So, who do I vote for in the leadership election for the Labour Party then? For the first time in my life, I appear to be a floating voter! I have believed since 2010 that any Labour leaders chances of winning an election in 2015 were quite small and so it proved. History was not with us. I also believed that the next Labour Prime Minister was not yet a national figure.
This is no criticism at all of any of the candidates but none stand out as the answer to our problems as a party. As I said, I was always of the view that any leader following our defeat in 2010 would have an almost gargantuan task in winning back power after five years in opposition. So it proved though I didn’t see the disaster of 7th May 2015 coming. We are now back to 1983 levels of support inside and outside parliament and we all know how long it took to get back from that.
Our defeat in 2010 was shattering at the time and most felt it couldn’t get any worse. How wrong we were. This though led to a belief that we had hit rock bottom and the only way was up. This in my opinion led to the party retreating to a comfort zone. This started with the election of Ed Miliband and clearly it was downhill from there. Most MPs and ordinary members at the time didn’t vote for Ed but a high union vote dragged him over the line defeating his brother David.
We will all have our opinions of what subsequently went wrong and that is fine. Whether it was taking too long to elect a new leader leaving an open goal for the Tories to blame Labour for the worldwide economic meltdown. Or perhaps spending a couple of years reforming the party which has disenfranchised and alienated countless loyal hard working members for no discernible advantage. Perhaps it was having internal arguments about selections in Scotland and elsewhere. These issues added to a sense of internal introspection which bear no relationship to people’s real lives.
This has been compounded by a front bench supported in the shadows by similar types of people who are politicos to their fingertips. These are the figures I have argued against many times in the past who see politics not as means to an end but as an end in itself. You can then perhaps see how Labour lost an election against one of the most unpopular governments in recent times.
All this is well and good but I don’t believe contemplating our navels will help us to win an election in the future. I know there are many who want to have a long debate about what went wrong. I’m not sure that will help. In fact, I think in the main, if people are really honest with themselves they know what the problem is and therefore what the answer is too. What doesn’t help is the party’s decision to run a leadership campaign over nearly five months. It is too long.
What then is to be done? I actually believe the answer is somewhat more straightforward than some would have. The answer is within our movement itself if we only have the courage to look.
I remember some years ago doing a Trade Union training course about organising. In short, people respond to people who ‘look’ and ‘sound’ like them. That doesn’t mean mirror images but does mean people who understand and connect with their lives:
• Someone who gets that you want a good job with good pay.
• Someone who understands your ambition for your children to do better than you did.
• Someone who understands you’re ambitious yourself and you want a nice car, a nice house and lovely holidays.
• Someone who understands your opinion not only matters but actually exists.
• Someone who will bother not just to listen to you but actually act on it.
Labour was born out of the Trade Unions who are there to represent ordinary working people. But do not ever believe that ordinary rank and file members act and think like their leaders. They do not. They are in a union for protection. It is not a political statement.
Labour should not forget the Trade Unions and should always seek to work with them. It does not need to reconnect with them. It does though need to reconnect with union members and the millions more who are not in a union. They don’t all think the same way and quite often have views many might not like. We must reach out to ordinary people again and not the upper middle class gentry which seem to populate the higher echelons of the Labour party.
Ultimately, the clue is in our name. We seek to represent all those who labour. Those normal working people who toil in the hospital or school; work their fingers to the bone in a supermarket; have their patience tested to breaking point in a call centre; are monitored and timed to the second in a car factory. Any worker, anywhere. They need to believe Labour gets them and will deliver for them. If you look at the figures, too often it was these people in towns and cities up and down the country who were not inspired by our campaign, and did not turn out to vote.
That’s the middle Britain I know and understand and we must get back to it.