For the next week, until conference arrives and our new leader is announced, the Labour Party is in something like limbo-land. We will have to content ourselves to watching with amusement as the Liberal Democrats perform policy somersaults and try to maintain the illusion they exist any longer as a separate party. As we approach conference there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful – we are riding high in the polls and about to start a new era under a new leader. However, there are also reasons to be cautious; as we all know politics is a rollercoaster and those who are on the up can very quickly come crashing down. A recent by-election in Hackney sounds a note of caution. Labour lost the New River by-election despite considerable campaigning efforts.
This is the source of considerable glee to Conservative Home and the Conservative candidate, Benzion Papier;
“If people believed Labour’s rhetoric about the effect that the coalition government would have on the poor then this should have been an easy win for them but people realise who got us into this mess.”
True the Conservatives did increase their majority from 39 to 560 but I wouldn’t go as far as all that for a couple of reasons. Local by-elections are often determined strongly by local factors and often have a low turnout. So, given that the Hackney Citizen reports that the previous incumbent was popular, that will have played a much stronger role in determining the vote than how people view the coalition’s economic policy.
What it may point to is a continued problem, not with Labour voters deserting to other parties (which is an issue but a slightly different one), but a continued problem of motivation for our core vote. Unconvinced still that Labour is on its side, it continues to sit on its hands. Our leap in the polls seems to be about as much due to Labour acting as a lightning rod for anger at the Lib Dems betrayal as it is a mass flocking to the banner.
This is the problem; debates about winning back lost voters focus too much on those who have defected to other parties and not enough on those who simply cannot be bothered to vote anymore. At the Green Party conference Billy Hayes reported that the number of CWU members voting for Labour had dropped from 63% in 2005 to 40% in 2010 and I would be fascinated to know how many among that number simply did not vote. To bring these people back into Labour will require more than changing the leader or indeed changing policies (though they are both important); it will require that these people are given a stake in a party – which after-all was formed historically to represent their interests and give them a voice. Recognition of that exists in the formation of campaigns like the Labour Diversity Fund and websites like Labour Values; both of which are excellent contributions to taking our party in the direction it needs to go. They are part of a necessary cultural change we need to make to win.
Change to Win also aims to campaign for those changes; promote a new generation of Labour candidates that reflect the aim of giving those society dispossess a voice and challenge the argument that there is a contrast between being electable and standing-up for our common values. As a website it is in its extreme infancy but I hope that along with the campaigns mentioned above and others it can be part of making the changes that need to happen for us to win again not just in places like New River but across the country.