If you’re in a hole, stop digging. The worst possible reaction to the disastrous defeat in Hartlepool is to claim that Labour reforms are not going fast enough. Yet that seems to be the line emerging from some close the leadership.
There can be no dispute that the by-election result is a disaster. We were promised that we would win back support in areas like Hartlepool. We have not. Worse, we lost Hartlepool itself. And the claim that we are “climbing the mountain” is false. Our vote was down nine percentage points versus 2019. We are going backwards, not making progress. The loss in Dudley suggests that Hartlepool could be repeated in the many other declarations across the country.
It is disingenuous to blame the legacy of Jeremy Corbyn, not least because he held Hartlepool twice. It is not serious to blame all your failings on the previous management in any walk of life, and in politics it is puerile. Voters always ask themselves questions like, which of these parties is going to make me better off, or which of these parties best represents my values? It is resoundingly clear from the majority of voters in Hartlepool (and possibly many other places) that currently it is not the Labour Party.
It is also a great fallacy that losing to your opponents means you have to be more like them to win. When the Tories came within a heartbeat of losing in 2017, they did not become Corbyn-lite. They shifted dramatically to the right. They changed the terms of the debate and won new voters.
We will not recover, let alone win, with a combination of becoming more like the Tories and only repeating the word ‘sleaze’. That political line has been tested to destruction. More of the same will only lead to the same result. It is also a serious error to assume that this must be the low point for our support. The fortunes of our own party in Scotland should dispel any complacency of that type.
Nor will we win by more hammering the left. It demoralises many of our own voters and it only feeds the appetite of the Tory press it is designed to satisfy.
We need to build on our successes, including where we are successful at various levels of government all across the country. Our policies were extremely popular in 2017 and 2019. We can build on them. Jeremy Corbyn was defeated by a series of personal attacks. Our policies were a strong point and remain so.
Tony Benn taught us that politics should be about issues, not personalities. I agree. Changes of personnel are the first resort of those who refuse to discuss the issues. What we need now is not ill-considered changes of personnel, not more expulsions or exclusions, but a change of political strategy.