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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Senior Labour Official: We Need Policies To Win Back Green Voters

4 min read

Exclusive: Senior Labour Party official David Evans has suggested the party will need policies to win back Green voters in the wake of this month’s local elections, rather than relying on tactical voting to bring them back into the fold.

The Green Party added 74 councillors across England at the local elections, including winning all 14 seats in central Bristol – where the party hopes to oust Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire – and becoming the largest party in Hastings, a key Labour target at the general election.

Evans, whose role as Labour’s general secretary effectively makes him the party’s most senior member of staff, was speaking to a meeting at the Progressive Britain conference in London on Saturday.

Asked by a Labour member from Hastings what the party planned to do about the “Green threat”, Evans said: "We shouldn’t take that for granted, that [voters for] smaller parties, more progressive parties will switch – we need to give them a reason to do it politically, and then we need to find them organisationally so we can have those conversations one-to-one and get them over the line.

“And I think we need to go beyond the simple ‘squeeze’ message, and actually make sure we are nourishing them with the kind of policies that have caused them to vote Green, or in some cases Lib Dem or something else. We need to just have an adult-to-adult relationship. But we will be focusing on that."

However, he warned in response to a different question that the party would not make announcements that could jeopardise its poll lead.

“We are ahead of the Conservatives on every single issue that is polled,” he said, “but our narrowest lead is on the economy. So no apologies for not being too flamboyant in terms of the other offers, which are all important but as I said when I was speaking, we simply have to reassure on the economy and hence the cost of living.”

In the recent local elections, the Greens took more seats from the Conservatives than from Labour. In an interview with The House magazine published this week, shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire, who is at risk of losing to the Greens, sent a message to voters who feel betrayed by Labour's backpedalling on climate commitments, saying that Labour has not watered down its aims "in any way, shape or form." 

During his speech at the meeting on “how to win”, Evans recalled Labour’s famous pledge card from the 1997 general election and how, once in government, the party delivered above and beyond its campaign pledges.

"We can look at 97 through rose tinted spectacles sometimes. I wonder if you can remember what our pledges were on our pledge card? Anybody? Class sizes of 30. Treating an extra 100,000 patients. Fast-tracking punishment for persistent young offenders. Getting 250,000 people off benefits and into work, and cutting taxes. They were our pledges. 

"That wasn’t absolutely transformational, was it? Quite limited, quite moderate, quite conservative, but they represented kind of first steps, if you like, that signalled the direction of travel of that incoming Labour government – and then we went on to do it, and to do far, far more than it."

In 1997, the party committed to staying within the outgoing Conservative government’s spending plans for the first two years of a Labour government. Rising tax receipts from strong economic growth, combined with ‘stealth taxes’, eventually allowed Labour to deliver significant public spending increases.

Evans also warned against complacency, telling the meeting that Labour’s poll lead would narrow, and set out three essential ingredients for a successful Labour election campaign: leadership, an effective team culture, and the ability to tell stories.

“Unless we satisfy people that we can keep them secure and safe – their money, their family, the country – we don’t get permission to talk about the next step. And the next step up is about aspiration – will we be the answer to help them get on, help their families get on, get better, do better in life? And if we don’t do that, we don’t get the chance to talk about the benevolent society that we all want.”

The Labour Party was contacted for comment.

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