The tactics and overall strategy of Labour's self-proclaimed moderates have been disastrous. It's time for them to rediscover their radicalism - and maybe even some Marx - if they want to win again.
Owen Smith’s chances on Betfair, after the high court ruling on the membership freeze, stand at 9%. The campaign, in spite of some impressive policy announcements, continues to run good chance of a dizzying collapse. The Labour Party's recent NEC election resulted in a clean sweep for the Corbyn-backed slate.
It's not looking good for the self-described 'moderate' wing of the Party – so here’s some unsolicited advice.
We should start by reflecting on their tactics and strategy. And these have been dismal. Social democrats long ago abandoned the spaces that Momentum and the hard left now occupy: emotional appeal, populism, conviction and idealism.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why radicals are better at this than technocrats; but the centrist conviction that they are right has led moderates to disregard Drew Westen’s most important finding in The Political Brain: people vote on emotional appeal more than they do on concrete policy proposals. Name me a centre-left demagogue and public speaker as able as, say, Gordon Brown to inspire an audience. Forget about an Obama or Trudeau.
The mantra 'we need to win power' is about as inspiring a message to the selectorate as passionately fighting for EC Directive 2008/50/EC. It’s important (the clean air directive will save more lives than any posturing), but cannot form the basis of an argument. The centre-left need to take back the rhetoric, be the populists, and win the message battle first.
Labour moderates need to take a lesson from Momentum’s playbook. They have been satisfied with often correct, but terribly communicated arguments for too long. Their pitch to the selectorate has completely ignored the lessons that they themselves preach: that you need to speak the language of the voters to win elections. And less radical candidates have not been able to speak the language of Labour members to convince them to vote for them in internal elections.
Point number two. In General Election terms, show me a coherent vision for a moderate Labour Britain. One argument the hard left has made, and I find it convincing, is that we need to be more distinct from the centre and the centre-right. New Labour’s centrism was, as many forget, quite distinctive in itself – when confronted with the divided, moving-towards-the-right Tories under Major, IDS and Michael Howard.
With a Conservative government that is stealing centre-left ideas, as a Labour Party we need to have a clear enough vision to demonstrate to the electorate that a Labour Britain will be different. The Tories have, undeservedly, a reputation for economic competence. As a Labour Party, we cannot rely on the “we’ll be a more competent, centrist government” message.
If the centre-left is to be a convincing government-in-waiting, it has to be a radical government with frankly, revolutionary proposals – while reassuring voters that, for each of them individually, things can only get better. The centre-left has to be a revolutionary, but safe pair of hands. Uniting around a Keynesian and redistributive economic consensus is the way to go.
And, finally, moderates need to stay in the party. Anyone who wants a split is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. We all know about FPTP. You’re not a pragmatic moderate if you think SDP 2.0 can succeed.
There are ways to pursue action.
The centre-left needs to learn its own lessons about this and focus on the levers of power in Labour. They should work to rebuild our movement from the grassroots up before seeking to regain control of larger vessels in the Labour body.
Also, don’t dis Marxism – a lot of Marxist writings have valuable pragmatic lessons for winning: the concept of the vanguard party, one step, and one step only, in front of the electorate is particularly crucial to the whole centre-left idea. It’s a part of the language Labour members speak – learn it.
Only then can moderates persuade the hard left that they’ve misunderstood Marxist dialectic. See? Speak the language, win the debate. The utopia for all Labour moderates - socialism - is not fixed. It is, as any non-vulgar Marxist will tell you, ever changing. So, the policies to achieve it must be rooted in the times and circumstances.
The hard left won, because it had won the ideas debate within the selectorate years ago. The social democrats within the party need to play the long game here if they want to overturn that advantage. They are, after all, playing catch-up.
Also, can I just add – Blair is long gone. It's time for the Labour Party to bury the whole New Labour project. No more sentimentalism about it. It’ll be almost thirty years since 1997 by the time we next realistically have a chance at a general election. We need a new project, new answers to the big questions of the age.
So, Labour moderates have long climb ahead. But the view from the top will be worth it.