Understanding Labour's 'Path To Power'

08/07/2017 06:59 BST | Updated 08/07/2017 06:59 BST
Lauren Hurley/PA Archive

On Saturday, at our annual summer conference, Fabians will consider Labour's path to power. I've been looking at the programme for the day, and what it tells us about the challenges ahead. The good news is that they're far from insuperable for a party with the wind in its sails, a sense of its purpose, values and vision for the future, and a vast, growing and enthusiastic membership. But we need a plan to tackle them, and that's what we'll be discussing. Fabians like to be solutions-focused.

We're all delighted to be starting from a tremendous general election performance that puts a future Labour government within reach. The election campaign demonstrated Labour's, and Jeremy Corbyn's, appeal across a spectrum of longstanding, returning and new Labour voters (credit for the result is also due to Theresa May and a disastrous campaign by the Tories!). But lurking in what was a much, much stronger result than almost anyone (myself included) predicted are hints of dangers ahead to be navigated.

The first challenge we face of course is to finish the job, winning enough seats to propel Labour to government. As the Fabians' general secretary, Andy Harrop, has written, while Labour's 2017 result reflects a very successful appeal to liberal leaning voters, we have a way to go with the more traditionally minded, socially conservative half of the country. A more-of-the-same, one-more-heave approach won't be enough to get us over the line; we have to broaden our appeal to more of those voters.

It's easy to over-simplify that challenge, to describe it as being 'about' immigration, or Brexit, or security (subjects for discussion on Saturday), or about being seen too much as a metropolitan, southern-focused party. Addressing those will of course be factors in crafting our offer to the voters we need, but who didn't vote Labour this time. But most important will be persuading them to believe that Labour stands up for them.

We'll do that not just by having a policy programme that's good for these voters, a lesson we learnt from our disappointing 2015 performance. But we do need to ensure that the policies we offer will improve their lives and serve their ambitions. Our manifesto - bold, popular, packed with Labour ideas - did that better in some ways than in others, if we're honest. To win, we need policy to be more ambitiously progressive, and to be more focused on the nitty gritty of service delivery.

We also need to turn our policy programme into a compelling story of how Labour will be better for these voters and their families. The elements of the 2017 manifesto that people could see would directly achieve that were by far the most popular on the doorstep. Free school meals, scrapping tuition fees, and a pay rise for NHS staff came up far more often than nationalising the rail network and utilities.

The next, and very exciting, challenge is to face up to the fact that we may soon be called on to deliver our programme in government. Governing requires a different approach from campaigning. Decisions are forced on us, not necessarily of our choosing. Difficult choices have to be made and negotiated. Our programme needs to be do-able, flexible, focussed, prioritised, resilient, stress-tested and costed.

On costing, of course, Labour was streets ahead of the idle arrogance of the Conservatives, who didn't even feel they had to bother. But, as the IFS has pointed out, the assumptions that lie behind our fiscal plans might not be what happens in practice - not least because of the uncertain, and potentially disastrous, effect of Brexit.

So I'm particularly pleased that sessions at our conference will focus on Brexit, and on a new economic model for the future. Our manifesto fudge on Brexit served us well in the election, but, as last week's rebel vote for single market membership reminds us (full disclosure, I was one of the 101 MPs who voted for it), that won't add up when it comes to the negotiations. Meanwhile the session on the economy is based on work that's been led by Fabian Women's Network, and with an all-female line-up speaking at that event. I'm fascinated to hear whether an expressly female look at the future shapes a different choice of economic priorities.

Most of all though, I am looking forward to a purposeful, creative, comradely conference that's an opportunity for Fabians to do what we've done for over 100 years - contribute our best thinking to the service of the whole Labour movement. I can promise on behalf of everyone attending that we'll put in that effort this weekend. We hope that colleagues across the party will welcome our doing so.

Kate Green MP is chair of the Fabian Society and speaks at the society's summer conference 'Path to Power' which takes place this Saturday in London