Labour’s reality check

Stephen Kinnock MP says that if the Labour Party is to return to government in 2020 it must begin by accepting the reality of modern Britain.

On 7 May a sickening feeling spread through the Labour Party. It started with the exit poll and continued through to the early hours of the morning as it became clear that David Cameron was going to command a parliamentary majority.

The picture across the UK was mixed: a boost in London but obliterated in Scotland and soundly beaten across most of middle England. The Welsh result was equally as mixed: gains in Cardiff Central but the Vale of Clwyd and the Gower, held by Labour for over 100 years, both lost. Overall the Labour vote went up in Wales but so too did the Plaid, Tory, Green and UKIP vote, and UKIP became the third party in Wales. If in England Labour were too left wing and in Scotland Labour were not left wing enough, then where exactly did we sit in Wales?

The Assembly elections next year will be the first big test of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and will signpost the extent to which Labour has bounced back since May. It is the first milestone in the road to recovery, and to victory in 2020. To re-build effectively we need an inspiring new vision and a compelling new narrative that appeal to more than just the traditional Labour supporter.

Understanding where it all went so wrong is the first step. In my view the fundamental weakness of the last five years was that we knew what we were against (eg the bedroom tax and zero hours contracts) but we didn’t seem to know what we were for. The electorate were looking to Labour to provide an aspirational vision for society, and a story of hope for the future, but we came up short.

In my recently published pamphlet – A New Nation: Building a United Kingdom of Purpose, Patriotism and Resilience –  I argue that if Labour is to have a chance of winning in 2020 then we must do three things:

First, we have to convince the British people that we can once again be trusted with the economy, and to do this we must start with a critique of the British economy today, which can be encapsulated in the phrase ‘all that glitters is not gold’. Yes, headline growth and employment figures are moving in the right direction, but lift the stone and you see a very different story: low productivity, ballooning personal debt, a yawning trade deficit, creaking infrastructure, dangerous over-reliance on financial services, and a chasm opening up between London and the rest of the country. Once we have identified the deep structural weaknesses that have to be addresses, then we must make it crystal-clear that our top priority in government will be to balance the books by modernising the welfare state, and by delivering purposeful policies that foster investment, competitiveness and sustained growth. The central pillar of our plan to build an economy of purpose must be a manufacturing renaissance, delivered through a comprehensive industrial strategy.

Second, we have to reclaim patriotism. I am a proud Welshman, proud to be British, and I love the UK as a united country of fair play and liberty, bound together by our shared values of compassion and of courage. In the chapter of my pamphlet entitled ‘Federalise or Die’ I argue that our new progressive patriotism should be underpinned by our commitment to radically decentralising power and resources, putting English regions on a similar footing to Scotland and Wales. The devolution settlement in the 1990s was the right way to go, bringing decision makers closer to the people, but it was also a typically British example of step-by-step pragmatism which has created grey zones all over our constitutional map. However, compared to English Votes For English Laws (EVEL), the devolution of the ‘90s was a model of thoughtfulness. EVEL is the ultimate example of the ‘make do and muddle through’ approach that is the Tories’ default approach to tackling all of the social, economic and constitutional challenges that come their way.

The UK deserves better, and we must start developing and consulting on a comprehensive written constitution that sets out modern principles and the division of powers of this country, within a federal framework.

In addition to this radical redistribution of power and resources, the review of our constitution must also include options for the replacement of our antiquated first-past-the-post (FPTP) with a more modern, democratic and proportional system. Electoral reform will be vital if we are to re-engage with the huge swathes of the electorate who are disenfranchised in so-called ‘safe-seats’, and also because we simply cannot defend a voting system that delivers glaring anomalies such as the SNP winning 95% of seats on the basis of 50% of the vote, or UKIP’s 1 seat with 4million votes. It is not good enough to defend FPTP because it is ‘what we have traditionally used’, or because it is ‘easy to understand’. In Wales the electorate have successfully negotiated the Additional Member System – a combination of FPTP and Proportional Representation – since 1999. The reality is that we now live in a multi-party country, and this renders FPTP unfit for purpose.

Thirdly, Labour needs to show that it is the only party that can deliver the radical changes needed if we are to build a more resilient country. In a world that’s in a constant state of flux, the successful nations will be those that are quickest to recover from unexpected events and adapt to new realities. High skills, properly paid jobs, well-funded research, an economy that is not dependant on huge household debt or overly dependent on financial services; these must be cornerstones of our new resilience. There can be no doubt that equality and resilience are intrinsically linked. More equal societies are better able to absorb, flex and bounce back. Here the Labour Party must also make the case that we do not believe in equality because we are bleeding-heart liberals, but because we are committed to building resilience.

By the time voters got to the polling booths on 7 May they had decided that Labour wasn’t speaking for them. This wasn’t because we had failed to re-connect with our core vote, it was because we had failed to understand how that vote had changed, and moved on. In the 1970s two-thirds of all voters lived in working-class households, whilst today the number of middle-class voters exceeds the number of working-class voters by seven million. At the same time, we have seen a decline in two-party politics, the rise of smaller political groups, and the emergence of new parties.

So, if we are to succeed in 2020 we must learn to engage with modern Britain. We must clearly demonstrate our understanding of the facts: in a networked society statist solutions are rarely the optimal ones; the purpose of taxation is to promote solidarity, incentivise hard work and foster entrepreneurialism, not to punish the rich; technology is an opportunity, not a threat; government can and must develop an active industrial strategy if we are to re-balance the British economy through a manufacturing renaissance; the primary function of the state is not to micro-manage, but rather to build a competitive framework that keeps market failure to a minimum.

Once the British people have seen that Labour ‘gets it’, then we will first and foremost have won the right to be heard again. The next step will then be to craft a new narrative that is sound on the economy, strong on reform and resolute on our place in the world.  We must embed ourselves in the national consciousness as the party that is truly for the many, and not for the few. This is the essence of our Party, and we must never forget it. Our mission is to provide the springboard for everyone to chase their dreams and to realise their full potential, if they are prepared to work for it. As a founding father of the Party once said: ‘Labour is for the elevation of all classes, not the destruction of any.’

And the first real test of whether or not the Labour Party is back on the path to government will be on 5 May 2016.

Stephen Kinnock is MP for Aberavon.

16 thoughts on “Labour’s reality check

  1. Dear old parachutist Stephen, a unreformed Blairite and follower of his fathers first rule of politics, to be a windvane rather than a sign post! He again perpetuates this ridiculous myth that you can really put Wales needs to the foremost, he is after all a proud Welshman, whilst still striving on behalf of the Westmibster elite. He speaks of the Assembly (the very name is an insult) elections as a test for JC when everyone knows not one elected Labour politician was a supporter of Corbyns leadership! How does that work? Labours Welsh Blairites, Carwyn, Leighton et al, want support for their pro austerity Blairite policies, whilst MP Stephen Kinnock want a vote for Corbyns anti austerity Greater Engalnd party? Now that’s a clever trick. But of course he hails from a pedigree of clever tricksters who have coluded with Westminster, to the degradation of Wales as a viable entity. He is a prominent figure in the clan of politicians who worked to keep Wales in the status of a poorly fed yard mutt, who occasionally has her best puppies taken from her and then told she can never be an equal partner to her masters. Kinnock, like his dad is a Saturday afternoon Welshman! Happy to allude to his heritage when it suits him but not willing to lift a finger to see us as equals in a modern society of nations!

  2. Labour problems stem from either voting with the Tories or abstaining-very rarely against.The clue is in the title ‘opposition’.And I sincerely hope the the English regions get something more substantial than we have in Wales-ie an assembly that has powers!

  3. Would Mr. Kinnock please tell us which founding father of the Labour Party said “Labour is for the elevation of all classes, not the destruction of any.” Also I should like to know the source of Mr. Kinnock’s assertion that the number of middle class voters exceeds working class ones by 7 million. As regards taxation, does Mr. Kinnock think it is a good idea to continue to send millions of children to second class schools whilst a few privileged kids are driven to their private schools in four-wheel drive vehicles? Finally, would Mr. Kinnock like to explain how his Labour Party will prevent capitalism from impoverishing workers all over the world and creating an even more unequal society by replacing them with robots? Thank you.

  4. Steve, if you always or nearly always behave as an Opposition that is what you will remain. In the late 80`s Labour behaved as a government in waiting. In spite of Stephen Kinnock`s good intentions there seems little likelihood that we are capable of relearning that lesson any time soon.

  5. Whatever your politics may be, the way you express them maters:

    “a sickening feeling”
    “the first milestone in the road to recovery”
    “a story of hope for the future”
    “ballooning personal debt”
    “yawning trade deficit”
    “creaking infrastructure”
    “we must make it crystal-clear”
    “The central pillar”
    “re-engage with the huge swathes of the electorate”
    “unfit for purpose”
    “a world that’s in a constant state of flux”
    “cornerstones of our new resilience”
    “to engage with modern Britain”
    “to craft a new narrative”
    We must embed ourselves”
    “to chase their dreams”
    “realise their full potential”

    To find so many cliches and depressing examples of business-speak in a single article suggests a lack of understanding about the intended audience. If you wish to put your case to the electorate is to write in a manner that actually makes sense to them. Writing like a banker of the 2008 vintage or a flailing CEO will not achieve this.

    I am a natural optimist. Things can (and must) get better than this.

  6. “And the first real test of whether or not the Labour Party is back on the path to government will be on 5 May 2016.”

    Can anyone explain to me why Stephen Kinnock thinks that the voting pattern in Wales is a barometer to predict the voting intentions of Middle England.

  7. Stephen doesn’t understand that there is NOTHING ‘LABOUR’ about the Welsh Labour. Sadley the party I value and support has been hijacked by the Welsh speaking nationalists largely through electoral ignorance and the complicit media to impose an Orwellian style Social Engineering and make Wales into a ‘Welsh Speaking Nation’

    The Labour party that I support stands for equality, social justice and human rights but none of those attributes can be found in the Welsh Labour Party under Carwyn Jones’ leadership.

    Instead Carwyn Jones applies ‘Learn Welsh or Get Out’ and with vengeance – Freedom of Choice no longer an option under Welsh ‘Labour!

    Found some brilliant observations by John R Walker in the IWA’s comments section A Must Read – See:

  8. Lots of fine words that mean NOTHiNG until there is meat on them, ie the policies that will drive them, and what does it mean for voting Wales next year

    ” The central pillar of our plan to build an economy of purpose must be a manufacturing renaissance, delivered through a comprehensive industrial strategy” – what does that mean -nationalisation? and how can you have a UK industrial strategy if you devolve those powers.

    What we need in Wales is an assembly that will undo the damage that Welsh labour have done to:-



    STOP all the social engineering
    STOP playing at gov (Patagonia, Africa, Airport)
    STOP Funding any activity which is not funded by Barnett out of the Barnett Grant, Stick to the basics, spending funding from Barnett within Barnett by all means at different levels across Barnett but none outside Barnett, (which just robs the essential services of money).
    STOP fretting about powers and numbers of AMs, keep it simple and show us you can manage the basics first, in 2011 you told us you had all the powers, so now show us you can use them for our benefit.

    You can reduce your workload by not wasting time and effort debating things you have no control over, that is just posturing, if you really need a hand utilise our MPs they can scrutinise bills etc in a suitable rooms in HoC , they can attend meeting by video and as a we already pay them there is no cost involved to us the public, they do not need a vote.

    When I was younger I had :-
    1 paid representative my MP,
    Along came paid councillors and council burgeoned in size. power and admin employees
    Next I got an MEP and the huge expense of the EU.
    fThis was Followed by a super council money shop (assembly) with more and more public sector support workforce.

    I suspect cost of governance in real terms has increased as a burden 10 fold and for what?

    Finally to take us forward as a modern region of the UK you need a referendum on independence, put it to bed, then you can afford to ignore nationalism and its core ideas as irrelevant, introverted and backward.

    If you can’t manage then for god sake go.


  9. Nospin said “Finally to take us forward as a modern region of the UK you need a referendum on independence, put it to bed, then you can afford to ignore nationalism and its core ideas as irrelevant, introverted and backward.” What Nospin means is that we can then relax and be settled with the British nationalism which Westminster spoon feeds us. Long live imperialism!

  10. Its a shame that people show so much loyalty and spend so much time worrying about political parties and the union and are simply patrioticabout being Welsh. Wales and the people of Wales really deserve a lot more – if the union is such a good thing it will survive and prosper on its own merits, because it works – if it fails, then so be it, what’s important is that we worry less about the parties or the union and ensure that the people of Wales are led by people who want to fight for Welsh interests and have the ability to drive and direct aspirations. We should be selfish and singlke minded about these things – everyone else is and we shouldn’t be distracted by things that add no value to Wales.

  11. “So, if we are to succeed in 2020 we must learn to engage with modern Britain”.
    Try saying what you mean to do and stop speaking in code.

    Even”no spin” is using code. I agree with much of what he says but what does “stop all the social engineering” mean? I suspect he means stop trying to preserve the Welsh language. Say so if you mean it.

  12. @nospin.Thank you for a brilliant ‘post’ which sums up what about 75% of sensible people think about our current situation in this region of the United Kingdom.Our whole political ‘class’,and BBC Wales/CYMRU is obsessed about a furtherance of a)welshness,b)welsh language polices,whilst the services that really matter to ordinary people (like me) are going south,and the full impact of the necessary reductions in public sector borrowing are just over the horizon. Since devolution both Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones have been more concerned about ‘outflanking’ welsh nationalists,rather than getting to grip with public services,and the results are there for all to see,if they open their eyes. I agree entirely about a referendum on independence,with full and frank disclosures of the a) costs (huge reduction in public financing,b) benefits .There are none!!It would clear the air as perhaps 5-10% would vote for separation from UK,and that would destroy the pernicious influences of welsh nationalism,particularly in BBC Wales for about 100 years. The last time I heard some one refer to ‘god sake go’ was Vincent Kane in an interview with a MINSTER of WAG (who was USELESS),but if they don’t get a grip in 10 years they WILL be gone. p.s. Please set up a political party with the above policies and you would be get elected in a landslide.

  13. @nospin
    “… then you can afford to ignore nationalism and its core ideas as irrelevant, introverted and backward.”
    If we have an independence referendum in Wales then, depending on timing and circumstances it would be a choice between two nationalisms Welsh and British or Welsh and Englandandwales.

  14. Finally to take us forward as a modern region of the UK you need a referendum on independence

    For independence I am not sure if you mean for Wales or Scotland, but the people of Wales have no shown any support for independence and with the Assembly and more power to the Assembly with the new Wales Bill I think independence will continue to be a non-issue in Wales. We can have the Assembly with more powers and still move forward.

  15. Yet another author who appears to be blind to the fact that the Heath-Monnet NUTS1 Regionalisation model of the UK was brought to a halt in November 2004 when the canny people of the North East Region voted overwhelmingly against a Regional Assembly in the North East.

    NUTS means – Nomenclature d’Unités Territoriales Statistiques – which may give you a clue to its origin and it is not the UK.

    The 1990’s – really the 1970’s – model for Regional devolution was not successful it was a disaster and we are living with the consequences. The consequences for Scotland, Wales, and N.I. are broken economies with broken services. The consequence for England is finding an endless multi-billion pound annual subsidy to prop up the failing NUTS1 Regions now re-branded as nations. Though the EU still regards them as Regions. Go figure – just remember who is actually in charge here!

    One of the best campaigning tools the NO Campaign in the North East had was the ability to point to the early and significant failures of the Regional legislatures in Wales and Scotland. Stormont predates the Heath-Monnet Regionalisation plan but it was failing to deliver anyway.

    Having failed to break up the UK into 12 Regions it seems we still have a significant anti-British component in our political class who still want to break up the UK into 4 instead of 12. Yet some of them still claim to be patriots! Patriots who seem to want to drive wedges into the unity of the UK. It’s hard to tell which people are malicious and which are simply misguided. I don’t care either way as long as they all fail. If they don’t fail then we are looking at the FUK – the Former UK in a matter of years.

    N.I. has never been a problem for maintaining the integrity of the UK – that’s why they call themselves loyalists. It has been a long time coming but there are now emerging political movements in Scotland and Wales who want the UK to remain both united and more efficiently administered. So we now have the Common Representation movement in Scotland led by Stewart Connell

    and the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party in Wales led by the former UKIP Wales official David Bevan

    It is unfortunate that UKIP have unilaterally adopted a federal UK policy – allegedly based on research provided by former English Democrats whose main objective would be promoting the idea of an English parliament. Having spoken to a number of current and former UKIP members in Wales this appears to be highly unwelcome. But, at least, people who want a United Kingdom in both name and form once again have parties they can vote for in Scotland and in Wales in 2016.

  16. I seemed to have appreciated Stephen Kinnock’s article more than your other commentators. The flaw however is to hope that the Labour party can ever be the vehicle of the changes he advocates – or the UK as at present constituted. Despite the slowness of progress compared with Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, Plaid Cymru offers a better prospect of positive advance.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy