I promise not to just copy and paste whole lumps of prose too often, but this is an exception. Ed’s fabian essay (and the video intro) delivers a brilliant summation of the crossroads we find ourselves in as a party. More importantly it offers a radical view of how we re-engage with the electorate. For me this has been the strongest, most genuine and engaging manifestos from any of the candidates to date. Have a read and judge for yourselves.
Without values we become managers and technocrats. It is a Labour ideology that makes us who we are. That is why I have put values at the centre of my campaign: a belief in equality, social justice, fairness at work, internationalism. But
the challenge is how to apply that ideology to our time—and how to win power.
Tony Blair said in his first Conference speech in 1994 “If the world changes, and we don’t, then we become of no use to the world. Our principles cease being principles and just ossify into dogma.” Tony was right then and the lesson applies today. We should always stand up for our ideology and values but always be willing to recognise the way the world has changed.
In the early 1990s some Labour people thought of themselves as traditionalists defending the Labour cause against Tony Blair and the modernisation of New Labour. Today our danger is to defend traditionalist new Labour solutions on every issue because this will consign us to defeat. It is my rejection of this New Labour nostalgia that makes me the modernising candidate at this election.
To win next time, it is the New Labour comfort zone that we must escape: the rigidity of old formulae that have served their time, the belittling of any attempt to move on from past verities and the belief that more of the same is the way to win.
New Labour was right to seek to build a coalition of lower and middle income support, show we can create wealth as well as distribute it and speak to people’s aspirations. We need to keep doing all these things. But old-fashioned New Labour thinking about what this means today in electoral strategy, policy and style of leadership is now an obstacle to winning the next election and transforming our society.
Start with electoral politics: New Labour’s proposition was simple – we need to persuade Tory voters to come to us. The task is very different now. Five million votes were lost by Labour between 1997 and 2010, but 4 out of the 5 million didn’t go to the Conservatives. One-third went to the Liberal Democrats, and most of the rest simply stopped voting.
It wasn’t, in the main, the most affluent, professional voters that deserted Labour either. New analysis has been produced by Ipsos/Mori which shows the scale of loss among lower income groups. Between 1997 and 2010, for every one voter that Labour lost from the professional classes (so called ‘ABs’), we lost three voters among the poorest, those on benefits and the low paid (DEs). You really don’t need to be a Bennite to believe that this represents a crisis of working-class representation for Labour—and our electability.
Add in skilled manual workers, and the differential goes to six to one. Almost all the new Tory voters came from these social groups. Put it at its starkest, if we had enjoyed a 1997 result in 2010 just among DEs, then on a uniform swing we would have won at least 40 more seats and would still be the largest party in parliament. Seats like Stroud, Hastings & Rye, and Corby would have stayed Labour. The core Labour vote that some thought could be taken for granted became the swing vote that went Conservative.
We also need to understand that the danger of people switching from our party to others has been joined by the danger of people simply drifting out of voting—and disproportionately among our supporters. The gap between turnout among ABs and DEs grew from 13 to 19 points between 1997 and 2010.
This is bad for democracy and particularly dangerous for us. We need to take this skewing of the electorate far more seriously than we have done in the past. As President Obama has shown in the United States, expanding the electorate is part of a winning strategy as well as winning back voters who have gone elsewhere.
We can neither win an election with a working-class vote alone—New Labour was right about that—nor can we take it for granted. But the problem of conventional New Labour analysis applies to white collar voters too. Particularly when it comes to the South of England, we sometimes clung to an illusory picture whereby we imagined
easy affluence to run wider than it did. Half of the people in work in Reading, where the Conservatives got one of their biggest swings to take Reading West, earn less than £21, 000 a year. Even in Britain’s more comfortable places, people increasingly feel insecure, overstretched and distant from rich elites.
Furthermore, many of the affluent voters themselves didn’t go blue, they went yellow–the Conservative vote has fallen among ABs since 1997. In a number of seats, like Hornsey and Wood Green or Manchester Withington, we lost to the Liberal Democrats because of desertion over issues such as Iraq, civil liberties and tuition fees and in many other places, the Labour vote was depressed, thereby letting the Tories in by the back door.
All this requires a refounding of Labour, as profound as New Labour in the mid- 1990s. Our working-class base cannot be dismissed as a ‘core vote’ and taken for granted, we need to understand the real landscape of middle England to strengthen our appeal to voters right across the income scale, we need to recognise the concerns and
nature of modern affluence, and we need to change our style of leadership.
To do this we need, just as we did at the start of New Labour, to go back to our core values and apply them to the world in which we find ourselves. We need to understand what our belief in equality, fairness and opportunity means in the face not just of the electoral situation, but also the economic and social condition of Britain.
This rethink is all the more important because many of the good things that happened under new Labour were possible because we used the proceeds of growth to support public services and redistribution. Given the fiscal constraints, this route to social justice is going to be much more constrained for the foreseeable future.
First, the renewal required in relation to Labour’s so-called ‘traditional’ vote is perhaps most profound. We need to tell a story about how we can improve people’s lives, starting with the way we approach the economy.
That begins by revisiting New Labour’s recipe for the jobs Britain can create. A low skill, low wage economy that is over-reliant on service industries is not the future that people aspire too. Instead, we should build on the active industrial policy that we came to late in our term in office, and which had already helped develop the beginnings of an electric vehicle industry, an offshore wind industry and a nuclear power renaissance in Britain. By supporting British business, we can create high quality manufacturing jobs, and under my leadership we would.
We also need to think again about our approach to labour markets. What became a dogmatic attraction to maximum flexibility meant poorer wages and conditions, and we need to address that. We need to learn the lesson from other countries that raising the floor in the labour market can be a more sustainable route to both better conditions and stronger growth. Creating stronger incentives for companies to invest in their workforce can have a powerful impact on productivity and provide a stronger platform for the future.
That is why I am for a living wage over £7 an hour, not just a minimum wage, so people can feel more comfortable that they will get a decent day’s wage for a decent day’s work. I am for greater protection for time outside work so people don’t feel compelled to work harder for longer for less.
This new approach will help address the issue which Labour candidates heard so much about on the doorstep: immigration. Eastern European immigration is a class issue because it increases competition for jobs, particularly those at lower wages. It looks very different if you are an employee rather than an employer. But we refused to recognise that sufficiently. Similarly, concerns about preferential access to housing — often false — built up because we refused to prioritise the building of new social housing. If we want to win back our lost support, this can no longer be a marginal issue.
Second, we must speak to aspiration and recognise where we need change from the past in order to meet people’s hopes for the future. The burden of University debt is big issue for swathes of parents—and their kids. That is why I have proposed we scrap tuition fees and replace them with a graduate tax.
But we must recognise as New Labour sometimes didn’t that aspiration is not simply about earning and owning, but also enjoying time with your family. So our economic strategy should change the culture of working time. It’s not just the low paid in Britain who work the longest hours in Western Europe, don’t get a chance to read to their kids, and feel stressed out.
Third, we must recognise that people, including affluent voters, care about tax but also about the sort of society we live in. I will unashamedly argue for a more equal society because I believe it harms the rich as well as the poor to live in a country which is increasingly unequal. I will argue for a society characterised by responsibility at all levels – from bankers pay to people who can work but at the moment are not doing so. I will make the case for a greener society because climate change is the greatest challenge to our way of life.
We must also be reformers of the state to make it more democratic, more open, more efficient and less overbearing. Alan Johnson’s view expressed last week that “I can’t think of a single issue on which Labour got the balance wrong on civil liberties” speaks to an understandable desire to defend the past, but if we don’t recognise and put right our mistakes, we won’t win back those who have left us.
Face it: we never convinced people of the case for ninety days of summary detention without charge, or ID cards and they spoke to a belief in an off-putting overpowerful state. I am for CCTV and measures that work, but under my leadership, we will not be casual with civil liberties. As important, we must have the courage to accept where we got things wrong and change our approach. Without that, we will not win again.
Fourth, we need to change our style of politics. Disconnection from voters, including our working-class base, is not just a product of policy error, it is the result of the hollowing out of the movement and the party. In part, this hollowing out is a long-term trend that faces political parties in many parts of the industrialised world. But in
part it happened because people left us over specific issues like Iraq and it is also a product of a particular approach to the role of the Labour Party.
A Labour party member in Cornwall, Nick, put it best when he said to me that New Labour had behaved as if “the role of the Labour leader is to protect the country from the views of the members of the Labour Party”. That may have been necessary in the 1980s, but Neil Kinnock’s Conference speech about Militant took place twenty five years ago. We can’t still let ourselves be haunted by those ghosts. Unless we change this style of leadership we will never change society in the way we aspire to do because we will never have the political movement we need.
We need that movement because we can only win the arguments we need to win— both in Opposition and in government—-if we have a movement that can sustain us and from which our ideas emerge. That outward looking, vibrant movement comes from high ideals and party members who recognise that we are hearing their voice. And anyone who thinks that listening to our party is somehow pandering is doing them a great disservice. Indeed, if we had listened more to them, we would have been a better government not a worse one: on housing, on agency workers, on tuition fees.
Of course, no leader is ever going to agree with everything their party members believe. And we need to forge a winning coalition which reaches out well beyond traditional supporters of our party. But the answer to this is to build a party which connects us to the public, and that must also include an understanding of the strength that could come from our trade union link.
The crisis of support among our working-class base shows the ground we have to make up. The relationship with the trade union movement needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Part of the problem is that MPs are not connected locally to the trade union levy payers. As a start, each MP should be reaching out to these levy payers and hearing their voice with regular dialogue and meetings.
The final change we need as part of our future is political confidence. New Labour was ultimately quite pessimistic about the ability of our values to speak to a progressive majority in Britain. Contrast this with the self-confidence of the new coalition government: nobody would really believe that the Conservatives won just 36% of the vote at the election. While Labour often acts like squatters in government, the Tories act like they deserve to be there.
That pessimism about what is possible is now a barrier to winning again, not just to creating the kind of country we believe in. Unless we address issue of low wages, working time, inequality, we will never reach out to those people we have lost and make politics seem like it might have an impact on their lives.
New Labour nostalgia says that there is a tension between our values and our electability. But the truth is that the opposite is the case. Whether you look at our approach to the excesses of markets, or our belief in a foreign policy based on our values, not just our alliances; the morally right and the electorally right thing to do come together. We lost because people lost a sense of who we are and what we stand for. To win again, we need to restore our clarity of purpose.
Only with a politics based on clear values can we win again. Indeed, it is by speaking openly and clearly about what we believe that we can best get back into power. Head and heart come together in a politics based on clear values, a sense of who we stand up for, and a vision of the good society.
Impressive isn’t it? If you want to find out more, or get involved in Ed’s campaign then go to http://www.edmiliband.org