It’s time for Labour to listen to the public

Questions about left or right are futile until Labour have asked: why did you not vote for us?

Labour party


And so the recriminations begin.

In Scotland, Jim Murphy now faces calls from unions, led by Unite, to resign. Their charge? That Labour was outflanked by the SNP because it was not left-wing enough.

Meanwhile across England the argument, led by Tony Blair in his article over the weekend, was that Labour had veered too far to the left for middle England’s crucial swing voters.

Such a conundrum goes to the very heart of the challenge now facing Labour.

Those calling for a lurch leftwards argue that the party will never get back into government without getting Scotland back. Those calling for more New Labour argue that England is what matters most. The reality is that both are equally important.

What is required is to flesh out the One Nation approach that Ed Miliband articulated clearly at the 2012 Party Conference but sadly followed up with relatively little substance.

It is galling to hear David Cameron snatch this mantra now, after presiding over an election campaign that sought to divide the nation by stoking fears of aScottish takeover of Westminster.

So how does the party proceed from here?

Firstly, it cannot succumb to the belief that a swift leadership election is the best way forward. In 2010 the scale of the defeat inflicted on the party was almost hidden from view by the fact that there was a much larger number of Labour MPs than expected.

The view had prevailed that one last push would get the party back into Number 10. Last week’s election shattered this belief and showed that a fundamental root and branch analysis is needed.

This means those vying for the leadership need to be more humble, spending less time coming up with their own theories as to why Labour lost and spending more time listening to the public in Scotland and all those seats the party expected to take in England. The question to ask will be simple – why did you not vote Labour?

But beyond that, Labour has a big job to do in holding the current government to account and tackling head-on the accusation made by Cameron that Labour was to blame for the recession.

On the latter, Liam Byrne’s apology for the infamous ‘no money’ note has been long overdue. Looking to the next five years, the party needs, with ruthless efficiency, to be quoting the words of the permanent secretary to the Treasury. Just before the election it emerged that Sir Nicholas Macpherson had concluded that the financial crisis was ‘a banking crisis pure and simple’. He was right.

On the former, in Scotland, the party has a year until the Scottish election. Under the continued leadership of Jim Murphy the party needs to ensure that next year’s elections to Holyrood focus relentlessly on the SNP’s record in government. It cannot let it become a re-run of the recent general election campaign.

As Labour has previously revealed, under the SNP the history of the NHS has been one of missed targets week after week. Literacy levels under the SNP have fallen, and the predictions the party made for revenue from North Sea Oil during the referendum campaign were completely wrong.

Meanwhile, alongside a longer leadership contest at a UK level Labour needs to focus on the likely 2017 referendum on EU membership. In one of the rare good news moments of the campaign, Labour’s commitment to remain in the EU put it rightly in alliance with much of the business community. This is an alliance that needs to be built upon to provide not just a powerful campaign to stay in, but as a rebuke to the myth that Labour is somehow anti-business.

So Labour has a massive job on its hands. It faces a crunch moment in its history, but the party can only rebuild by talking to the public. It will understand its proposals not through internal navel gazing but by asking the public some tough questions, that in all likelihood will lead to difficult answers.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

29 Responses to “It’s time for Labour to listen to the public”

  1. Gerschwin

    I’ve always found James Blunts’s letter to Chris Bryant pretty much sums up Labour in a nutshell. How can you ever hope to gain power if you treat success as shameful? Labour deserves everything that has happened to it, it serves it right. The thought we could, had the polls been correct, be living in a nation divided between the SNP in the North and Labour in the South with the two picking over the cadaver of the UK. Miliband becoming ever more grotesque in his persecutions of the middle class (who by the way, Labour people, decide elections not the working class) to raise the taxes he needs to placate the salivating hordes from his party and the cunning, wily Sturgeon outflanking him at every turn – very, very frightening.
    Thank God for the English middle class – saved the day, as they always do, a thousand times more switched on and intelligent than anyone on this website.

  2. AlanGiles

    You will get a different set of answers from every person who didn’t vote Labour, but I am afraid my main reason was the hypocrisy of Labour.

    We forever heard that Cameron was a “toff”, Osborne was a “toff” (it was as if the recent scripts had been written by P.G. Woodehouse), but isn’t Tristram Hunt a “toff” (if you chose to use that kind of langauge?) and Ed and David Miliband are not exactly part of the proletariat, are they?. Blair went to Fettes, the Scottish equivalent of Eton. What started to put me off a few years ago was when the Labour party chose their puerile “toff” campaign against Edward Timpson standing for Nantwich and Crewe, with Labour students making idiots of themselves prancing round in top hats. One of the reasons Timpson was targetted because his family own the high street key-cutting and shoe repair business. Actually that business gives employment to a lot of ex-offenders. They get Sundays and bank holidays off, unlike, say Sainsburys.

    We heard Margaret Hodge and Keith Vaz constantly expressing alarm over greedy businessmen – but neither of that pair were exactly honest and straightforward over their expenses (especially Vaz – and he has form going back to at least 2001 – do you remember?, when because of some embarrassment he lost his voice until the day after the general election. In my opinoin, Vaz and Hodge are just as contemptible and untrustworthy as the greedy businessmen they frequently point the finger at.

    Labour are too quick to see the faults in others without recognizing any in themselves, and class war should have died out 50 years ago – that Labour choose to try to revive it shows how far in the past they are.

  3. 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.

  4. Selohesra

    ‘Huge left of centre consensus’ – Con + UKIP = 49.5%. I assume you think Tories are right of centre and therefore accept that UKIP are not a right wing party

  5. Dave Stewart

    Lets be clear. The reason the Tories won has little to do with them convincing new people to vote for them nationally. They achieved less than 1% increase in the national vote share. Labour achieved approaching a 2% increase in the national vote share. That is hardly a massive upswing in Tory support.

    What the Tories were successful at was making sure they had votes where it counted in the marginal seats (where they spent eye watering amounts of money coincidentally). There has not been a massive upswing in support for the Tories nationally what has happened is they very cleverly played our outdated and anti-democratic voting system better than any of the other parties.

  6. stevep

    I didn`t say Majority, I said consensus, which is defined as “an opinion or position reached by a group as a whole”. The left of centre parties have a total of about 290 MP`s, which isn`t a bad place to be.

  7. jaz

    The question to ask will be simple – why did you not vote Labour? Surely the question to ask is not backward looking, but forward looking? What must Labour do to deserve your vote?

  8. AlanGiles

    Not elect yet another pompous identikit politician. I see Chuka Umunna has now thrown his hat into the ring – somebody else who never disguises how much better he thinks he is than everybody else.

  9. James Chilton

    The only government in the history of British politics that justifies the description “left wing”, was the Attlee administration elected 70 years ago. Very special circumstances enabled that post-war Labour victory, and in 1951 the Tories were back in power. Why that happened repays study.

    Those who believe that Labour can win now by “returning to their roots” are sentimentalists who deny political facts. Apart from socialist theoreticians and writers of fiction, nobody can envisage a “revolutionary situation” in the foreseeable future which Labour can exploit with a far left manifesto. So that political scenario is a juvenile fantasy.

    Advocates of a Labour message which is addressed not only to core voters but also to people in the middle who do not feel threatened by a Tory regime, include the ghastly “Lord” Mandelson and the discredited Blair. That is a big problem, and it’s one of the reasons why realists in the Labour movement get howled down by the purists.

  10. Alasdair Macdonald

    We have been here before with Labour in Scotland, following the 2007 and 2011 Scottish Praliamentary elections. But, they only listened to things which were consistent with their existing paradigm. So, the did not change and continued to haemmhorage members and voters. They failed to note the revulsion many members and voters viewed their wholehearted alliance with the Tories at the Referendum in 2014, and the fact that a significant proportion voted YES, and the went on to vote for the SNP last week. They continue to characterise those of us who voted YES and who, for the first time ever, voted SNP as deluded and as ‘nationalists’. By ‘nationalist’ they meant ‘blood and soil, xenhobes, and, especially, haters of THE ENGLISH!!’ It was the classic straw man fallacy, but they fell for it themselves. The SNP had moved to a ‘civic nationalism’ three decades ago; that is, it is about the right of those of us who live and work in Scotland, irrespective of our place of origin, to manage things in our own way. Clearly, the Westminster/Whitehall/metropolitan media nexus was working for the interests of the City. England, Wales, Northern Ireland are being swindled as much as Scotland is. London has the greatest inequality in the UK. We want our fellow victims to be rid of the City acolytes as much as we do, but they show precious little preparedness to do so. Because of the historic legacy of the 1707 union, Scotland has retained an identity as an entity, with important institutions like the law, education and the Kirk, and, with the restoration of the Scottish Parliament, we have been able to mobilise ourselves and think differently. We lost the referendum, and there might not be another for several years, but there is a political and intellectual Renaissance. Labour, locked in its dungeon paradigm, cannot even begin to enter this discourse. For a socialist, it pains me to have had to write this.

  11. James Chilton

    You refer to an intellectual renaissance in Scotland. That’s interesting. A renaissance but not an enlightenment?

  12. Alasdair Macdonald

    A somewhat precious debating point, Mr Chilton. Since you ask, I think there has been an enlightenment. A far wider section of the population has become politically engaged and feel that politics can achieve things. At a meeting of the Royal Glasgow Philosophical Society in 2014, one of the presenters expressed the view that the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume’s time was probably continuing

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    Where has he said he holds your views?

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    Keep making excuses for voting Tory.
    And your toffery.

    No surprise you focus only on OTHER party’s honesty issues, right right. They’re still better than you, but hey. And you want any hope of the poor ever getting anything other than crumbs to die, the peons should stay in their places, right, as you say not having starving people on the street is the past, you’re SO happy with the rising poverty and falling wages, which so benefit you.

  15. James Chilton

    If by “precious” you mean giving too much attention to an unimportant detail, I’m surprised you bothered to answer my question.

    In the case of the person who expressed the opinion that the Scottish Enlightenment (of Hume’s time) is probably continuing, there seems to be a triumph of hope over experience.

  16. jaz

    I like CU a lot and he has a heck of a lot going for him, but he is so metropolitan London. We have to win back the north. I am not sure an urbane Metropolitan sophisticate is the right person to do that.
    However we have first to work out what our framework is and pick the right leader to implement it — not pick the leader first. We should be in no hurry. I am sure that Harriet Harman will do an outstanding job as a nightwatchman (or woman).

  17. AlanGiles

    One of the problems is Umunna is known to be favoured by Peter Mandelson (as is Tristram Hunt – I wonder which one Mandelson will plump for?). As in many left wing quarters Mandelson is disliked even more than Blair, I don’t think he will heal divisions within Labour, and they will be doomed again. I really do think Umunna is far too arrogant and pleased with himself. For example, yesterday he suggested he could win back 90 seats. Evidence? – does he think the Scots will fall for him 100%?

  18. AlanGiles

    Labour threw a hell of a lot of money at Brighton Pavillion – not to get rid of some loathsome Tory like Duncan-Smith, but the Greens Caroline Lucas!. They wasted £30,000 on Miliband’s “Edstone”, and £300,000 on the Invisible Man – David Axelrod. They might now think about more sensible ways to spend money.

  19. Juan Garcia

    Immigration. When Labour won the election in 1997, as a reward to Labour Muslim voters Jackie Straw eased immigration restrictions which lead to the ingress of close on 1 million Muslims, many through bogus marriages. More votes for Labour, but what about social cohesion? A vote for Labour is a vote for immigration. That’s reason enough not to vote for them.

  20. Ian East

    First thing Labour needs to do is stop supporting first past the post. It is simply no longer fit for purpose. To support a system in which for the majority of people voting is a symbolic exercise with no value in terms of influencing the overall outcome cannot be justified. If the Labour Party believes in greater equality it should start by campaigning for an electoral system in which everyone’s vote has near equal value.

  21. Closedshop

    They will put Chuka Umunna in eventually and spite you.

  22. Closedshop

    It also backfired on them and cost them a lot of traditional working class votes.

    They will never admit that though, they can’ even contemplate that they got something wrong.

    Pig headed spoilt brats.

  23. Closedshop

    His posts about what exclusive nightclubs in London keep out the trash will haunt him if he becomes leader.

    Arrogant and elitist man.

  24. Closedshop

    The anti-democratic voting system at the moment actually favours Labour MPs, a advantage that will be gone next time.

  25. Closedshop

    The Labour party have pushed in so many directions over the last 20 years that they have different strands who are often not compatible. What pleases one will drive the other away.

  26. AlanGiles

    It won’t spite me, but after the thrashing Labour got last week, getting back into a feasible winning position in 5 years is going to be a tall order. It needs somebody with authority but likeable. Umunna is a wealthy Londonder who enjoys calling the public “trash” on exclusive websites, and is condescending in the extreme (yoiu can almost imagine him patting people on the head and saying ‘well done’). Add into this poisonous brew that he is favoured by Blair and Mandy, do you really think he will do it for Labour in 2020.

    I suspect the next Labour leader will be a woman, as this would be a great gesture to the world to show how right-on they are. At the moment 3 women are in contention, though by this time next week 50% of the PLP will probably announce they are standing

  27. stevep

    We have to find common ground and build from there.

  28. AlanGiles

    Breaking news Friday 15th: Chuka chucks it in. Rejoice at that news!

  29. Dave Stewart

    I don’t recall saying I either support Labour or that I thought the electoral system only favoured the Tories. I was commenting on how I believe the Tories managed their victory despite being unable to convince any more people that they were the best choice.

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