Labour Must Maintain and Win Control of Local Government

28/04/2016 17:05

Next month we will see local council seats contested in elections across the country, in addition to mayoral races in Bristol and London. Over the last eight months, the Labour Party has undergone a rapid transformation, with its membership doubling in size. Unfortunately, polls do not look positive - and this is problematic, because if a Corbyn-led Labour Party is unable to win local elections at a time when the Conservative Party is divided over Europe: then when will the Party see gains?

The dominant discourse within the Labour Party has shifted boldly to the left, and the office of the Leader of the Opposition is now occupied by an individual who embodies the radical left-wing tradition of the Bennite era. Corbynism is now the dominant ideology, and it is rooted in principle above pragmatism, protest above power. This can be seen in the actions of the leadership, which has lowered the expectations of activists, councillors and parliamentarians - bracing them for defeats in the local elections.

The 'New Politics' is yet to provide new results. However, this has not dampened the optimistic outlook of Corbyn supporters, with many often dismissing the importance of winning elections. As a Labour Party activist, I believe this is a very worrying development - as those with this outlook forget Labour's history.

The Labour tradition has always been one of pragmatism: a broad church in which wide-ranging views, from those of Christian Social Democrats to those of Marxist Socialists are accommodated. Diverging perspectives within the Party are united through a basic belief that to create a better society one must govern. This requires that elections be won at both local and national levels.

The Labour Party activists, especially those who have recently joined, must reflect on our political history and not forget Labour's achievements - as well as its defeats. That is why it is most disappointing to see the Party's leadership lower expectations and frequently present the previous Labour government as one that lost its way.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding over what the previous Labour government stood for and this has led to a sense of shame over our Party's past achievements. On the contrary: we should be proud of the last Labour Government and shout loud about the achievements of every Labour administration from Attlee to Blair; not to do so would be a grave mistake. How can we earn the trust of the nation if we are ashamed of our own past?

The Labour Party has existed for over a hundred years, but we have rarely governed during this period, often entering power through the unpopularity and mistakes of a Conservative Government. However, in our brief periods in power, we helped to bring about change - from the creation of the NHS to the minimum wage. Labour Prime Ministers - McDonald, Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan, Blair and Brown - have each bent the arc of history, making Britain a more progressive nation in the process.

Not all Labour Prime Ministers were able to maintain or win power. But what united each was the ability to place realism above idealism, and in the process lead Labour administrations which were in their own ways radical through power.

The Labour Party must continue to aspire to be a party of government. This will require an attempt to actively appeal to those who have not traditionally voted for us, in addition to inspiring those not likely to vote to engage in the political process. Therefore, the Party must not allow ideology to blind its ability to speak beyond the traditional base of support, nor substitute protest for policy.

The change in the political direction of the Labour Party has heralded a new chapter, one that was not foreseeable and with a course as yet uncharted. This new environment has created fertile ground for multiple groups to blossom, each trying to develop their own intellectual space for renewal. Despite the formation of these new groups, the fundamental notion that the Labour Party is a political Party of government has not changed.

If the Labour Party fails to win around 400 council seats from the Tories, it will be a real setback to the Party. If the Labour Party is to mount a credible and effective challenge against the Conservatives at the next general election we must maintain and win control of local councils. Our strength in local communities should lay the foundations for the next Labour Government. However, if we remain weak locally, then the Labour Party will be unable to command strength nationally.