Politics

Principle and Power – the future of the Labour Party

Thirty years ago I took part in one or two student demos, collected for the miners and marched through London for the CND. The politics of protest didn’t make me join a political party. Naively, I thought I would have more impact in changing minds through the theatre company I had co-founded. I joined the Labour Party in Warminster in 1991 because I wanted to get elected to change things in my town and then across the country.

For me the Labour Party always has to be a marriage of power and principle.  

I remain very proud of what the Blair/Brown government achieved in applying Labour principles in power. The dramatic reductions in child and pensioner poverty, improvements in education and health outcomes for everyone, the minimum wage, rights at work, support for parents, peace in Northern Ireland, and much more. I am especially proud of the reaction to the global financial crisis when Gordon and Alistair together led the international response to prevent the collapse of the global economy, and returned the economy to growth by 2010.

Protest can make me feel and look good, and it can create common purpose, but on its own it rarely changes anything.  

However it is not helpful for Tony Blair, and others, to prophesy annihilation if Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership. We do need a viable alternative. Just telling people they will lose by voting for what they believe in only stiffens the resolve. People want to rally around passion and principle, and from there build support to win power.

So I do understand and respect those people who are supporting Jeremy Corbyn, and I now think he is likely to win.  

Jeremy is very nice, highly principled man. His is an important voice in the Labour Party. The lack of a clear alternative to austerity economics makes his very different prescription attractive.  

But it won’t work.

The world is changing very fast. Globalisation and technological change have transformed things for people. People look at the old deal that if you work hard, get a job, get a house, and save for your pension then you’ll be all right. And they understand that model is now broken.  

There is no job for life, no final salary pension. There are big worries about job security, house prices, student debt and care in a long period of old age. People want answers to these new challenges, not old answers to old problems of the seventies.

It is likely that young people leaving education will have many careers. They will need to continue dipping in and out of learning, and occasionally welfare. They will work well into their seventies. Their current best hope of owning their own home is through inheritance not thrift.  

Facing this level of uncertainty significant numbers of people are reacting against the consensus of the middle ground. The politics of UKIP and the hard left are both in the end in denial of change. They paint a picture of the certainty of the past before globalisation, a time when nation states had control over their own destiny.

The Greek government has shown that attractive anti-austerity rhetoric doesn’t work in practice, and is hurting the very people they were elected to help. If Labour Party members want a more equal society, if they want to end child and pensioner poverty, if they want people better off in work, then they need new thinking not recycled thinking.

That is challenge for all four leadership contenders and the party as a whole.  

I think the future lies in more local, more mutual solutions. At a time when local power generation schemes are starting to emerge, this is not the time to re-nationalise the power companies. Instead it is a time to make it easier for such schemes to raise finance and access the market. At a time when people are using services like Zipcar to get around we need to embrace the sharing economy in transport provision. We are even seeing a growth in meal sharing apps so that neighbours who cook too much food can give it to someone locally who needs it. Amsterdam and Kyoto have a vision as sharing cities – that is where the progressive left should be looking.

The Labour Party does need passion and principle to reappear alongside pragmatism. It needs new thinking true to its values of mutualism and social justice. But it also needs to win around 20,000 votes each in more than 325 different constituencies in 5 years time, if it wants to put new thinking into effect.

Please let’s not pretend that our own Facebook newsfeed represents a cross section of public opinion. Your newsfeed is just full of people who largely agree with you.

If we want to stop austerity economics blighting the opportunities of swathes of poor working families we must reach out beyond our comfort zone. We need to persuade those that voted for our opponents to vote Labour. We need to be credible on the economy and the level of national and personal indebtedness.  

We need a leader with the experience and ability to first unite the party and then the country around an alternative. In doing so we need someone willing to lead new thinking to new challenges.

I will be voting for Yvette Cooper. Read her speech today in full http://www.yvetteforlabour.co.uk/manchester_speech_text

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Politics

Too many unknowns – the Labour leadership

The Labour Party is less than a week from a shattering election defeat, and already the leadership election appears to be in full swing. Soundings are being taken, domain names registered, and backers recruited. But is the party in a position to choose the right candidate to lead it to victory in five years time?

What do we know about the 2020 election?

It will be held on 7th May 2020.

The world and the country will be a very different place five years on. Politically, we will have had the EU referendum. If we vote to leave there are huge political implications, not least the potential for Scotland to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU.

We also know that by 2020 there will be a new leader of the Conservative party, and therefore a new Prime Minister with a new leader bounce.

Plenty more will have changed. What will be the state of our economy, our public services, our security? If Labour needs a new leader to appeal beyond former coalfield areas, university towns and London, can we predict now the politics of coast and country five years out?

In any other walk of life the new leader would be appointed for around three years. She or he would stabilize the party, lead an effective Parliamentary opposition, and build a good electoral platform through the Scottish elections, the London mayoral elections and the EU Referendum.

There is much to do in terms of listening to neglected parts of the country, raising money, succession planning and changing the party structures to reflect the fragmentation of British politics.

When Tony Blair won in 1997 he had been leader for three years – not a full Parliament. John Smith had done vital preparatory work such as OMOV before he tragically died. This made Tony’s job and reforms considerably easier.

My political friends will call me naïve. But I would love to have a candidate declare that he or she will do the job we need doing for the next two or three years and then will open up a new leadership election. He or she may run again and can be judged on a record of reviving the party’s fortunes, and in comparison with the likely new Prime Minister.

The upside is that those who are dismissed as experienced but too associated with the past, have the chance to use that experience and maybe redefine themselves as leaders for the future. It would also give a chance for candidates that offer a break from the past to build experience and prove through campaigning around the country that they are the one to win in 2020.

The downside is if it became a three-year feeding frenzy for journalists. Potential leaders would need to know they would be judged on their discipline, their positive record and their ability to work with colleagues.

This is not a proposal for a caretaker leader. It is a proposal for a renewable fixed term contract. It is counter cultural, but with the known known of the next General Election and the very many known unknowns of the next five years, I think it may work.

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