‘One nation’ Labour didn’t work. It was nothing more than a brand, with no intellectual innovation; a cheap attempt to package some of the obvious established truths of the modern labour movement into a bland inoffensive narrative, that claimed to be inspirational and inclusive because it told you so. ‘One nation’s’ failure was compounded by an poorly chosen name in the shadows of the scottish referendum, which all culminated in it being discarded on the scrap heap and replaced by a ‘Better Plan’ narrative. This focused on communicating soundbite policies in a spectacularly defensive campaign to achieve 35 per cent of the popular vote. That didn’t work either; we lost.
To get Labour back into government, we need a genuinely compelling narrative that puts out the progressive agenda. Our job is to respond and not skirt to public talking points. We must not be afraid to challenge opinions on concrete issues and persuade the public that we are ready to govern again.
However, unless we adapt to the new political realities with a little more finesse we risk a continuing a dogmatic strategy set in the eternal battle between the left and the right. There is no longer a clear centreground; we have been drilled from both the left and the right and it is our duty to engage in an intelligent conversation with those potential Labour supporters who voted for other parties, especially Green, UKIP or Nationalist.
Today, the centreground is an outdated concept and we cannot and should not rely on negative rhetoric that we are the only party that can effectively oppose the Conservatives.
There are two clear strategies that we could approach this. The first is a New Labour-like all encompassing narrative that will resonate and unify voters across the country. The second approach – responding to the massacre faced in Scotland – grants far greater autonomy for the Scottish Labour party; effectively making it independent to pursue it’s own unionist agenda, with greater agility to find a narrative that works for Scots against the SNP.
With the Conservatives free to reinvent themselves with a new leader going into the next elections, the former strategy will prove even harder, and we might want to consider making our job a little easier with adopting the second strategy for Scotland or face the dogmatic wilderness of the 80s. A short term gain, may however prove to be a long term pain.
The narrative itself needs to be set out by our next leader in part, but we need to make the party work better for ordinary people, speak the language of those who don’t read political articles like this. It means we need to look at Labour party culture and how we can best represent our dynamic society in today’s world. It means we need to look at how to incorporate a range of groupings and movements in civil society as the broad base support to make the Labour party again the voice of ordinary people across the UK.
What does this mean practically? In the big picture this means strengthening the voice of special interest group forums built in the socialist societies or a new form of affiliation for established broader bodies. It also means on a CLP, metropolitan and regional level being active with these parallel groupings in their locality, work out ways to build trust through campaigns and ideas where Labour and a broad civil society can make a difference. This is not the time we should be scaling back our efforts, but rather the time where we accelerate our dialogue and bridge building.
For this to work we need confidence in the process that establishes our strategy. Local broad-based pragmatic successes strengthen credibility of ideas, and act as a proving ground both the the public and internally. Successful ideas are likely to reverberate within the party and influence the direction, as opposed to time spent on dogmatic debates and motions in local groups.
Every single Labour activist can help make a difference this way, and I implore you do break the mould, innovate and partake for nothing less than for the sake of our country.