We Need to Talk about Britain’s Labour Party
The road ahead for Britain’s embattled Labour Party: “This is about offering policies that focus on what works and creating a secure, sustainable future for all”
I am a proud, yet not always satisfied member of the Labour Party. I joined in 2009 at the age of 15, back in the twilight of the Blair-Brown era and Labour’s 13 years in power. I took a break in 2012 whilst at university, but rejoined the morning after Labour’s 2015 election defeat: I wanted to register my discontent with a Tory majority government that would hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
Labour must be a party of government, for it is only in government that we can fight on behalf of the many, not the few, and that we can deliver policies that benefit and protect working-class and vulnerable communities up and down the country.
That belief meant that in 2016, even though I swung behind Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party in its opening months, I felt there was something of a disconnect in communication between what Corbyn and his team wanted to express to the country and how they were perceived (Corbyn’s national anthem episode springs to mind). the disconnect was such that I felt that we were at risk of losing patriotic, working class voters to reactionary groups like the UK Independence Party.
The problem, for me, wasn’t (and still isn’t) Corbyn himself or even his policies, but the way that his communications team has allowed him to be portrayed. There’s a market for older, grizzled political leaders — José Mujica of Uruguay is someone whose plain oratory and man-of-the-people image I’ve always thought Corbyn should seek to emulate — but Labour is not in touch with it.
Immediately after the European Union referendum, neither the country nor a lot of the party was feeling much love for Corbyn: his missteps, including speeches where he sounded more sceptical of the EU than in favour of remaining in it and an infamous appearance on a comedy show where he said he was only 7/10 in favour of remaining in the EU, loomed large. A leadership challenge was called: given my dissatisfaction with Corbyn’s leadership, I backed Owen Smith, albeit with the expectation that he would not prevail.
I wished, and still wish, Jeremy Corbyn well after both of his leadership elections and hope that he can find the golden bullet to get Labour into government. I’m looking forward to doing my bit to help Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham win their respective mayoral races in Liverpool and Manchester over the coming months. If we cannot deliver policies in Westminster, we’ll hopefully be able to do it through the new city-regions.
To those who speak of finding Corbyn’s successors, I urge them to unite behind Jeremy and ensure that we can fight against the Tory cuts up and down the country. Although some say Labour can never win with Corbyn as Leader, many said neither Brexit nor Trump as President could ever happen: stranger things than Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister have happened in recent years.
Labour needs to be talking about the Tory cuts to our fantastic National Health Service (I wouldn’t be alive without it), social care — a growing problem in the coming years, as a result of our ageing population — and our education systems.
I was educated at a special school nursery, a Catholic primary school, a comprehensive secondary school on a Merseyside former council estate, and a grammar school 6th-form. So I understand the need for a diverse education system, as the path to success is not the same for everybody. Labour’s policies on education must focus on ensuring a mix of high-quality schools in every community and devolving local education decisions to communities, as they are the ones that are most affected by them.
We need to craft a hopeful vision of our future. This policy narrative must be engaging, positive, and progressive: for the many, not the few. It should address the concerns of our complex society, particularly for those in post-industrial communities that feel left behind by technological change and globalization, for those who do not feel that Labour has been speaking to them and their communities in recent years.
This is not about full-throttle socialism, but about offering policies that focus on what works and creating a secure, sustainable future for all.
TOP PHOTO: Young Labour Party supporters in Scotland