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 Rosette


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

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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