Comment: Labour can only win from the centre

We need to appeal to the whole country, not just odd sections of it

 

Harriet Harman’s comments today that the leadership contest should be ‘public facing’ should be welcomed by all in the Labour movement.

While the party needs to have a deep inward think about how it operates, we cannot forget that ultimately the lessons to learn from defeat will be learnt not from any one candidate or union. Instead they will come from the public that, when it came to it, could not put their trust in us.

But within it all, we have to be prepared to stand up for our proud legacy in government. We should not seek to define ourselves by putting distance between the party we are now and the party that won three successive general elections.

How can we ever hope to secure the reins of power again if we cannot give a clear and robust defence of what we did when we were last in government?

For all the problems of the Iraq War, we would never have got a minimum wage and record investment in our public services had it not been for Tony Blair’s achievement in getting Labour into government. He did this by challenging the party to reach out to areas of the country that had previously been written off as no-go areas.

The peace process in Northern Ireland, the Human Rights Act and a Britain more confident in the world are all legacies of Labour. We must shout from the roof tops about the difference a Labour government could make come 2020, pointing to the radical changes we made when last held the levers of power.

The Labour party now stands at a crossroads, and the reality is that we will only get back into government by taking on and defeating the Conservatives in those marginal seats we should have won – seats like Nuneaton, Lincoln, Broxtowe and Hastings.

Let ‘s not forget that even if the party had kept its seats in Scotland, it would still be in opposition.

As a party we need to stop navel-gazing and reach out across the whole country, engaging with all those voters in marginal seats who could not bring themselves to put a cross next to their Labour candidate.

The blunt truth is that it is only by persuading voters as a whole that Labour is credible will we get back into power; not by persuading ourselves.

And for those in any doubt, have a look at this weekend’s polling by YouGov for the Sunday Times. Forty per cent of voters said the next Labour leader needs to position the party firmly in the centre ground of British politics, with just 21 per cent saying they should take it to the left.

In an interview with the Economist prior to the recent election, Tony Blair observed that May’s election was shaping up to be one ‘in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result’.

He was right then and he is right now. Whatever people think of Blair, the fact remains that he won three resounding victories, one of only two Labour leaders since 1974 to have won elections for the party.

If opposition is what the party ,then, let’s pick up where we left off.

But if power, and the ability to actually change things, is what we want then we need to be challenged, we need to be modernised and we need to be reformed into a pro-aspiration party. We need to be a party that talks to the whole country and not to odd sections of it.

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

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