The Labour Party Need 2020 Vision

by Charlie_East_West on May 11, 2015

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The Labour Party is dead. Long live the Labour Party.

As Labour faces an existential crisis after a shattering election defeat, a period of navel gazing and endless discussions about whether they are more electable as a left-wing or centre ground party has begun. Welcome to the battle for the soul of the Labour Party.

Looking around the political landscape for a place to live is the wrong approach. It is a form of political location snobbery that is outdated, insular and potentially alienating to millions of voters. The public doesn’t care about political direction, it cares about what is needed. Instead, Labour should take this period of soul searching as a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop what they should be looking for – to reboot itself towards reconnecting with the voters before the next general election – their own 2020 vision.

First of all, Labour should avoid lurching to either the left or the right. Tribal political ideology is passé. It is self regarding, limiting, and ultimately restricting the ability to win over voters from all directions. Instead, Labour should focus on developing policies that actually work and engage with the electorate.

Secondly, Labour needs to stop putting party first and people second. One of the most unedifying elements to Labour is their consistent stubborn tribalism. They absolutely refuse to engage with other political organisations who might be able to offer valuable alliances – in particular, the Green Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. All of these parties have a similar progressive heritage to Labour, and potentially all of these parties will walk down a similar path in terms of policy and ideology to Labour. In effect, Labour should pick opportunities to embrace these parties and form a progressive / anti Tory alliance before the 2020 election.

One of the major failings from progressive so-called left-wing parties is that they are collectively crowding the space. They are providing too many cooks to the broth. They are splitting the vote. In 2020, collective party political willpower combined with minimal tribalism will almost certainly be needed to beat the Tories – a task that will be made even harder by the likely gerrymandering in the form of Tory-led boundary reform.

Thirdly, Labour needs to rebrand itself both in terms of name, identity and messaging. As a radical first step, the Labour Party could look at ditching its name and rebrand as The Progressive Party – a name that is more inclusive, modern and open minded – whilst potentially reclaiming the progressive mantle from the likes of the Green Party or the SNP.

One of the major problems with Labour right now is that they are both tarnished by New Labour and still tarnished with a lazy misplaced perception that they are too left wing. Ed Miliband’s Labour Party supported Trident and austerity, so it could never genuinely be legitimised as being “left-wing”.

Labour are tarnished with negative narratives surrounding their past failures – an inevitable consequence of a defeated party. But, already a debate is being developed to try and push the party in one direction or the other – when actually what is needed is a different debate. A different vision.

Direction of ideas are needed, not directional ideology. Just look at Podemos in Spain, NDP in Alberta, SNP in Scotland or Syriza in Greece. If the ideas are good, are relevant to the needs of the country and are communicated in a sensible but compelling way – the public will vote for an organisation, regardless of the direction of travel.

Labour seriously need to understand this, otherwise it will lose again and again and again. The problem will not be solved by choosing a female leader or an ethnic minority leader or a Northern working-class leader. The problem will not be solved by becoming more left-wing or right-wing. The problem will not be solved by inverted snobbery against the Tories. The problem will only be solved by implementing ideas that work, that resonate to the mainstream and that get votes.

Labour have built and locked themselves into their own ivory tower of disconnect with the electorate. From now on it should be less about power hungry leadership struggles and policy diktats from the top of the party. Labour must reconnect back to the grassroots and the wider public. Candidates should come from a wider hinterland rather than just being plucked from party activists, flunkies, special advisors, thinktanks or trade unions. Policy should be diligently tested and given the chance to breathe through open dialogue with the public.

Labour must go back to being the party that engages with community. They should actually provide authentic true meaning to “big society” rebranded as “progressive communities” – This is where the soul of any rebooted Labour lies. A network of local collective communities out of where the Labour Party began – but within the context of modern Britain – work, campaigns, unions, clubs and new societies.

This community engagement must live and breathe rather than just offering a few platitudes and meaningless rhetorical soundbites. Labour should begin the process of having active engagement throughout the whole country through town hall debates, rallies, protests, marches and through social media. This is an area where the SNP have been so successful. They have taken old school political campaigning to the town halls, streets and laptops to fully connect with voters.

Finally, Labour needs to compete better. It needs to defend itself coherently and debunk the Tories with consistency, substance and guile. They must begin to develop and communicate their proposition in a way that is clearly differentiating their positioning whilst challenging conventional thinking – but in a way that people clearly see as a suitable way to run the country. For all his failings, this is something that Tony Blair understood. He understood what was needed to win in 1997. In Scotland in 2015, this is something that the SNP understand. It is about presenting a clear message, but with an alternative vision, based on socially democratic values that convey a better Britain rather than the endless model of neoliberal triangulation.

Even the Tories understand this. They succeed because they consistently turn a nasty and unfair political and economic strategy into a simple and easy to understand message that people connect with through huge amounts of fear, loathing and ignorance.

Our country needs a strong Labour Party. But for Labour to become strong, it needs to become smart. This must happen if Labour is ever get close to winning general elections, and more importantly, actually mean something again.

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