Ed Miliband’s 2012 conference speech was an exciting moment for Labour. It represented a joining together of new ideas from a range of left-leaning thinkers into a new, coherent ideology ready-made to take up Tony Blair’s New Labour mantle.
The ‘One Nation’ tag was brilliant as a blank policy sheet, a communication strategy and the basis of a new ideological approach. One Nation promised a positive new offer which meant learning from the successes and failures of New Labour, reconnecting with voters and reasserting that Labour could be for everyone.
But as Simon Danczuk has suggested, Labour has run off course. Negative campaigning, a failure to understand voter’s priorities and a re-emergence of class war has seen Labour’s poll lead disintegrate. Quite simply Labour needs to go back to the roots of One Nation.
Labour must choose hope over fear
Firstly, the press releases, speeches, emails, election broadcasts and ‘lines to take’ which all begin with an attack on the coalition must be revisited. Voters are asking, “Ok, I won’t vote Tory, but why Labour?” A recent email asked me to campaign for Labour, but cited not one single policy I should discuss on the doorstep. Please don’t tell me Labour’s self-esteem peaks at “at least we’re not Tories?”
In place of this, Miliband needs to drive home a positive One Nation vision. When Ed gave his brilliant One Nation speech the critics pointed to a lack of policies. Ironically, the problem now is that Labour has a range of popular policy ideas without any ideological grounding. Since his 2012 speech, Ed’s never really articulated a “this is what I want Britain to look like in 5 years” message. In 1997 Blair championed private sector growth and vowed to improve public services. David Cameron was “the heir to Blair”. He favoured a larger private sector driven by entrepreneurship, a smaller state and a ‘big society’ resulting in a more sustainable economy. Ed now needs to drum home his own ‘big idea’ and make the public dream.
Politicians must give voters more credit
As Danczuk also said, Labour must do more to connect with voters’ hopes, concerns and aspirations. Some voters – those living on the breadline (many of whom will vote Labour already) – may be swayed by promises of a few extra quid off household bills or anti-coalition class warfare, but most will vote based on their values and experience. This doesn’t mean they’ll associate with Marx or Hayek – it means they’ll vote for the party that reflects their day-to-day experiences and learnings. Voters aren’t as fickle and impressionable as some politicians like to think.
Take, for instance, low-to-middle income voters who Labour lost to Thatcher, and are now turning to UKIP. These voters often have an aversion to change – they value security over upheaval. This is logical. If you’ve just earned yourself respectable money, you don’t want to risk losing it in the next recession. If Labour thinks an extra few quid will be enough, disappointment awaits. Here Labour needs to build a coherent rhetoric around immigration, welfare and work into a One Nation vision.
And what about the traditional middle-classes who’ve left Labour? They’re usually concerned about how Labour will manage the macro-economy, and the longer term future for them and their families. It is essential Ed Miliband treats this group with respect and wins them over with more of 1997’s economic prudence promises than 2014’s “cost of living” pledges of short-term personal gain.
We need a One Nation Labour for everyone
This leads me onto the most essential point. One Nation must mean One Nation. It needs to be for everyone or it serves to mean nothing. Talk of a 35% strategy and the idea that a ‘One Nation’ party can doubt its potential for broad appeal is staggering. Ed Miliband has written that he wants to ‘end class warfare’ and he’s right to say that. That means sounding more pro-business and pro-city, and less class-orientated. Add in more focus on education, social mobility and aspiration and we’ll have a wide-reaching, more convincing and more responsible offer worthy of winning us the next election.
The party had lost five million voters by 2010, partly due to the financial crash and backlash against welfare and immigration – but Brown’s aura of negativity and the party’s loss of direction were contributing factors. A new positive vision can win these voters back. One Nation Labour at its best will suggest that the best of Britain is yet to come.