If the original ‘New Labour’ project was a coming together of a variety of ideas to form highly successful and electable legacy, then the 2010 election loss provides a real moment not just for reflection, but more importantly restoration.
Prior to the 2010 election some commentators speculated that the Labour government faced the ‘perfect political storm’ bedeviled as it was by a hostile press, an economy in recession, an unpopular leader and a cabinet shorn of some of the talents of the past thirteen years.
Yet results, although terrible, were not the whitewash some feared. While the 1997 election victory was partly born of deep frustration over the sleaze and incompetence of the Conservative government, the 2010 split vote that led to the coalition’s formation was largely a result of the public’s frustration with the entire political class.
For the Labour party to bounce back from opposition then it must attempt to address a fundamental disconnect between the British people and their political system.
Win the people, win the election.
As simple as this idea seems, current attempts to dominate the narrative of what is increasingly referred to as the ‘new politics’ are in fact in danger of further alienating the public. The spectacular backtracking on written pledges to cut tuition fees in favour of a 300% increase is simply the most high profile example.
At a time of massive financial cuts and anger against this country’s politics, Labour needs to be the party of the people. To do this requires both listening and leading. Ed Miliband is correct to treat opposition as a marathon and not a sprint, the period of consultation both inside and outside the party needs to be thorough, practical and communicated effectively at a national level. However, Yvette Cooper was also correct when she said in a recent Chatham House speech that “the business of opposition cannot wait for long policy reviews”.
The Party should adopt a posture of aggressive defense of its legacy in government, its ideals and most importantly the British people and their public services, whilst simultaneously building a fully audited strategic plan in the current months.
Meanwhile at a local level - in an adoption of the Barack Obama / David Miliband strategy - significant time and resources should be allocated to deploying community organizers tasked with redefining what it means to be a member of the Labour party and then recruiting heavily across the country.
Labour’s credibility relies on opening the doors to the public on the basis of its values of democratic socialism. An expanded and energized base is both a forum for ideas and a vehicle for their communication. This balance between a both tactically astute and strategically conscious leadership backed by an enthused and motivated base will provide the right set of signposts for New Labour’s political future.