The Labour party is immersed in a massive debate in how it all went wrong in May 2015 – all to a backdrop of an internal leadership contest that, to be honest, is somewhat wanting.
Part of the problem is the lack of voices from the frontline including candidates, activists and volunteers as well as a geographical imbalance of voices dominated by those in or around London. This has led me and Professor Andrew Russell to work together on post-election analysis. This article is the beginning of that project.
Let’s stop talking about the left or right of the party, Blairites, Brownites, Bennites or any other ites. Frankly, few people on the doorstep care about this framing and as a committed Labour activist I find it unnecessary and weak. That kind of language is divisive and reinforces the impression we are part of a political echo chamber that is out of touch. Lay out what Labour means to you, leave individuals out.
We also need to recognise who we failed to connect with. We are losing our links with many: white working class communities, specific Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities – in particular younger BME men and the more affluent.
While burying our heads in the sand might make us feel good, in the long run not dealing with the complexities of diverse communities and how we engage them will be another nail in the coffin. The streets are bursting with anger and disillusionment, anyone who has spent any time in these communities will have felt the sheer heat of the fury radiating outwards. I understand it because I am furious about the bleak future many will face under the Tories. The new leadership team needs to deal with this, not sanitise themselves or we will suffer more defeats.
The second group are the comfortably off. The painful truth is that Labour was seen as an irrelevance by many people who worked hard and were doing well for themselves – “An I’m Aright thank you”. Many couldn’t connect with our language, our leadership or our narratives. The cacophony of policy announcements were drowned out by inconsistent and weak messages. A group of NHS workers I met briefly a few days before the election told me: “We know who you are and we are not voting for you.” That reinforced doubts I harboured: these were the very people who should have be standing side by side with us.
Many people voted out of fear and distrust, in many ways Labour’s trajectory was set early on. Yet we missed opportunity after opportunity. We allowed the Tories to set the narrative instead of robustly challenging it and being pro-active. Whoever leads the party, – leader, deputy as well as the wider leadership team – needs to set the Labour stall out succinctly, clearly and damn well fight for it. The last Labour government brought in the minimum wage, invested in Sure Start, early years, hospitals and schools. We transformed communities yet we acted like the last Labour administration was the embarrassing cousin to hide from. It was not good enough.
As soon as we start to waver under assault from the mainstream media, opposition parties or detractors we have lost. Communities up and down the country are crying out for a vision, strong leadership, courage and conviction and Labour politicians that will fight for them. The narrative is Labour’s to set and if we are serious about being in Government, shaping a progressive future for the UK then we have to seriously step up our game. If Labour cannot get past its political and emotional dissonance, we deserve to be out of power.
Amina Lone is the Co-Director of the Social Action and Research Foundation and former PPC for Morecambe and Lunesdale