So, another set of elections, another ungood night for Labour. Admittedly it was a much worse one for the parties in government. Indeed it was so bad, that if the swing against the Conservatives and Lib Dems was repeated at a general election, Labour could achieve a substantial parliamentary majority without adding a single vote to its disastrous showing in 2010… And that would demonstrate that the political system is fundamentally broken.
There are those who are hoping to sit back, stay cautious and let the electoral arithmetic edge Labour over the line, judging that a significant but limited recovery of the share of the vote (from 29% in 2010 to 35% in 2015) will be enough to nudge Labour over the line. They are probably right. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy. Because the next Labour government needs more than a victory, it needs a mandate. It needs to convince people of its reason to lead the country.
Labour’s policy platform suggests they more-or-less get it. More taxes on the richest (albeit still quite modest), investment in people and infrastructure, standing up for the rights of workers and consumers, more emphasis on the “green shit” and the repeal or rejection of the worst of the coalition on things like the NHS Bill, Bedroom Tax and European Court.
Labour can’t and shouldn’t pander to the worst instincts of those who switch to UKIP. A race to the bottom on migration would be morally wrong, economically ruinous, strategically stupid and electorally useless.
Nor can Labour – as I still think many Blairites and Brownites believe – fight 2015 as if it was 1997. Labour’s problem today is not convincing “aspirational” voters (who eluded Neil Kinnock) that we aren’t the vanguard of a Bolshevik-style rampage. Labour’s problem is convincing the working class voters on whom the party was built that there’s still a reason to get out and vote.
So “What does Labour do?”
1. BEHAVE LIKE A BRITISH TOURIST ABROAD
The Labour Party needs to talk loudly and use simple words. I’m not saying we treat the electorate like idiots, but we should definitely find representatives who can turn up the volume and turn down the jargon.
2. KICK ED BALLS UP THE ARSE
I know a lot of people hate Ed Balls, I’m not one of them. But his caution and the fact that he is wedded to a political approach that was successful in the last century but is looking increasingly ropey in this one, makes him (and those who share his views) a significant drag on the party. Shape up or ship out.
3. REMEMBER WHY WE’RE HERE
There are people suffering terribly under this government. People who, I know, the overwhelming majority of us in the Labour Party want to support, protect and offer a better future. It wouldn’t do any harm to start communicating that. A little moral outrage and some practical help, shorn of the Blairite good poor/bad poor rhetoric, could go a very long way.
4. SHUT UP ABOUT THE DEFICIT!
Yes, yes, being economically trusted is very important and so is sorting out the debt problem (everyone knows, no one will admit, the answer to that is “a bit of inflation”+”time”). Now stop talking about it. Labour can’t win on austerity because, no matter how hard we try to convince people that we’re going to be tough on the causes of debt, no one really believes us. But, what our traditional supporters hear is that we care more about “big money” than we do about their lives. Ed Miliband was right: forget about it, stop talking about it. Shut up!
5. ATTACK UKIP
No more pussyfooting around. UKIP are taking the votes of people who want a better NHS, fairer taxes, stronger social services, roads that aren’t full of potholes and a government that’s not operating in the interest of millionaires. If the media won’t make it clear that the party they are looking for isn’t UKIP it’s Labour, then we have to. Over and over and over and over again.