By Max Minkin
In the lead-up to the 2015 General Election, Labour’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Tony Blair, expressed a fear that many in the party had harboured since Ed Milliband’s election to the leadership just over four years ago — when asked what he thought of Labour’s chances, Blair warned the party’s supporters that the election might well be “one in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”; this was, of course, his way of saying that Labour would most probably lose.
And, lo and behold, on May 7 later that year, the Tories defied all expectations to win an outright majority in the House of Commons, and Ed Milliband — once favoured to become the occupant of Number 10 – resigned from the party leadership. In retrospect, this should not have been a surprise to anyone, since Labour had once again repeated the mistakes it had made under Foot and Kinnock and would go on to make under Corbyn: it ignored the voters’ main concerns and reservations about the party and failed to construct a coherent narrative about the future that resonates with ordinary people.
To win in 2024, we must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that, when it comes to the issues of economic management and national security, the votes simply do not trust us — and that, in broader terms, they see us as a party disconnected from values they hold dear: the importance of a strong family unit as the foundation of society, a sense of patriotism and traditional British stoicism.
If we are to turn things around, we must address all of these issues — and we must start by abandoning economic Corbynism. We simply cannot go into another election with a proposal to increase public spending by £80 billion and expect the public to believe that this will be financed by minor tax hikes that will only affect the rich. Instead, we should make a number of limited promises that address the voters’ most pressing concerns and emphasise our commitment to managing public finances prudently and keeping inflation rates low, as Tony Blair did in 1997; otherwise, we will once against be portrayed as a party naively committed to the abstract idea of social justice at the expense of the voters’ real economic security.
We must also ensure that we are seen as a patriotic party, one that embraces British values and the positive aspects of British history; we must show that we support the troops and the police and that we would be ready to defend our country if a threat were to arise. This may be uncomfortable to many on the left, but tough choices are an important element of politics — and the sooner we all accept this, the better.
Once we have tackled these damaging perceptions of our party, we need to construct an effective political narrative that resonates with the average voter; the Labour Together report mentions that family and community must be at the heart of such a narrative, and there is an obvious reason for this — what is most close to you is also most relevant.
Thankfully, there is a very simple way of fusing these small-c conservative values with progressive policies. After all, what is it that is holding families back in 21st-century Britain? The inability to buy a house of their own certainly comes to mind. And what do local communities need the most at the moment, if not well-funded schools and hospitals and good, secure jobs?
The reality is that only Labour has the ideas necessary to strengthen families and local communities and, thereby, to strengthen our country — and we must not shy away from putting this argument at the core of our political identity. In essence, what the Labour Party needs is courage: the courage to tackle our challenges head-on, to have the imagination we need to attract new voters and to be a serious party of government rather than a glorified protest movement.
Image: UK Parliament via Creative Commons