Labour leadership: We need a bold leap to the future and a decisive break with the past

The 2020 election will be fundamentally different to this one


If he’s true to his word, we won’t face David Cameron – rather an invigorated Johnson, May or Javid. We face a politically gerrymandered boundary review, ‘English Votes for English laws’, radically different public services and a government with a tiny majority that will increasingly abandon parliamentary accountability for the safety of executive fiat.

But two events in this parliament will be the most significant for our country and it’s place in the world for hundreds of years: the risk of leaving the EU; and of a second chance to break up our own 300-year-old union fuelled by Scottish but also English nationalism.

These things could shape the destinies and opportunities of the British people even more fundamentally than five years of Tory consolidation of power or brutalism in our economy.

Another related theme underpinning these events is the increasing ascendancy of selfish and fearful individualism – not just reflected in our increasingly fragmented and unequal society, but also in how we act as a country in the world. We could utterly fail to respond to the challenges of the world by leaving one union and breaking up another.

The rise of nationalist Russia, the chaos in the Middle East, climate change, unmanaged migration and the continued global economic shift to the east could change the prospects and opportunities for future generations of Britons – the list is endless. None are questions that are answered by turning in on ourselves and breaking apart. They are only answered by collective, progressive politics – a politics which believes we achieve more together than we achieve alone.

However much some colleagues on the Labour left might fantasise about a ‘common ground’ commitment to centre-left economic policies, we must not be fooled – the SNP remain committed to one goal only: independence. Their project is clear – and decisive – and is anathema to our own Labour vision.

For all the reasons we fought and won the referendum last year we cannot give up on our union. And equally we must avoid the easy response to the clever but irresponsible Tory (let alone UKIP) stoking up of English nationalism which ends in the conclusion: ‘just let the Scots go’.

Meanwhile leaving the EU – rather than seeking its radical reform – would have devastating consequences for jobs, on prospects for our young people and on our relationships with key partners in an uncertain world. At a time of increasing global instability and rapid economic shifts, we could within five years be a broken, irrelevant and marooned rump on the fringe. With our place in global trade and diplomacy no longer secure, let alone our armed forces slashed and our national confidence critically wounded, the consequences for the British people could not be more serious.

Much of the post-election debate will focus on errors in policy, message and organisation. But any candidate for the Labour leadership who is serious about putting Britain back on a progressive path cannot seek merely to imitate Tony Blair, nor to regurgitate and repackage an economic and political offer which large swathes of the electorate have brutally rejected.

Instead they need to tell us how they would lead and win through two referenda, cope with the aftermath and reverse the worrying individualistic and nationalist shift in attitudes corroding the heart of our country and it’s future prospects.

Our country and our party need strong leadership and a global vision for the imminent and brutal battles of the late 2010s – and the radically changed world of the 2020s – not the 1980s or 1990s. We need a bold leap to the future. And a decisive break with the past.

Stephen Doughty is Labour/Co-op MP for Cardiff South & Penarth. Follow him on Twitter

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