Keir Starmer has got off to a cracking start, in the most difficult of circumstances due to coronavirus, in rebuilding Labour after our catastrophic and traumatic defeat at the 2019 general election. His calm and forensic approach to holding the government to account for its lamentable performance is already winning him the trust of the public, the highest personal ratings for any Labour leader for decades, and opinion poll ratings touching 40% for the party.
The history of the 2015-2019 era is being recorded forensically. Already by the Labour Together review of the election defeat, and soon by the EHRC report on antisemitism in the party. It’s a sorry tale of staggering incompetence, vicious sectarianism, and tolerance or participation in anti-Jewish racism. No wonder the membership and the public wanted Labour to change.
Inside the party, the narrow victory for Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan in the national executive committee (NEC) by-elections, held alongside the leadership contests, meant that rather than being faced by a hostile NEC, Keir starts with an NEC where he can usually narrowly win key votes.
This rebalancing of the NEC led him to the bold choice of David Evans as his preferred candidate for the new general secretary, who went on to win. Thorough-going reform of Labour’s party machinery to turn it back into an election winning force is now on the cards.
Within two months, Keir had seized control of all three of the main nodal points of power in the party – the leader’s office, the NEC and the general secretary. This trifecta took Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters two and a half years to achieve.
The shock of the general election result created a new coalition within Labour that backed Keir, or in some cases Lisa Nandy, for leader, because it is desperate to return Labour to electability and to put the bullying and factionalism of the 2015-2019 period behind us. It wants a return to decency and unity. It is a coalition of goodwill, stretching deep into the left of the party and including former supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who came to the realisation that the party needed to change direction.
Over 100,000 new members joined to vote for Keir or Lisa or Jess, taking Labour to its highest ever membership. Their voices were heard in the leadership ballot but not in the NEC by-elections, from which they were disenfranchised as the cut-off date for eligibility was set earlier.
We need to hear who they want representing them on the NEC in a fresh set of elections. Seven of the current NEC CLP reps – one of them suspended due to antisemitism allegations – are on a mandate from a different political era and a different membership in 2018. And we need these new members to be integrated into the party’s structures and campaigning as soon as coronavirus restrictions allow.
Whilst a sea change has happened in the composition and attitudes of the party membership, the worst elements of the Corbyn era haven’t gone away. On the NEC, they have tried to obstruct Keir on every vote. On social media, they incessantly snipe at everything Keir does. In CLPs, once meetings restart, they will try to crush the enthusiasm of the new members under a landslide of anti-leadership motions, procedural nit-picking and general negativity.
Whilst the top level of the party is changing for the better, Labour is a vast voluntary network. Changing it can’t be done by one leader or one general secretary – it needs a movement. That’s why Labour First and Progress are coming together to create a new and broader coalition, Labour to Win. From today, party members can sign up to be part of Labour to Win at its website labourtowin.org.
Labour to Win aims to bring members together who share the belief that the party must change radically if we are to return to being election winners. It is committed to building the broadest possible coalition with everyone of goodwill who believes a better future is possible for Labour and the country.
Our objectives are:
- Standing up for social democratic and democratic socialist values
- Working together to make Keir Starmer’s leadership a success
- Building diverse networks of new and existing Labour activists
- Training and educating the next generation of Labour candidates, activists and campaigners
- Campaigning for Labour candidates across England, Scotland and Wales
- Ensuring a strong, Labour voice at all levels of government
Keir Starmer needs a strong, broad, mass movement of grassroots members behind him, as committed as he is to changing Labour at every level and in every CLP to make it electable again. I urge Labour members to join Labour To Win and be part of that movement.
I would particularly appeal to members and organisations who self-define as being on the soft left to work with us. You have a leader and a frontbench who are in a similar place to you ideologically. You don’t have to compromise your politics – you just need to be willing to work with us in helping that new leadership return Labour to government.
This may be Labour’s last chance to turn round the years of decline evidenced in the Labour Together report. We owe it to our party and our country not to waste it.