As the Labour Party leadership race hots up and the candidates get whittled down, I believe that whoever is victorious in April faces ten clear challenges to restoring Labour as a force to be reckoned with across Britain.
The first must be to move the Labour Party on from Brexit. We must accept it is going to happen and that it was voted for in a referendum. Continuing to refight the 2016 referendum will only further alienate many Labour voters. Brexit is going to be done, we need to move on and certainly not appear to be trying to stop it.
The second challenge is to hold on to the new voters. Labour polled 29% in 2010, 30.4%, 40% in 2017 and 32.2% in 2019. We need to learn the ability to hold on to new voters and to hold seats such as Canterbury and Cambridge. These can no more be taken for granted than the Labour voters in the northern seats.
Thirdly we must win back those traditional Labour voters in the Midlands, North and Wales who voted Conservative for the first time, or did not vote at the 2019 election. They need to feel Labour is their party, that it is standing up for them and their communities. Many do not believe this at the moment, and we need to talk their language, for them to know that their concerns are our concerns.
The fourth challenge is discipline, and I will say plainly: people who attack colleagues or the party need instant expulsion from the party. Disagreeing over policy is well and good, and we all have different views on policies and priorities (and this is acceptable and necessary in a democratic party) but engaging in attacks upon other party members is not acceptable and should lead to expulsion.
That goes for Members of Parliament, Assembly Members and councillors, as well as ordinary party members. To engage in continual criticism of other party members only aids the Conservative party and this needs dealing with in the strongest terms.
The fifth challenge is Scotland. After the catastrophic decision to campaign alongside the Conservatives in the Independence referendum of 2014, our vote there has collapsed. We need a second Independence referendum in Scotland where we need to challenge the SNP on the currency to be used in an independent Scotland, the central bank or lender of last resort, redistribution of civil service and armed forces, pensions, debt share and a trade agreement. The Labour Party should campaign for ‘devo max’, maximum devolution for Scotland but with the benefits of belonging to a larger country.
We also need to deal with the environment and climate change which is an issue that we need to make a ‘Labour issue’. Climate change is happening and whilst some on the far right deny climate change, they cannot deny its repercussions and the change in our weather.
Between 1900 and 1920 Britain had no major floods, but we have had twelve between 2000 and 2020. We need to enthusiastically support things such as zero carbon housing, electrical vehicles and large scale tree planting as part of our campaign to stop climate change and improve the environment.
The seventh challenge is poverty and poor housing. Far too many people live in poor housing conditions and rely on friends, family and foodbanks to survive each day. We need a policy of large scale council house building to deal with the problem of both homelessness and people living in expensive, sub-standard accommodation.
We need to be the party standing up for the poor and underpaid. We need to challenge head on exploitative contracts and support the payment of the real living wage. We need to return to people being directly employed by the companies they solely work for; not being treated as sub-contractors, with the erosion of rights and wages that this outsourcing leads to.
The eighth challenge is to deal with personal attacks on the leader. No more turning the other cheek, if someone slanders or libels you, take court action. Learn from the way Lord McAlpine defended himself against both the mass media and also against people repeating untrue allegations on social media.
The ninth challenge is to have candidates who know each area where they stand. The practice of sending preferred candidates to areas they do not know to seek selection must end immediately. We need candidates who sound like their constituents and know the area that they seek to represent. Constituents need to see them as part of their community, standing up for them; not as strangers, visiting from London when it suits professional advancement.
Finally, we need a coherent manifesto which has a vision for the future. A manifesto that resonates with our core voters, reclaims our lost voters and inspires potential new voters. The Labour party stands for a fairer society and an end to the exploitation of people and the destruction of the planet. We need to say this and create a narrative around this vision, rather than produce a long shopping list of policy wishes.
When the new Labour leader is announced in April, they will face nearly five years on the opposition benches. Those five years will be a huge uphill task – and this time cannot be wasted. If Labour is to make a successful case to the people of Britain, then I believe that tackling these issues should be a priority for the new leader.
A version of this article first appeared on Labour List.
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