Last week’s General Election result was a disaster for the Labour Party and the millions of people who needed a Labour government. Despite facing an unpopular Tory party who few believed had their best interests at heart, we were unable to convince enough of the electorate to believe in what we were offering or that we were competent enough to deliver it.
The 2015 election was fought on untested grounds and, with the prospect of Scottish independence and boundary changes looming, the sands will have shifted yet again before 2020. The reasons for our failure to gain the trust and confidence of the British public are many and are deserving of serious reflection. We, as a party, owe it to the people who we came into politics to represent to take account of our defeat, but we must not allow knee-jerk opportunism and superficial analysis to take the place of sincere reflection if we are to devise a strategy for returning to power in five years’ time.
Before the post mortem had taken place there were some in our party already claiming that the election was lost simply because Ed Miliband’s Labour was too left wing, too anti-business and failed to speak to “aspirational” voters. While it is certainly true that Labour must devise a strategy for the whole of the country, the suggestion that we somehow turned our back on business is misguided. We want business to succeed for the simple reason that it is the businesses, the entrepreneurs and the people who work in their businesses who create the prosperity needed for a fairer society.
Whether our policies addressed this objective sufficiently, were attractive enough to business or whether we communicated our commitment well enough are all topics deserving of debate, but the suggestion that being pro-business or pro-aspiration is incompatible with our agenda for a more fair and equal society, is wrong.
In uncertain times it is understandable to want to retreat into the past, but we must resist the calls for a revival of the two decades old New Labour project. One of the underlying assumptions of New Labour was that we could focus our attention on Conservative voters outside of our traditional heartlands because our core vote had “nowhere else to go”. Between 1997 and 2010 this strategy lost Labour 5million voters, many of who simply stopped voting, and our wipe-out in Scotland and the UKIP surge in the North of England and Wales have demonstrated that much of our core vote now have somewhere else to go and have already gone.
There is nothing un-aspirational about enabling people to lift themselves out of poverty, ensuring the hard work of the many is rewarded with job security, decent housing and the prospect of a better life, yet for too many people New Labour failed to adequately address these aspirations. If we are to return to government our party must reconnect with these people and it is difficult to understand how a return to New Labour and the politics which are largely responsible for this disengagement could help us achieve this.
We live in an increasingly fragmented nation and society in which there is wide-spread apathy and discontent with the political system and with Westminster party politics, and our defeats in Scotland, the rise of UKIP in Wales and the North of England and our failure to win marginal seats in the Midlands and South of England cannot be reduced to any single, superficial analysis. What went wrong and the solutions to the challenges faced by the party warrant frank discussion and bold thinking, not simply a call to return to the politics of the mid 1990’s. We owe it to all those who need a Labour government to have this discussion.
Andy McDonald is the MP for Middlesbrough