Last Thursday evening saw a passionate, proud, optimistic and determined debate at the Young Fabian seminar ‘Why Labour can win – and why the country need a centre-left government’. The Independent’s chief political commentator, Steve Richards, chaired a panel of four Labour PPCs – Stella Creasy, Rachel Reeves, Stephen Twigg, and Chris Ostrowski – and some excellent contributions from Young Fabians in the audience.
Stephen Twigg summed up the context well in pointing out that it is “a bit depressing when you’re celebrating being back at 30%” (in the recent Populus poll) – but the panel set out the reasons to be cheerful and what is needed to take Labour to victory and the next stage of delivering better lives for everyone in the country. We heard about what was good – the visibility and effectiveness of Police Community Support Officers in Leeds West and how there, the commitment to investment in apprenticeships was resonating. And we heard what was worth fighting for: work-life balance, diplomas, social care, the cancer pledge amongst much more. Stella Creasy told us why she believed social mobility would come only with a Labour government, “I’m hungry, I’m impatient. I don’t want to tell kids, hang around; things’ll probably get better at some point and you’ll be able to go to uni. I want to get stuck in.”
The expenses issue framed much of the debate, and Stephen Twigg talked separately and connectedly about the need for honesty – in a balanced assessment of the last twelve years, and in an honest contrast with the Tories. (You can read here what I said earlier in the year about our politics being honest, moral and consistent.) Stella Creasy suggested that London had got off lightly with Boris Johnson in comparison to David Cameron and his ‘inert political philosophy’ whilst the audience debated whether Labour should be talking in terms of itself or in terms of the Conservative opposition.
But three things stood out; a challenge, a debateable premise, and a way of engaging. In reverse order:
1 – Stella Creasy set out the case that it was issues and not party labelling that will win Labour the election. She suggested that it was not about ‘Are you Labour?’ but about progressive politics and the things people care about, be it climate change, the local cinema or Walthamstow Dog’s Track. Rather than being about finding the Labour people who are out there and turning them out come polling day, she advocated building relationships over time. Those who are familiar with the work myself and the Young Fabians have done since our delegation to the Obama campaign in Ohio, will know that I am very supportive of such an approach and am clear that this is a step change from how much of the Labour Party currently interacts with people.
2 – Stephen Twigg argued that one among many reasons for politicians to ‘get it’ on political reform and change, was that young people now are less partisan than in the past. Is this true, and if so, how do we change the way we organise campaigns and engage with the young public?
3 – Steve Richards set the challenge of compressing succinctly in a short phrase what Labour stands for now. He contrasted the difficulty of doing this with Tony Blair’s formation in 1996: trust us now, we’ve changed. I’m torn on the utility of this. Necessary for the national media and core message. But on a local level, I think that what can be most effective is empowering campaigners to come up with their own formations that they can be passionate about, rather than relying on a ‘party line’, to build those relationships with the people they meet.
On the latter, the suggestions that came from the panel were: ‘courage in the face of challenges’; ‘building a stronger, fairer economy’; and ‘for the many, not the few’ (as it captures both fairness and empowerment).
Where do you stand on these three issues? We can be optimistic about going into the general election and we should be passionate about why a Labour government is essential. But resolving such issues as these will help us get there.
Adrian Prandle, International Officer