The long road back

Dear LabourList Readers,

When we are wrong, we need to say so. The urge to say that the electorate were wrong is always strong in any party that has lost an election – even the drubbing that Labour has been submitted to in the past 24 hours. But lying to ourselves won’t get us anywhere. The British people spoke loudly and clearly, and delivered a result that only a few thought possible. More Tory seats. And a more secure and more successful David Cameron in office for another five years.

For the Labour Party this was a tragedy. My thoughts are with those – candidates, activists, staff – who toiled for years in vain. I had such high hopes for so many that have been so cruelly dashed. This was a brutal defeat – but one that should have been forseen.

I didn’t see it coming – this is my mea culpa. I thought Miliband offered a chance to build a different kind of Britain. But the British people disagreed. They didn’t buy what we were selling, how we sold it or who was selling it. In fact, all too many didn’t know what we were selling at all.

A party too isolated in terms of geography, mindset and pure human contact from the British people can never hope to prevail against a surprisingly resilient and resurgent Tory Party – and a tidal wave of nationalism. If we stay trapped where we are right now, we’ll lose again.

So what are we going to do about it?

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What certainly can’t be allowed to happen is “one more heave”. A Labour Party focussed too greatly on the NHS and the iniquities visited upon the vunerable by the current government, delivered through “only Labour” squeeze messages and one way conversations with those who are already likely to vote for us has been tried, tested and found utterly wanting. That is not to say those issues have no validity. Quite the opposite. The historic mission of the Labour Party demands nothing less than defending those in need and standing up for the institutions that make our nation great. But to focus on those messages alone – is to drive around the political cul-de-sac.

The Labour Party needs to have a complete rethink of everything that we do as a party. How we campaign. How we organise. How we speak to the British people. How we include them in our party. How we build a movement. And whether what we stand for and how we present those values resonates with the British public.

Because we’re meant to be the party of working people – the clue is in the name. But all too many of those people who we seek to represent (and who we feel we do represent) took a look at Labour and saw too little of themselves represented in it. That’s not a recent phenomenon – it spans years not weeks.

The truly shocking part of this election debacle was that the Labour Party still believed until the last moment that victory (of sorts) was at hand. We were caught with our electoral pants down.

Whilst retaking Bradford West was a rare high point in a dire night, the results as a whole were reminiscent of that seat’s 2012 by-election. We had the canvass returns. We had done the work we felt was required of us. And yet the tidal wave of public opinion washed us away – blindsided – anyway. That can’t be allowed to happen again. Only by being firmly rooted in communities and campaigning from that position can the Labour Party rise again from the ground up. It will take time. It will mean rethinking some policy, organisational and messaging shibboleths. And here’s the worst part – it may be a long road back. But it’s the road we need to take.

Following that road may be best served by having a period of stability – and, if possible, calm – rather than rushing into a noisy and combative leadership contest that produces much heat but little illumination.

We will know one way or another in the coming hours. As the shock wears off. As the exhaustions kicks in all over again. As the reality sinks in. But never forget this moment. How you felt now after this appalling night at the polls. It will remind you next time complacency kicks in – and it may drive the party to what comes next.

With my best on the difficult morning

Mark

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