Politics is cyclical: sometimes your party is in and sometimes your party is out. It is very likely that some time in the future, and perhaps very soon, Labour will be back in power. It is equally likely that, at some point after that long-awaited victory, the Conservatives will get back in power again.
And there’s the rub. Jeremy Corbyn could be prime minister for a year, for five years, for 15 years. He could re-nationalise the railways and the post office, scrap tuition fees and abolish right to buy. I hope he will do all of those things. But what’s the use of putting all that effort in once we get back in power, if the Tories can undo it all at a stroke once they get back in power?
The next Labour government needs to think very hard about the next Conservative administration, waiting just around the corner. It is always tempting for ministers to be tactical rather than strategic, to focus on winning the next election rather than guaranteeing lasting social reform. In the long run, this way of thinking is a huge mistake, especially for a government that values the role of the state in people’s lives. Labour cannot govern on the basis that it will always govern in the future: all it takes is one election loss, and we are back to square one. Our legislative priorities should therefore include the future-proofing of our major legislative achievements against hostile governments further down the road. In other words, we should aim to make our achievements as permanent and irreversible as possible. Depressingly, the Tories are much better at this than Labour.
How can we do this? For starters, the next Labour government should not only legislate to re-nationalise what the Tories sold off, it should also make privatisation more difficult for any government in the future. Legislation should be introduced to force any new large-scale privatisations through lengthy cost-reviews, public-interest tests, court and committee and regulator approval. It should be mandatory to publish the terms of an outsourced contract in full, and prohibited to award a contract lasting more than two years. Procedural barriers should be erected to make large-scale privatisation take up as much parliamentary time as possible.
What’s more, these barriers should be introduced in the same sentence as reforms that appeal to the Tory constituency, for example pro-business and pro-agriculture changes. This would preclude wholesale repeal further down the line, and force a future Tory government to slowly unpick what it likes from what it dislikes.
We live in a democracy, and so once we are in power we cannot keep the Tories out forever. A Tory government in power is hard to stop: but it can be slowed down, especially if plans are made in advance. And sometimes, slowing the Tories down might be enough to beat them in the long run.
This isn’t to say that a Labour government in power shouldn’t aim to win more elections. To future-proof our achievements, we also need to redress the huge and unjustified imbalances that make it easier for the Tories to win on polling day. For example, political donations from individual people should be sharply capped. Donations from businesses, secret funds and shady private members’ clubs should be banned outright. Media competition rules should be rewritten, and newspaper monopolies broken up. Sixteen-year-olds, a natural Labour constituency, should get the vote. David Cameron’s voting reforms, which disenfranchised thousands of university students, should be undone. All of these changes would help push the next Tory government further into the future, giving our political achievements time to mature into the new reality.
Finally, Labour should aim to restore balance to the harmful and one-sided political discourse in this country. Tory outriders, the partisan think-tanks and interest groups that masquerade as impartial talking heads should be brought under the spotlight, and forced to disclose the sources of their foreign funding. Many of these organisations are nearly as extreme and divisive as the foreign-sponsored, hardline Islamist groups that we as a society rightly reject. Once the Tories’ outriders are exposed for what they are and whose interests they represent, it will be much harder for Tory governments to justify repealing good Labour policy.
Politics is cyclical, so it’s never too early to think about what Labour should do in power. Our newest manifesto was a triumph of popular and practical ideas; it was modern, radical and visionary. There is a strong possibility that we will soon be able to implement that manifesto in full. However, if we really want to build lasting change, and not just a flash in the pan, we should think very carefully about how to future-proof our achievements. Because one day, inevitably, they will have to survive on their own.
Alex Shattock is a PhD candidate in law and a former prison worker.