Comment: A progressive ‘in’ campaign is the first step to rebuilding Labour

We must resist the urge to navel gaze for too long

EU flag


After the cataclysm of Thursday’s election result, many Labour politicians have suggested a need for reflection on the party’s fundamental values, either before or in parallel with the leadership election.

That is, of course, necessary after such a disappointing result.

This reflection must not, however, come at the cost of leaving a political vacuum to the right. We must resist the urge to navel gaze for too long, given that we are possibly (and some say likely) less than twelve months away from a referendum on membership of the European Union.

The beginnings of a cross-party ‘in’ campaign are already in place, with Lord Mandelson as the key Labour representative. But the Scottish referendum clearly demonstrated the negative consequences of Labour being identified with an ‘elite’, ‘establishment’ consensus.

There are three reasons why a Labour (rather than cross-party) ‘in’ campaign could – and I hope, will – offer the first step towards rebuilding Labour.

First, despite the disappointing result, more people were engaged in political activity this election than ever before – the vast majority of them, with the Labour Party. No less than 200,000 people left their comfort zone to tap on doors and speak to complete strangers as Labour canvassers.

For many I spoke to, from Milton Keynes to Dover, this was their first experience of political activism. Labour as a party must ensure it is not their last engagement in organised politics. This can be done by offering people a meaningful role in an optimistic, forward-looking ‘in’ campaign.

Second, many of those new, often young (in age or spirit) activists were energised by the very values that Labour is trying to pursue in Europe. They abhor the xenophobia of UKIP and reject racism instinctively. They care passionately about increasing living standards, not just for themselves but across the world. They are disturbed by current rates of youth unemployment, and would be appalled by the job losses that would occur if Britain cuts itself off from the rest of Europe.

They are also often passionate about the need to tackle climate change and air pollution, viewing these issues as core to Labour’s progressive message.

A strong Labour ‘in’ campaign offers a chance to champion these values. It also gives Labour a chance to offer hope to young people, capitalising on the wave of support from younger people that arose in the latter stages of the election campaign (even if that did not always translate into votes, given the challenge we still face in getting younger voters to turn out in the same numbers as their parents and grandparents).

Labour should now repay that commitment by demanding that 16-year-olds be given a vote in this referendum, and redouble its efforts to register young voters, more necessary than ever before given the Tories’ new, US-style measures to make registration harder.

And third, a progressive ‘in’ campaign offers an excellent chance for local Labour parties to renew their links with trade union members. Just as it was the trade unions who made much of the running against UKIP over the last two years, so it has been the trade unions who have loudly and proudly argued for Britain’s continued place in Europe.

A strong Labour campaign, joint with trade unions, will not only be essential to mobilise ‘in’ voters, but also important in ensuring that Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ does not remove the working protections and social rights that stop Europe from being just a trade club for multinational companies. It will also prevent accusations that the ‘in’ campaign is dominated by captains of industry and not representative of working people, a card that UKIP has attempted to play in recent months.


Labour activists, politicians and supporters will need some time to lick their wounds and regroup. But as soon as this is done, we must move quickly to mobilise again all those people who put worked so hard for a better, fairer future for Britain, and provide hope to all those who, despite all the smears and brickbats, did opt to vote Labour last Thursday.

Despite the spin, we know that there is a large body of support across the whole of Britain, and particularly amongst the young, for membership of an EU focused on jobs and living standards. Labour cannot waste any time in arguing for it.

Anneliese Dodds MEP is a member of the European Parliament economic and monetary affairs committee. Follow her on Twitter

22 Responses to “Comment: A progressive ‘in’ campaign is the first step to rebuilding Labour”

  1. Gary Scott

    The first thing to remember is who the Labour Party represents. There is a full third of voting age adults who don’t vote, these missing millions should be the target of Labour. Address THEIR issues not those of Daily Mail readers. Don’t go for the centre ground, talk to the people who DON’T vote! The EU referendum could make or break Labour. The Scottish referendum was won by Labour, but at a cost of killing itself. The operation was a success but the patient died. That referendum was relentlessly negative, full of personal smears and was run by an MP who was at the end of his career, which was just as well, his behaviour was shocking (even for a politician). Tips for EU referendum, don’t stand on the same platform as the Tories and DON’T spend the next two years talking down your own country. If not, then Labour in England & Wales may find themselves in the same position as their Scottish counterparts…

  2. Peem Birrell

    When I hear the word progressive I reach for my revolver

  3. oblivia

    The main policy difference between Labour and the SNP is austerity. The Scots don’t want independence from England; they want independence from the Tories and their disastrous economic policies.

    The only thing Labour needed to do was offer a credible alternative to Tory austerity. And you don’t even need to move left to do that because austerity isn’t real economics—it’s a totally discredited theory that can be destroyed from the right, left or centre. Heck, even the IMF is against it, as nobody mentioned during the election.

    Needless to say, austerity isn’t even mentioned in this article. And now pro-austerity Labour wants us to vote for a pro-austerity EU? This is a disaster in the making…

  4. AlanGiles

    May I just remind you that in a lot of Northern seats last week, UKIP came a very strong second to Labour?. Unless you are suggesting these voters were too stupid to know that the main policy of UKIP is withdrawal from the EU, it suggests that your “in” campaign” would be as popular with those voters as the Scottish independence campaign was with Scotland last year. You saw the results of that last week.

    Personally I think UKIP is a one man band – the Farage Party, and is quite toothless, but in your desperation you are once again ignoring your supporters while telling them you are listening

  5. James Chilton

    “Lord Mandelson as the key Labour representative….”

    That fact, if it is a fact, could (almost) make me an “outer” rather than a supporter of a “progressive in campaign”.

  6. Peter Martin

    There’s nothing progressive about the EU. There’s nothing progressive about the sadistic economic treatment of Greece and other peripheral EU countries. There’s nothing progressive about the likes of Herr Wolfgang Schäuble. A vote for the EU is a vote for Schäuble, or some equally unpleasant successor, calling the shots everywhere in the EU.

    Labour would have won had they offered an EU referendum. Better a referendum under Labour than under the Tories which is what we’re going to get.

    The assumption that UKIP would harm the Tories more was a big mistake. Does anyone remeber the 9% strategy now? How stupid was that?

    There’s potential UKIP supporters everywhere. In a EU election they’ll all vote UKIP. But in this election, because of the lack of an EU referendum offer things were different. UKIP/Labour supporters were much more likely to defect to UKIP, or even the Tories, than UKIP/Conservative supporters who were being offered that referendum.

    I could never bring myself to vote for either the Tories or UKIP. But, for the first time ever, I can’t feel any sadness about a Tory win. That EU referendum is a big consolation.

  7. wj

    I’ve read this through and found myself arguing with every point made – except the first maybe.

    “Offering people a meaningful role in an optimistic, forward-looking ‘in’ campaign” is entirely different than whipping up lynch mobs to oppose UKIP – the latter was easy, the former not so easy.

    And, how is belonging to the EU about “increasing living standards” or avoiding “job losses” – if anything the opposite is true; the young people of this country have been thrown on the scrapheap in preference for cheap Eastern European labour.

    And why does the UK have to belong to a political union to have trade agreements with the EU.

    And what have the traditional supporters of the EU done to deserve the unemployment rates being experienced now – Italy’s youth unemployment now stands at 43%, Spain’s 50%, and poor old Greece’s 50% – is this what the UK has to look forward to.

    On the subject of climate change or air pollution – why is it impossible for the people of this country to fight for, and implement such measures through our own democratic process. I would have thought that it was
    easier to mobilize the young for these issues than supporting a bureaucratic quango in Brussels. Bearing in mind that the EU is not always on the right side of these issues – bio-fuel policies were a disaster.

    Your third point illustrates all too clearly the famous ‘disconnect’ in this country – Lord Mandelson, “progressive”, unions against UKIP – and you don’t wish to present yourselves as an “’elite’, ‘establishment’

    With the Conservatives winning 36.9% and UKIP 12-6% of the votes in the last election, and making inroads into the Labour vote, Labour and the “progressive left” have to realise that the taken-for-granted connection between Labour and working class communities is no longer there; the Left’s love for the EU is not understood, and has nothing to offer ‘us plebs’; at best most people at street level are completely indifferent.

    Wheeling out Mandelson and goggle-eyed progressives will have the opposite effect to what the ‘inners’ wish for. As an ‘outer’ I can only encourage you to carry on as you are.

  8. theprog

    Labour would have done better if it hadn’t chosen a Marxist muppet for a leader, a truth only publicly acknowledged by the Labour mandarins after the event. Thank God most of the electorate has more sense. The fact is that the majority don’t want any more steps to the left. Indeed, the signs suggest that most would prefer the reverse. Labour should also accept that a substantial number of its former supporters are not true socialists, given the rise in the UKIP vote.

  9. Cole

    Mikiband a ‘Marxist muppet’? What planet do you live on? He is a mild social democrat. You must have been reading the Daily Mail.

  10. stevep

    Despite the outcome of the election, There is still a huge left of centre consensus in the UK. The success of the Tories was their usual trick of making people take their eye off the ball and then apply divide and rule scare tactics. Their friends in the media ran the vilest, negative, most hate-ridden campaign ever seen in this country (and that includes the early`80s when newspapers sacked trades unionists and retreated behind razor wire compounds to print their pro-tory propaganda.). Despite this the Tories only hold a small majority.
    Much has been made of the SNP`s success in the election in wiping out Labour in Scotland. All that has actually happened is there has been a colour swop from red to yellow, the voters are still left-leaning in Scotland, they want to part of the UK but with a slightly more radical voice, the SNP offered this. We can learn from it. Time will tell whether voters in Scotland will still be as enthusiastically pro SNP when Nicola Sturgeons band of Mp`s have had their Braveheart moment of lifting their kilts and scaring the English, but repeatedly come up against a three line Tory whip when trying to implement or influence policy and realise they are getting very little change out of them.
    The Green Party can teach us much when it comes to a radical, progressive agenda for social change and again, Labour supporters would do well to study their manifesto.
    Rather than indulge in a protracted bout of infighting I feel that we should celebrate the differences in our UK left-leaning community and find common ground on which to build a better society. Votes will fluctuate from one party to another over the years but as long as the consensus remains and can be built upon and we don`t allow divide and rule politics to affect us, We can be a formidable force for change, both within the UK and Europe.

  11. theprog

    If you say so, in which case he should try to help rebuild the other fail party.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, you go talk about people you prefer to Labour.
    As you talk about right wingers. Not the left.

    You are arguing that Labour needs to appeal to the far right. To move ever right. To become more like your Tories. To make sure the left never have anyone standing up for them.

    Same old, same old.

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    Keep hating on that evil trade, as you ignore the facts in favour of supporting the UKIP. The menace of being “everywhere”, if you dare think different.

    The few “Labour/UKIP” – i.e. UKIP – supporters who you mention…when the problem was the Orage Bookers didn’t buy Labour’s message. And the fact that by courting them, they lost the left’s vote.

    And no, you can’t bring yourself to vote that far left. You’re consoled with a block on investment. Right.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    The EU isn’t pro-austerity. Some right wingers in it are.

    You’d slash trade and make austerity here worse. Why is that a good thing for you?

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    You mean…the left? No, Labour didn’t want us. They chose instead to court the Orange Bookers.

    And negative…oh, you mean not believing that borders are a good thing. Aww.

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    A tiny number of votes? Ohnoes! The reality is that very few Labourites will switch to a party which has the entire far right vote.

    And you DO want to be part of that Union – England, Wales and Northern Ireland, dominated by the Tories. The opposition to TTIP is at EU level, the opposition to capitalism is at EU level.

    You say the future is right wing, isolated from the countries you want much harder barriers against.

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    Magical marxism, again, as you call on Satan, and claim a majority is well under a third. That the “signs” are there that people love being poor, as you ignore why Labour lost – as you say people who sat at home because Labour moved right and away from them magically voted alongside far right voters.

    Nope, they DID stay at home.

  18. Leon Wolfeson

    Keep chanting the same old lies about workers, as you ignore the benefits of trade.

    You keep talking about rates which we’d make mild in your scenario, where we cancel every trade treaty. We are already at very high rates and your Tories will take us up with those countries anyway, this is true.

    As you talk about how wonderful air pollution is. As you ignore where the votes come from – Labour lost the connection with the left because they moved tight, the left sat at home.

    You keep advocating hiding from the world.

  19. Jeanne Tomlin

    Deciding to present yourself as ‘progressive’ when most votes in Westminster have been anything but doesn’t fool people. I suggest first that Labour find its soul-if that isn’t permanently mislaid.

  20. Elizabeth

    Deeply dismayed by the idea of a Labour (rather than cross-party) “in” campaign. Please don’t advocate that, it’s a terrible idea.

    I was deeply involved in the “Yes Oxfordshire” campaign in the AV referendum. We worked with people from all political parties and from none. I was myself, erm, strongly encouraged to take a central role early because I was not (and am not) a member of any party. A very large fraction of our large, energetic group of activists were first-time activists, as I myself was, who cared about that particular issue. We interfaced with the party groups who did a lot of our leafletting, but we made sure our campaign events were inclusive and welcoming.

    This was really important when talking to people from the streets. SO many people who I approached said “Oh I suppose you’re with x party” in a dismissive way, and then actually stopped to talk when I replied that I was with no party, I just cared about the issue.

    Also important for engaging new young passionate people in the political process. People who were not about to join a party and would have been put off from volunteering for a party-based campaign may very well stay with you. One of our first-time activists is now a local councillor.

    Finally, really important for making friends and coalition-building among progressives. There is a long way to come back from. Coalition-building will help. Infighting absolutely will not.

    Seriously, please, make it a non-partisan broad church.

  21. AlanGiles

    I agree Jeanne, and it is for that reason I think the leadership campaign by Mr Umunna is dead in the water. He shared a TV screen (and many of the same views) with Mandelson on Sunday. Let’s not mince words, Mandelson is a vain, pompous, condescending man and Umunna is very much cut from the same cloth.

    The only difference is that Mr Umunna can’t be anywhere near as shady as Mandelson was when he had to resign over mortgages, loans and so on. At least I hope not!

    They do not need a figure from the past, so that rules out Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham as well. Jamie Reed is not tainted by the less succesful years and is not part of the London elite.

  22. Cole

    So why write this rubbish?

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