The next Labour leader must focus on a small number of realistic pledges
Labour is struggling for attention. To cut through, we need a leader who will tackle our weaknesses and rebuild our appeal, writes Gareth Thomas MP
Labour needs a street fighter for Leader. Someone who recognises and accepts that the role is a protracted, hostile interview for the job of being Prime Minister, and who can take the highs and lows of Opposition in their stride, whilst focusing on tackling our weaknesses in organisation, narrative and unity. They must be relentless in understanding and then changing what might stop voters in marginal seats from opting for their Labour candidate.
All those who are standing for Leader are principled and I don’t doubt they’ll campaign brilliantly on issues I care about like the grotesque inequality in our country, the growing climate crisis or the homelessness that first motivated me to join the Labour Party.
But I want them above all else to rebuild our appeal in places like Grimsby, Glasgow and Sedgefield. Being even better defenders of the NHS and our other vital public services is fundamental to our values and purpose, but won’t be enough to win power next time. We need to actively listen to the concerns of individuals across the breadth of our society, whilst also intelligently utilising all forms of data to understand how we maximise our appeal across the country, without sacrificing our history and values.
The next Leader needs to avoid long shopping lists for the next manifesto and focus on a small number of very realistic pledges that embody our radical traditions and ambitions, but which are clearly sensible and affordable. So please, no Grey book of fully costed tax increases or Shadow Budgets which can be hung round our necks to damn us as spendthrift (never mind the numbers of economists offering to support such an approach again).
It's fashionable already to argue that a future Leader must have in the Shadow Cabinet someone from every strand of party opinion. Therein lies a recipe for fudge
Our recent manifesto had many virtues, but it included the biggest increase in power to Whitehall and Westminster any party has promised in a long time. Royal Mail and the railways yes, but we’ll need to rethink our approach on nationalising water and energy companies. We also need to be devolving power to local communities, for example; celebrating the cooperatives, credit unions and mutuals that help people run the very services they depend on themselves.
Our next Leader needs to recognise now that however large the crowds are for their rallies, how they change the Labour Party will be the first measure used to judge their progress by our friends and opponents alike. So let’s recognise that the antisemitism crisis has to be seen as just that and gripped. And it would be worth explaining to the NEC soon that however loud the calls grow for open selection, allowing your own MPs to be undermined from within, isn’t likely to encourage voters to grow our numbers.
I want a Leader who knows where they stand on our relationship with Europe, who can deliver home truths to a Donald Trump, but one who also recognises the value, and has the courage to celebrate long term alliances like NATO.
If we can’t recognise and talk up the strengths, as well as mistakes, of the last Labour government we’ll struggle to convince those who haven’t voted for us in a while that Labour again in government will be a force for good for them. A key task for a new Leader is to develop such a narrative.
Every path to government passes through Scotland. Labour’s next Leader must recognise our responsibility to first defend the Union, second to highlight the dismal record of the SNP and third to invest in tough no nonsense organisers to revive our party operation, in particular, but not exclusively, north of the border.
It is becoming fashionable already to argue that a future Leader must have in the Shadow Cabinet someone from every strand of party opinion. Therein lies a recipe for fudge, compromise and staying in the electoral doldrums, albeit whilst no doubt winning lots of Council seats. Talent, ability and support for change are critical.
Our new Leader will face an uphill battle to secure favourable media attention this year as Brexit and Boris’ Government dominate the airwaves, but in their acceptance speech and their first speech to Conference they will have brief opportunities to reach out beyond the Westminster bubble. Both need to be used to show Labour is changing; that we’re not frightened of ducking issues like immigration or the future of our armed forces.
Lastly, I am both English and Welsh. I see the flags of these great nations and the flag of Great Britain and feel pride in my country. The British people need to know the next Leader of the Labour Party feels the same.
Gareth Thomas is Labour (Co-op) MP for Harrow West
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