; we all share the same values and goals:

We all want a fairer society.

We all want more equal opportunities.

We all want to take the fight to the Tories.

We all want to win!

So, what became very obvious at the hustings; was that, irrespective of who becomes our next leader, we should unite behind them and give them our full support, because they have all proved that they are strong candidates, who we can all be proud of. They are all ‘true’ Labour MPs, who share our values and goals.

We all know who the real enemy is- the Tories, so it’s time to focus all our energies on fighting them, instead of each other.

We all want the same thing.

We’re all on the same side.

  • That is what the hustings showed us.

So, when considering the questions: what is the point of the leadership contest or of the Labour Party itself, the hustings provided all the answers. We can see that the contest has already been a great success:

It has energised MPs and members.

It has rejuvenated, revitalized and renewed the Party.

  • And that is what I saw at the hustings!

I saw a party that was sure of itself:

Sure of its values

Sure of its purpose

Sure in its determination to take on the challenge of winning back voters

Sure in its determination to fight against the unfair and unjust policies of the Tories

At the hustings, I saw a party whose MPs have real talent, drive and conviction.

I saw a party that has a huge, ever-growing, dedicated and deeply committed membership.

I saw a party that I can be proud of.

At the hustings in Cardiff, I saw a party that can win.

Brian Back