As I write this, it’s all kicking off: a Twitter storm about Ivan Lewis alongside Chuka Umunna and Mary Creagh’s resignation from the Labour front bench. Unmistakeable glee from the Tories. I am sure what everyone needs right now is some advice from me. So here it is. You’re welcome.
You lost, and deservedly so. It seems to me that you will continue to lose until (a) the Labour party comes to terms with Iraq (b) you appeal to the heart as well as the head. Good luck with (a). As far as (b) is concerned you have long rested on the facts of your election victories. You took too much time lecturing people in your own party about how only you had a hotline to the real views of the British people. You spent far too little time thinking about how you could enthuse the grassroots. Were you too ashamed of them? Was the idea of a mass movement too uniony and old-fashioned for you?
Last year I heard John McTernan say that Labour should not fear Ukip because their voters were old; he implied they would die out. Apart from being offensive in the first instance, it showed a party wing that was not only out of touch but out of sympathy with people it felt should owe them their vote. I have since heard McTernan say that no one should listen to the ‘foot soldiers’. Are you surprised when those foot soldiers voted for someone else? People like Hazel Blears used to take this kind of thing seriously. Where are they now?
You won. Congratulations to all 500,000 of you. I assume that’s the biggest mandate that any British party leader has ever had. But you are not the voice of the people. You are a tiny minority of the 9.3 million people who voted Labour at the last election. And an even smaller proportion of the 12 million people who will need to vote Labour at the next election if you are going to get the chance to actually do any of the things you want to do. You may well manage to reach out to young people, and to win back some Green and SNP voters and possibly Ukip ones too. But at some stage you are going to reach out to some Tories. And by Tories I don’t mean people like Chuka or Liz Kendall. I mean actual Tories. The people who voted for David Cameron. And you are going to have to persuade them to vote for your programme – and, if indirectly, for your man. You need about a million of these Tories – so that’s two for each of you to sign up.
You will find that task easier if you don’t demonise the people who voted for the other candidates, or the people in the PLP who feel they owe Jeremy exactly the same loyalty he showed them. Apparently the public will now see democratic reform in the Labour party. That means there will be people who disagree with you. They are not necessarily in the pockets of Murdoch, or the bankers – or Tony Blair come to that.
Shut up. No, really. That tweet from David Cameron was embarrassing. I think the public is decreasingly interested in people saying things we expect them to say: it’s just noise.
Of course you will be looking to ‘define’ Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. But I think you would be cleverer to give him a bit of time to do it himself. Your trap with the Welfare Bill – which Harriet Harman saw through but much of the rest of the party did not – has had far greater consequences for your opposition than you could ever have dreamed. But Corbyn wants to change the rules of engagement and you should welcome this. For example, a different tone at PMQs is long overdue.
Don’t make the mistake of swinging to the right. You potentially have the chance to hoover up the centre ground in British politics. You already say that you occupy that territory so here’s your chance. This may go down badly in some sections of your party but it gives you the chance to finally detoxify your brand. The British people voted for you earlier this year but you needed just about the most negative campaign ever and a huge bogeyman in Alex Salmond to make it happen.
[…] Labour party is not in itself an answer to the immense challenges the party now finds itself in. I wrote back in September that the right of the party had deservedly lost as it had become out of touch with its core; and […]