The best contributions to Labour post-election debate have shown humility towards the electorate and openness to the opinions of fellow members. We will not be well-served by a post-mortem in which everyone rushes to explain that they were right.
Labour lost votes to Remain and Leave parties. We have strong support among young people but insufficient among older people. We have been rolled back in pro-Remain Scotland, as well as pro-Leave Blyth Valley. The task facing us is massive. And even as we are considering it, we face a new round of elections this spring that cannot be ignored during the leadership election.
Although Boris Johnson made noises about funding for schools and hospitals, and around infrastructure for the north – for which he must be held to account – the reality of a Tory government, as with every Tory government, will be an onslaught against working class communities, trade unions and public services. Britain will align itself with Trump. The hard Brexiters will favour trade deals with the USA that bring more privatisation and deregulation.
This coming attack requires a number of things for Labour.
One, a recognition that Labour can only win as an alliance of lower and middle income people: it can only win by building alliances that enable it to lead the majority. False counter-positions of the electorate, or disregarding some segments of voters against others, only undermine the ability to tell the whole story. If we understand the working class as the majority of society then we will have a greater chance of creating an electoral alliance.
Two, no return to the politics of triangulation, privatisation and outsourcing masked by “public service reform”, the rush to war, and attacks on civil liberties. The reasons Labour members – not all of whom came from the left of the party – voted for Jeremy Corbyn have not gone away.
Members require a leadership that will retain the ambition that took the party by storm in 2015. Corbynism is not a blip, but a recognition that people join Labour out of high ambitions for the kind of society they want to live in. This is essential to retaining Labour’s status as a mass membership party.
As Aneurin Bevan said: “Unity must be achieved on the basis of policies which inspire.” This includes recognising that the climate crisis vindicates the need for socialist principles in terms of ownership, planning, and investment in the economy.
Three, there must be a willingness to sharpen our message to cut through. Individual policies contained in both the 2017 and 2019 manifestos are indeed popular. What was not successful was our ability to convince enough people about the whole package. This was more the case in 2019, evidently.
Labour has to find a way to turn the overall programme into something that is understood to be of benefit to individuals and their loved ones. Appeals to voters’ altruism in the next five years will not lead us back into contention: it is necessary to demonstrate that our policies will directly improve your own quality of life and standard of living.
Four, unity in action. That is not false unity for its own sake but on the basis that we are maintaining our values and our radicalism and that we are serious about winning. Parties are difficult things to lead, and sometimes there are sharp disagreements. All leaderships take decisions that not everyone likes. Nonetheless, Labour must demonstrate to the electorate that we are united in action and that we are not going to allow internal fights to define us. Unity and a positive political culture means taking the range of different strands of opinion in the party seriously. Within the Labour left we need to preserve and encourage the development of a range of left voices and publications.
Five, we have to rebuild trust with the Jewish community and demonstrate that we understand the chasm that has opened up between the party and Jewish people in Britain.
Six, on Brexit, we have to put the leave-remain divide behind us: we need to fight against an orientation to trade deals with the USA and other right-wing governments around the world that would sacrifice public services, safeguards of workplace rights, and environmental protections.
Seven, we will need a serious, professional electoral apparatus that inspires and involves the membership and is clear about the voters and seats we have to target.
Eight, we must not under-estimate Johnson. In truth, the party was too slow to respond to the fact that circumstances had changed when Johnson became prime minister. Our messaging around his leadership of the Tories was too unclear and unstable. He was and is not Theresa May. A general election against Johnson was never going to be a rerun of 2017. In parliament, in our media operation, in our targeting, and in our mass movement we must recognise this and overhaul how we talk about him, how we hold him to account and how we utilise the platform of parliament to disarm his operation.
Nine, there now needs to be a renewal of political education in the Labour party. It is exciting that we have gone to a party of half a million people and seen a revival of interest in ideas around socialism and social progress. The party itself should take more responsibility for promoting discussion of these values in theory and practice.
Ten, the relationship with the trade union movement and the collective link with the trade unions should be maintained and seen as a strength.
There are a number of excellent candidates for the Labour leadership, who would deserve full support if they were elected. However, I think that Keir Starmer has the greatest capacity to deliver most effectively on the challenges Labour faces that I’ve set out here. On a personal level, I was struck over the Christmas break just how many friends of mine who consistently supported Jeremy Corbyn were also now supporting Keir Starmer for leader.
He has set out a refusal to oversteer away from Labour’s radical policy framework, a commitment to seek to unify the party and an intention to be serious about holding Johnson to account, in order to face the electoral challenge ahead. For these reasons I will be supporting him in this leadership election.