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Labour: What Next?

08/05/2017 13:09

There's no putting it nicely. Thursday was a disaster for the Labour party. With a loss of 142 seats (only one behind UKIP who were all but wiped out) they became the first Opposition party to lose seats three years running. Now obviously, you can't transfer Local Election results straight over to a General Election, but from here it's not looking like June 8th will be pretty. Forget worst result since 1983, try worst result since 1931.

So, the question is not so much what can Labour do to survive this election (simple, work to stay north of one hundred seats and save as many safe seats as possible), but what happens next. I would argue that the first thing to do is undergo a wide-ranging review of the entire party from recruitment upwards, to see what problems it is facing and what can be done to solve them. Having spoken to some Labour supporting friends, I would like to put forward five potential problems and five potential solutions in no particular order.

1: Loss of traditional support basis and no idea how to replace it.

The first big problem Labour has to deal with has been the loss of the traditional white working class support, first to UKIP and not it seems to the Conservatives. This has come about firstly, due to the fall into the number of primary industry jobs that were previously a mainstay of Labour support - mining, steel etc., - and then New Labour's decision to shift its attentions to the commuter belt and upcoming metropolitan middle class. While previously pure tribalism, kept WWC loyal to Labour as old supporters die off and the next generation, see Labour having nothing to offer this support has begun to disintegrate.

Now obviously, Labour can't survive on the urban youth vote forever, and need to come up with a way of reconnecting with this plentiful vote base. The first thing to do is sit down with them (a respectable job for northern MPs) and find out what it is they want and how Labour can provide it. Labour can't go on assuming they know what the working class wants - Brexit proved that. This might be one situation where Maurice Glassman's Blue Labour theory could come into its own, but obviously, that's only one potential solution.

2: Lack of grassroots activists

One thing I have heard repeatedly from Labour supporting friends is that a good portion of the new generation of Labour supporters who joined the party to support Corbyn don't have much time for door to door campaigning. As far as they are concerned rally's and online activism is the best way to get people to support your candidate. But as anyone who has bene on the ground when the Lib Dem's Big Yellow Election Machine roars into actions, there is no replacement for boots on the ground and good old fashioned door knocking. And as the current generation of Labour activist starts to retire they are going to need replacing.

Of course, there's nothing you can do to force people to go out and knock on doors, but hopefully if this election goes as badly as some predict, and it becomes apparent that you can't tweet the vote out, this problem will sort its self out in time for the next set of elections.

3: Lack of talent in terms of potential leaders.

One of the reasons that Corbyn was able to come out on top in the first place, was due to a lack of talent with regards to the leadership contenders. Kendall had some ideas but was too green - and possible too Blairite - and Cooper and Burnham were just bland and unoriginal. It's no real surprise that Corbyn could talk his way to the leadership. And since then the problem has got worse, with Owen Smith and Angela Eagle hardly glittering options, and in post Corbyn discussions, there aren't that many stand out candidates.

The reasons for this problem are varied but are at least partly due to the fact that a reasonably substantial number of Labour MPs - probably not the majority but a sizable number - are products of the old professional politician conveyor belt. Politics degrees, times as a SPAD or Labour party worker and then off to Parliament. Labour need to look at widening the talent pool when it comes to selecting MPs - make them representative of the actual population, which for all their problems the Tories are excellent at doing - and in time those with the right skills will make their way to the top on their own merits. Then you will have a leader who can connect with people.

4: Divisions and factionalism in the Parliamentary Labour Party

The British political left, has always been divided into factions, always had little cliques and little groupings, going all the way back to the Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation. But the difference is that unlike the Conservatives who are equally factional when they want to be, Labour has a horrible habit of having its arguments in the public sphere, usually in the media. Never has this been truer than over the last few years, where there have been so many plots and rumours of plots it's no wonder Labour has had a demanding time doing its job.

Now there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with each other, many promising ideas have come out of disagreement after all. But if Labour is going to be taken seriously as a party of government, they need to quell the public rowing, and present as much of a united front as possible. Even you disagree with 90% of what the leadership says, back him to the hilt on the 10%. Gaitskell understood he dangers of infighting. Go read his writing and learn.

5: What is the Labour Party for in the 21st Century?

This point is related to the first one, but the left across the western world - the Democrats in the US, the PS in France, various other socialist parties across Europe - have started to falter. There is a valid concern about what the Socialism is for in a society where most people, even those who are not so well off, still have access to education, healthcare and benefits.

The question that the Labour party must ask itself is what does it stand for in the 21st century. If it is the voice of the Trade Unions or primary industry then what does it stand and fall for? Once it knows the answer to this question - and finding the answer out won't be easy - then it can start building an electoral program, to take it back into government.

These aren't the only problems, and they aren't the only solutions - they aren't even the best solutions I suspect -and I don't claim to be an expert. But whatever the result on June 8th if Labour isn't willing to do some soul searching, it is doomed.

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