This week’s vote on the second reading of the Article 50 bill shows that Brexit is happening, whether we like it or not. This decision will be terrible for the UK in so many ways, and this Tory government led by Theresa May will be the ones responsible. The government have been there for the taking since the 2015 election; the chaotic budget, the Panama papers, the referendum result, and each time Labour has failed to capitalise and take the initiative.
This government will continue to be there for the taking in the years to come. Brexit (at least in the short term), will not be pretty. It will be chaotic, and will ultimately leave us worse off in terms of trade, the economy, security, power, and so many other aspects of our lives. A decent opposition, led by a capable, electable leader should wipe the floor with this government and easily gain a majority in the next election, but alas, that is not Labour right now.
The main reason of course, as I have posted about time and time again, is that we have an incompetent leader, who the public simply do not like, or trust. In a toss-up with Theresa May only 15% think he would make a better PM, just 13% believe he is a strong leader, and a measly 15% trust Corbyn and McDonnell with the economy over May and Hammond. To top it all off, even though the public trust Labour more than the Tories with the NHS, add Corbyn and May’s names into the question, and suddenly the public trust the Tories more. It’s no coincidence.
Unfortunately, it looks like Corbyn will lead Labour into the next election, so we must work with what we have, and even though I don’t believe we can win under him, we must at least reduce the damage as much as we possibly can.
Firstly, we need to separate and detach ourselves from any notion or nonsense of a progressive alliance. As I wrote before, there is a good reason that Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens exist as separate parties; the Greens are a party for the middle-class bourgeois, and the Lib Dems propped up a Tory government for 5 years imposing austerity. Labour needs to find it’s winning attitude, like New Labour had for all those years, and we need to get our messaging on point.
As I have previously mentioned, Brexit is the biggest issue facing Labour over the next few years. We need to be an electable opposition, holding this shoddy government to account over the biggest change our country will ever face. It was right for Corbyn to say that Labour will back Brexit – we would be crucified by the public if we didn’t. However, his decision to impose a three-line whip was a terrible one; the vote was always going to pass, and MPs in remain seats should have been able to make their own conscious choice without having to defy the whip.
There is a gap in the market for Labour to exploit. The Tories are gunning for hard Brexit, no matter the consequences; the Liberal Democrats are calling for no Brexit or another referendum, so Labour must sit in the middle. Labour must be the party that accepts the result, but we must position ourselves as fighting for the public, fighting for amendments to give them the best deal. And this means listening to the public, listening to their worries, their needs. We can’t keep ignoring the issues that matter to voters; we need answers on immigration, national security, and the economy.
My post from two weeks ago, focused on Labour’s London problem, and how we need to reach out beyond the city, and back to the traditional heartlands. Many people’s problem with Labour is that we are becoming a bunch of elites, pandering to the big cities, and forgetting the working-class areas that our party originated from. Economic and cultural inequality is rising under the Tories, and the forgotten working class are tired of all the prosperity hitting the capital whilst they are left behind. Labour needs to be reaching out to these people, holding events outside of London, engaging and listening to these people, in the hope to win back their votes.
The current leadership, and the membership, need to realise that hard-left views will never win an election. Despite the fact that most of the working class are traditionally Labour voters, the term ‘socialism’ is still a term they despise. To many traditional Labour voters’ socialists represent a sneering elite, and that is why Labour must learn the lessons of Macron, New Labour, Obama etc., and operate at the centre-left, rather than the left wing. As summarised by Simon Garland Jones, ideas across the political spectrum from the left to the centre have great appeal to voters, but they need to be presented by someone who is not constrained by a rigid ideological burden. We need to effectively promote socialist policies without using the term socialist in every other sentence.
Like Macron, the left must start to engage more with the politics of emotion. It was the politics of emotion that led to Brexit and Trump, but it can work for the left as well. We just need to shape it towards our issues, our battlegrounds, our policies. This however does not mean abandoning the issues important or popular to voters just because they don’t quite fit our ideology. Corbyn needs to realise the majority of the public support Trident, most feel austerity is sometimes necessary, and many believe that immigration has been detrimental to them and their lives.
We can’t simply spend 24/7 talking about the NHS, as we now know the public support May with the entity more. We need to mix in other issues, not just ones where we have the moral high ground, but those where we are less favoured, and less trusted. To do this we need to not only look to the future, but look into our past, especially towards New Labour. For too long we’ve allowed people to associate New Labour simply with the economic crisis and the Iraq invasion, but this discredits a lot of the great things we achieved in government.
New Labour rebuilt Britain and made it prosperous and progressive again after 18 years of Conservative rule. New Labour brought in Sure Start, the Good Friday Agreement, devolution, they halved homelessness, dropped hospital waiting times by 69%, brought in 39,000 extra teachers, 39,000 extra doctors, 81,000 extra nurses, increased benefits and tax credits, and upped school standards astronomically. Before the global economic crisis hit, Labour had even reduced the country’s debt % of GDP whilst still investing billions in public services, and we should be reminding the public of these facts.
We should be reminding them of who the Tories are, how they will always be the nasty party. We have allowed the public to buy into this ‘austerity is necessary’ lie, but we can’t simply use ‘anti-austerity’ as a slogan and hope for the best. We can’t rely on the young, and the liberal, we need to appeal to the older voters who vote in higher numbers, and the working class who came out in droves on June 23rd. We need to focus on immigration without using the term ‘freedom of movement’, a term that the referendum has turned toxic. We need to talk about bringing the best to the UK, from all walks of lives, and we need to let the working class know that we are finding paths for them as well, so that they can prosper and succeed like everyone else.
Many of our policies have potential; we can talk about economic overhaul, we can talk about council housing, wage suppression, renationalisation of the trains, but we can’t rely on this alone. We need to back Trident, back nuclear power, come up with a sensible foreign policy, and show the country we are still sovereign. People do care about the issues that our important to us and our ideology, but we need to show them that we can be taken seriously. We need to show we are serious on homelessness like New Labour were, we need to show we are serious on business and employment, not just through taxation and workers’ rights, but through getting more people into work, and encouraging individual prosperity in these tough times ahead.
If Labour is to take its chance to banish the Tories and endear itself once more in the public’s eye, the time is now. They will be there for the taking over Brexit, and the ripples of effects Brexit will bring to the UK. But the leadership must make sacrifices, the party must find it’s winning attitude once again, and we must learn to look outside our bubble, and embrace not only our past, but our past voters, and reach out to the country once more.