One more heave is not the answer

Tom Watson

When David Cameron talks about the global race, he’s right. For Britain to be a success story, we have to compete internationally. The question for Labour though is what kind of team do we want to be to win this country gold? How can we even get selected to represent Britain again?

That’s one for Douglas Alexander to ponder as he crafts Labour’s election strategy. As his predecessor, here’s some well-intentioned advice.

For starters, Labour urgently needs a renewed sense of national purpose. The New Labour songbook isn’t generating any hits. The old system is broken, the old orthodoxies are broken. One more heave will make everyone feel sick.

Running the 2015 election campaign as if its 2010 would be a doomed approach.

2010 will be remembered as the end of the old era of politics. We lacked the human touch. The party was too managerial, relationships were neglected and we failed to ask anything of people beyond their vote.

Instead of talking straight, we told voters what we thought they wanted to hear.

We relied on mass mailing households with bespoke policy leaflets which got binned faster than the flyer for the local kebab shop.  By sending letters, we avoided hearing the uncomfortable truth of what people really thought.

As far as the public were concerned, we’d left them with debt, broken institutions, unpoliced borders, unrestricted capital and a cowed labour force. They held us responsible for not challenging the unaccountable elites. The financial sector gambled away people’s pensions and their inheritance. And what did we do? We bailed them out instead of reforming them. In the media, foreign owners were given so much power they thought they could choose the next prime minister. And while we bickered Cameron was even marching on rallies to support the NHS. The audacity of the Tory assault was breathtaking.

Am I being too harsh? Not at all. Until we accept what went wrong then we can’t move forward.

Our strategy can no longer be about micro-positioning and tweaking the message. People are not simply consumers, but active citizens shaping their future together.

They want to live in a kinder, fairer but more entrepreneurial society where jobs come with decent wages up and down the country. That means regional banks which break the stranglehold of the City of London on internal investment and allow regional businesses to grow. Take the Midlands. It’s a high quality engineering hub which leads the world in Formula One technology. Yet the region is so starved of funds that some firms are taking loans on their credit cards because the mainstream banks won’t invest.

The UK workforce must be treated with respect and dignity in both the public and the private sector. Good work generates value, not speculation and financial gimmickry.

Germany is an example of what can be done if you have workers in a constructive powerful position in boards.

To win the next election, our party must make voters a big bold offer for change. As Marcus Roberts from the Fabian Society points out, this offer must address the living standards crisis because the same problems exist for middle and working class voters alike.

The New Labour victory plan which relied heavily on flipping large numbers of Tory voters isn’t one that is available to Ed Miliband.

I agree with Roberts when he says the Labour leader must create a new coalition of voters. Ed Miliband’s anti-Iraq war, anti-tuition fees, pro-civil liberties stance is appealing to many who voted Lib Dem in 2010. First-time voters are another potential source of votes. Hardest to turn will be those who converted to the Conservative cause at the last election. However, Ed Miliband already has an army of parliamentary candidates and organisers to target this small but crucial pool of voters.

Labour, as Mark Ferguson pointed out last week, also has to tap into the energy and hope of ‘movement’ politics. Here I mean grassroots organizations like 38 degrees, avaaz and change.org. Food banks, save our libraries campaigns, faith groups helping the homeless, defend sure start: this is the politics of people’s communities, people’s lives.

To win, says Roberts, we must also embrace strategies including community organising, ‘big data’ and voter registration. I agree because Labour’s future lies in doing politics with people, not to people.

Like in Dundee where Labour is building up energy cooperatives so that people can switch to save together.

As party General Secretary Iain McNicol recently said in the New Statesman: we’re already changing from a party that floods voters with leaflets delivered by a handful of volunteers to being a movement which is having hundreds of thousands of conversations with people. Community organising is a not a trick or a technique. It brings politics closer to people and forces us to listen to what matters.

That’s Real Labour.

To be successful in our enduring mission, we have to listen to the real politics of local communities and deliver lasting change. That should be One Nation Labour’s mantra for 2015, not a reheated menu of what failed before.

That leaflet is already in the recycling box.

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