As we all know, Labour’s situation is dire. We trail the Conservatives on average by 17 points in the polls, Corbyn trails May by 40%, and the electorate trust the Tories over us in key areas such as health and the economy. We are roughly 20-25 net points behind our position at this point in the last parliament, and are heading for electoral wipeout in 2020. Most of us hope and pray for the resignation and removal of Corbyn as leader, but this seems a distant dream; so we must work with what we have, and to an extent lessen the damage.
Despite the fact we have a party leader who is hugely unpopular, we have also been let down by the leaderships attitude towards engagement and the media, and their unwillingness to communicate. The last 2-3 weeks have shown a slight improvement in policy and spin, but more must be done if Labour is to stand a chance. We, as a party, are not offering hope or security to voters up and down the country, and this simply, will be election disaster.
It’s important for the left, and for Labour to focus on the issues that matter to ordinary, every-day voters. Too often the left gets distracted by abstract notions, and focus on subjects and policy that simply do not matter to swing voters when they reach the ballot. The current leadership, and the membership, need to realise that hard-left views will never win an election. Labour needs to move into the centre-left, and talk the language of those who we need to vote for us in 2020. Corbyn supporters talk of concentrating on enthusing non-voters, but this is folly. The central ground is where elections are won, and lost.
Labour cannot make the same mistakes it made under Ed Miliband. Miliband refused to address voter concerns over economic credibility, immigration, and welfare because it would upset the party base, and Labour paid the price at the ballots. This is also one reason for Labour’s struggle in the north, and the traditional heartlands. Labour and the leadership are currently ignoring their past voters’ anxieties, and the Tories are seen to be delivering on these.
People know that the Tories are the nasty party, but they still believe they’re delivering on issues that are key to them. The Tories are delivering on Brexit, and this in turn leads them to be seen as delivering on the issues of immigration, and competition for work. People are insecure about their work, job security is at an all-time low, and factors such as the transformation of work, and automation of jobs is a threat to many. Although zero-hour jobs aren’t a secure and sustainable working contract, people will see that unemployment is falling under the Conservatives. The Tories are seen to be in touch with the average voter, and Labour needs to intervene.
The left needs to start engaging with the politics of emotion, the politics that led to Brexit and Trump. This does not mean aligning with these views, but understanding what drives people, and how to connect with the voters. It’s important to speak a language that people understand, use arguments that are well tested and have broad appeal. Labour does not have to abandon left wing policies, but also look to the centre to appeal to the masses.
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 a party that is not constrained by a rigid ideological burden. 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.
As Yvette Cooper highlighted in a Fabian publication last year, ‘the tragedy is that Labour’s values are the values of the British people: hard work, family, community, and a sense of fairness and decency. But they do not see them in the direction the party is being taken’. People want fairness in society, equality, and welfare, but they also want aspiration, and the means to better themselves.
The opportunities, and the open goals will be there for Labour before 2020. Brexit, at least in the short term, is not going to be pretty. There’s no doubting that leaving the European Union is going to leave us worse off in terms of trade, economy, security, global influence, and importantly jobs. It’s going to be a chaotic process that Labour must capitalise on, especially as a way of reaching out to both sides of the debate: Remain, and Leave.
Why must Labour move to the centre and attack these everyday areas? These are the things that unite both leave and remain voters; these are the aspects of life that we all share. This is what drives people, what sways them at the ballot, and what influences their decisions. People value the dignity of work, they cherish their family, they care about their community, and their country. They want an economy that works for them and their family, and to give their children a better future. Until Labour can look competent in these areas, we have no chance.
Labour should be focusing on areas such as increasing wealth, stability for those in work, flexibility to help with childcare arrangements, and fighting for the national living wage for under 25s as well. In addition, we should also be helping working people to aspire, help them to feel they are making a difference, and give them the chance to get on life. It’s one thing to go after young people’s votes, but we need to be swaying the parents of these young voters.
We need to invest in children, as well as their parents. We need to invest in affordable housing for all, and funded childcare for parents with young children. We need to look at increasing paternity leave so fathers can bond early on with their children. We need to be focusing on physical and mental health within the family unit, especially for teenagers, and new mothers. We also need to be focusing on the financial futures of these young family, as young people will be the first generation to be worse off than their parents, and even their grandparents. Setting up funds and investment strategies for young people needs to be the way forward, a medium that parents can also buy into.
Labour must highlight the struggle for single parents, as they are bearing the brunt of many of the Tories’ cuts. Although the average family could lose up to 16% of income after NIC and benefit changes, single parents will be hit even more harshly, as they will be hit by work allowance cuts, loss of childcare support, and new rules on self-employment. 47% of children in single parent families live in relative poverty, and children in single parent families are more likely to be overweight, suffer with ill-health, and miss out on key opportunities in education.
When Labour has focused on these key areas: the family unit, sovereignty, jobs, childcare, they have found huge success. New Labour did so much for families; they increased maternity leave, increased childcare, established a nationwide network of Sure Start children’s centres, almost eradicated child poverty, and halved homelessness. It built new schools, new hospitals, dramatically improved standards in both, and legislated for the first ever national minimum wage; giving millions of workers across the UK a pay rise overnight. This is what the current Labour Party must aspire to.