As the Conservatives prepare to choose their third leader of this year, Matthew Oulton lays out what Labour need to do next to reach Government.
The Conservatives are in disarray. They have overseen an unforced economic meltdown, the likes of which we haven’t seen for decades, now they are oversee a complete political collapse. They are set to replace their leader again, after nominating someone manifestly not fit for office.
The deal is not done for Labour, however.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that we have seen collapses like this before. Both straight after the Referendum, when Cameron bowed to pressure from his own benches, and more obviously when Theresa May was forced out after a series of embarrassing parliamentary failures, it was obvious that the Conservative Party was not fit to govern the UK. The errors were, perhaps, not as grave as this, nor did they choose the wrong leader twice in short succession, but the prognosis was the same. Both times the Conservative Party was able to right themselves and win a subsequent election.
Secondly, it is not enough to just beat the Conservatives. We have, as some in our party would say, to win the argument. That means that it is not enough for the Labour Party to walk into government by default. ‘One last heave’ may be enough this time to land us into power, but it will not be enough to make all the changes we want to make. For that, we need to win convincingly, more than once. We have to defeat the Conservatives so absolutely that this brand of experimental free-market nonsense is never tried again.
Crucially, we have to make sure that, as in the aftermath of the 1997 election, the Conservatives will not be given a hearing by the public until they have changed everything about themselves. Following their pummelling by Blair’s Labour Party, key plants of the Conservative offering, from opposition to gay rights to climate scepticism, were vanquished forever. We have now an opportunity to do the same again.
This might sound absurd, but it’s really not that far-fetched. The grip of political parties in the UK are tenuous, and serious missteps like this are punished very badly by the electorate. Just ask the Liberal Democrats, who have been sentenced to a decade of electoral oblivion for a brief period spent as just the minority partner in a coalition.
So, how do we ensure that the Labour Party resumes its place as the political wing of the British people?
First of all, it means having our own house absolutely in order. Labour’s fiscal approach must be beyond reproach, so that even the Daily Mail has nothing to hit us with. The manifesto, which is being written as we speak, must be absolute bomb-proofed, so that even the most economically cautious Conservative voter is swayed by the rigour of our work. Likewise, all our positions need to make sense, even if that sometimes means doing things which aren’t popular. Everything we do needs to contribute to a broader strategic vision of a Britain with better public services, more equal opportunity, and a faster, greener economy. We can’t get side-tracked by anything else.
Recent disunity by Labour frontbenchers regarding the 19p tax rate, the triple lock, and nationalisation of rail suggest a lack of clarity from the leader’s office. Such indiscipline or disorganisation must be eradicated so that the public receive one united front from the Labour Party.
Secondly, it means planning ahead. Some measures are going to be unpopular to begin with, but will pay off later on down the line. Planning reform, for example, will be very difficult to deliver, because it will face serious opposition from the NIMBY lobby. Likewise, electoral reform will be opposed by a few very vocal groups, and ignored by almost everyone else. Labour must, therefore, make a decision on these policies and then stick to them with a robust, steely nerve.
A Labour Government is now possible.
We stand poised on the biggest electoral opportunity of my lifetime. If we throw this away, or even if we fail fully to capitalise on it, there are millions of people across the country who will not, and should not, forgive us. This is an opportunity to reset British politics with the Labour Party at its centre. But to do that, we have to keep our eyes firmly on our electoral objectives. We must craft a genuinely popular offering to voters, rather than relying on Tory failure.
Matt is the Vice-Chair of the Economy and Finance Network. He is currently a postgraduate Economics student. He’s from Merseyside, Labour’s true heartland, and writes frequently on a range of economic and political issues.
His interests in Economics focus on microeconomic theory and Public Policy, and his politics are characterised by a near-pathological obsession with returning Labour to government. He tweets at @matthewoulton.