It’s back to school for the Labour party to revisit the three Rs: reinvent, rebuild, renew.
The election defeat wasn’t just a recognition that the party’s policies are not appealing to the country but more a sense that the party as a whole is not really palatable as it is. Harsh, compared to the alleged party of the few – Conservatives – who worked out that if you keep people generally happy through economic competence, you might just get rewarded.
So what does Labour do from here? Well a start has been made, the leader has stood down and said sorry and I suspect a few others are sorry now too. Unfortunately the party was not so honest around a decade ago to colleagues in Scotland trying to get Westminster’s attention. The decline of the vote in Scotland began then and reached an amazing climax last week: just one seat for Labour out of 59. The new electoral map is like an upside-down football kit, a blue top with splodges of red (London, etc) and a bottom of SNP gold.
It is time for deep but quick thinking and probably – heresy I know for some – a look back at how New Labour part 1 managed to be ultimately so successful. The three Rs (and probably more) should be at the centre of a strategic rebuild of the party if it wants to achieve power again. The rhetoric of ‘working people’ somehow did not resonate with the ordinary voter; the party should probably understand that a country of aspiration is a better platform to build from. Here are three areas where I think Labour might want to focus.
First, the relationship with the unions. This historic link classically is a strength and weakness for Labour as it needs the support, votes and money but which most often comes with a political price. This is no secret, obviously. I believe the union movement is vital in society but the Labour party would do well to re-think what it means to them in 2015. I think it would be a backward step if the influences that lead to the election of the last leader of the party are repeated in coming months for a new leader.
Second, stop being mean to business. While the party was a ‘friend’ to SMEs in the campaign, the leadership has been ambivalent and at times hostile to the larger creators of wealth. The private sector is bigger than the public sector and provides the funds through taxes to run it. Yes, business obviously does need regulations and checks and balances but Labour should rethink its approach – and it has time in the next five years to do so.
Finally, the party needs to understand the mind-set of the current UK voter a little better. Admittedly this is not easy, especially when around a quarter who voted last week hadn’t made their minds up until that Thursday. But I believe you can give them a sense of what you stand for. ‘Know your customer’ is a well-known mantra in business that Labour would do well to heed. The Labour party of the 1990s connected with the electorate. If a 100 seat deficit is to be overturned in five or ten years, New Labour part 2 needs to do the same.