Steve Reed: We lost the election over leadership, welfare and immigration – now we must tackle these issues and look ahead

3rd November, 2016 3:02 pm


Labour’s in trouble. Last year we lost a general election with one of our worst results in a century. Despite a disastrous Government under a dithering new prime minister, we are currently an average 11 points behind the Tories in the polls, with almost every poll since last year’s general election also showing us behind.

Real votes aren’t showing anything different. In May’s local elections, Labour secured our worst result in England since 1983, we polled our lowest share of the vote in Wales since 1918 and in Scotland since 1910. And that’s despite victories in mayoral races in London and Bristol.

Political parties only succeed if voters believe they are in touch with their lives and can help them face the challenges of the future. Labour’s been moving away from the voters for some years now in a process that now appears to be accelerating, and Labour’s response has been to turn inwards.

There has never been a more pressing need to rethink what Labour’s for, who we represent and how we make ourselves relevant to the country. Political parties have no God-given right to exist. The stakes could not be higher.

Labour Together, hosting its first conference today, brings all wings of our party together so we can start to talk about how we renew ourselves. If we don’t reconnect with the people of this country we will never win power again. We have to ask ourselves some very basic questions: what’s Labour for, who do we represent, how do we make ourselves relevant to people’s lives again?

The crisis of the left is not unique to Britain. Centre-left parties are in decline across much of the western world. Voters’ faith in the power of liberal democracy to protect them was shattered by the financial crash of 2007 and the aftermath in which the weakest were made to pay the price while the wealthy grew richer. The backlash against the destructive power of unfettered globalisation has brought rising nationalism, protectionism, the growth of political extremes on both the right and left, and in Britain it fuelled Brexit.

Labour’s traditional electoral coalition has shattered. Increasingly, our white working class base is abandoning us and either not voting, voting UKIP, or heading straight for the Tories. Even our BAME support is weakening – last year’s general election was the first time more Hindus voted Tory than Labour.

Former Labour voters are angry with us. Angry that we didn’t protect their interests as unfettered globalisation undermined their security, angry that we no longer reflect or even respect their sense of identity and who they are. We know we lost the last general election because the voters didn’t trust us on leadership, the economy, welfare or immigration. Now polling puts us even further behind on all those issues plus voters no longer trust us on national security and English voters think we resent their patriotism.

Instead of confronting these threats and looking to the future, Labour is engaged in internal battles over different versions of our own past. Whether we preferred Blairism or Bennism is irrelevant to the challenges facing Britain in the 2020s.

For Labour to renew, our starting point must be the people. Their concerns, priorities and ambitions must drive us forward. People want a voice and the power to make it heard. We must care about the things they care about – family, community, work, security and a sense of belonging. There are great forces from globalisation to the digital revolution reshaping the future. Our response can’t just be to stop the world and get off, but to harness the opportunities these changes bring and share them with everyone. Labour must show that we have not lost faith in the people but are prepared to go further than ever before to help them take back the control they need to build a better world.

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