Why is Labour still not standing up to the Tories?

Labour has plenty of ammunition but is distracted by in-fighting

Osborne and Cameron Queens speech


As the Conservatives unleash more years of austerity, the country is crying out for an effective opposition. What we have instead is a mess.

The leadership election was supposed to be a period of profound soul searching for the Labour party, one that reached out, not just to the rank and file of party members, but to voters that have been deserting Labour since 1997.

Whatever some candidates might suggest, we no longer have a ‘core’ vote that is large enough to propel Labour back to power. The blunt truth is that no party can ever win an election without reaching out to parts of the country that might not seem like ‘traditional’ terrain for it. One last push or a slightly more glitzy version of what the party offered voters in May will not suffice.

But over the past few weeks we have not given candidates the opportunity to do the soul searching that is necessary. They have not been tested hard enough, and the topics that have been raised have been woefully thin on the ground.

Let’s take the tax credits debate as an example. The question Labour should be asking is not about tactics over one policy or another, but the more fundamental question of how a Labour welfare state should look. At its heart should be a system that rewards and encourages work wherever possible.

When the chancellor praised the work of Sir George Bain for the Resolution Foundation as the basis of his living wage policy, why did Labour not relentlessly point out that the very same Resolution Foundation concluded shortly after the Budget that:

“The National Minimum Wage (and Living Wage) and tax-credits complement each other. The current Living Wage would have to rise to a significantly higher level in the absence of in-work support.

“For instance, the London Living Wage would jump from £9.15 to £12.65 without any in-work support. Even without taking account of today’s cuts to in-work support, RF estimates that the current national Living Wage would rise to £10 by 2020.”

Yes, many of the leadership candidates have made this point, but instead of taking the case to the public, their arguments have been lost in an internal party debate on positioning.

All the while, as the party turns in on itself, the government’s rigging of the political system continues unabated with trade union reforms designed to choke off funding for the Labour Party; granting votes for life to Brits abroad who are most likely to vote Conservative; and cutting the number of MPs in an attempt to consolidate their own position in the Commons.

And what about the Office for Budget Responsibility arguing that 14,000 fewer homes will be built as a result of the Budget; or the 13 million families that the Institute for Fiscal Studies argues will be squeezed by the Budget; or the government’s shameful decision to delay from 2016 to 2020 the decision to cap care costs at £72,000?

The ammunition for Labour to use against the government is there, and there is a wide open space for a robust, progressive alternative to be articulated. What we are getting, however, is a damp squib of a leadership contest that raises the very real prospect of Labour remaining unelectable for a generation.

As a party we can huff and puff all we like but the Conservatives were not elected because Labour was not left-wing enough.

We need to speak to people’s aspirations, their hopes, and their ambitions for themselves and their children as they are and not as we might want them to be.

Labour is best when it is prepared to adapt to a changing world and society. At present, the party finds itself in the sidings and heading nowhere fast.

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

15 Responses to “Why is Labour still not standing up to the Tories?”

  1. David Lindsay

    I state this simply as a fact: if Andy Burnham does not vote against the Welfare Bill, then Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour Leadership.

  2. Michael Docherty

    With respect, it is quite literally impossible for the result of something that won’t happen until September 12th to be, as of July 20th, a ‘fact’ in any sense of the word.

  3. David Lindsay

    If every sense except a purely scientific one it is, yes.

    Think back five years, and try to imagine any mainstream figure’s proposing that the child poverty targets be abolished, that ESA be downgraded to JSA, and that child tax credits be unavailable from the third child onwards.

    Yet that was after the Crash, but before George Osborne had supposedly put it right.

    This is not “the centre ground”, and the acquiescence to the idea that it is on the part of three out of four Labour Leadership candidates will antagonise not merely the Far Left (most of whom were never in the Labour Party, while most of the rest left it a dozen years ago), but the great mass of that party’s rank and file.

  4. Torybushhug

    The thing is lots of people say life prior to the mass endemic welfare culture was perfectly decent and in fact people were more prone to being fully autonomous, engaged and dignified.
    Endemic welfarism was an experiment that produced horrendous outcomes for a generation enslaved in toxic welfare dependency. Above all else it dims horizons. The left is akin to the flat earth society, so conditioned to the handout culture that debate is almost impossible.
    In time you will come to understand our moral crusade to reduce dependency was vital.

  5. stevep


  6. stevep

    Labour is scared of saying or doing anything in case it upsets the SunMail or one of it`s own focus groups.
    The Labour party was started to represent the working people of this country. It should shout it from the rooftops.
    Let`s have some clear commitment to supporting working people. A proposed bonfire of anti-union laws would be a start, so working people can stand up for themselves without having to kiss the boss`s arse every day and pretend they`re enjoying it.
    A commitment to radical tax reform, nationalisation of utilities, banks and core industry, what`s left of it.
    A commitment to democracy at every level.
    All of it carefully costed and presented by the best possible leader.
    I`m sure there are naysayers who will declare these proposals are regressive or will say “it can`t be done”. Anything is possible, you just have to have the will to do it.

  7. stevep

    “Perfectly decent”: Living in a back-to-back slum with no indoor sanitation, relevant up until 1950`s-70`s. Mass decent housing replaced them.
    living in fear of becoming ill. The foundation of the NHS in 1948 cured that.
    Fear of unemployment.
    The Labour government of 1945-51 fixed that and started the post-war consensus.
    etc. etc. All welfare reforms.
    If you want to go back further, do you consider “perfectly decent”, The poor laws, the workhouse, debtor`s prisons, low child mortality, disease caused by bad sanitation and malnutrition.
    Welfare solutions fixed all that and more.

  8. Sean Garrity

    Why is Labour still not standing up to the Tories?

    Because they are the same basically and have been since the witch Thatcher was kicked out of office.

    On that day the Labour Party changed into Tory lite or to be more precise New Labour.

    No one has ever come up with a valid reason why the need for that name change.

    And although it has been discarded along with Blair unfortunately the mantra and policies remain the same.

    The thinking that the Labour party could not win an election by standing firm to its beliefs which gave it birth was peddled by Blair, Campbell, Mandelson and Brown and swallowed whole by the cowards in the National Executive who were still licking their wounds from Thatcher’s butchery.

    Present day Tories want to relive the “Glory years of Maggie” and finish off the unions once and for all

    Unfortunately the Labour warriors of today have no backbone or stomach for the fight.

  9. ted francis

    How secure it must feel to speak from the comfort of ignorance. As a child I experienced the “perfectly decent” life of your imaginings. Autonomy

  10. AlanGiles

    Why is Labour still not standing up to the Tories?”

    Sheer cowardice

  11. Chris Kitcher

    Labour needs to wake up and realise that people do not want Tory-lite. The only leaadership candidate who is offering a challenge to this Jeremy Corbyn because he is standing on a left wing agenda.

    For many in the Labour Party this is frightening as they are then challenged by the Tories and held to be left wing which they fear will loose them votes in future elections.

    Well I would suggest that these leadership contenders take a look at the last SNP manifesto and then consider how a left wing agenda secured the votes of thousands of Labour voters.

  12. Keith Lutener

    Quite frankly after last nights welfare vote I’m disgusted with the Labour Party. They have truly become Tory lite and they have lost a long term voter.

  13. Paul Toplis

    Labour need to stop chasing the 25% who voted for the Torys and start fighting for the 75% who didn’t, many of whom didn’t vote at all.

  14. Dave Armstrong

    Your key phrase is “the Conservatives were not elected because Labour was not left-wing enough.” Corbyn and his supporters are in fantasyland if they think we can win on an exclusively Left-wing platform. Remember the disaster of 1983. It was Neil Kinnock who made us electable again, and Blair was the beneficiary. We must not make the same mistakes as we did in the early 1980s.

  15. Sean Garrity

    Caption Competition:
    My entry is Osbourne thinking

    “I’ve had him”

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