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?

 

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

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.