Labour cannot afford to wallow in defeat

“It is not seemly for you to mourn, it is not seemly for you to delay. You have received a legacy soaked in the heart’s blood of your brothers. The pregnant deed waits for you.”

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy could not have chosen a more apt passage by the German socialist poet Ernst Toller to sum up Labour’s mission for the morning of May 8.

In the aftermath of a brutal electoral defeat across the country, and a cataclysmic rout in Scotland, Labour’s instincts may be to slink off into a corner to lick its wounds and resign itself to a decade in the wilderness. Yet, to do so would be to abandon the very people - including the most vulnerable in society - it so recently fought to represent. It would also be an affront to the thousands of activists for whom the desire to see a Labour government returned to office has only grown stronger since last Thursday.

The temptation seems to be to conjure a myth as to why we suffered such a devastating loss instead of openly and honestly looking at the facts, the data, and the feedback from our all-too-many defeated candidates. Too many times in the last hundred hours or so I’ve heard that it was Murdoch’s fault, the SNP’s fault, the voters’ fault – everyone’s fault but our own as a party.

We cannot stop our ears to the millions of voices who spoke through the ballot box last Thursday. We cannot blindly stay the course that led us to our third-worst vote share in 70 years.

What we must do is take decisive action to move the party forward. Firstly, this means having a frank discussion over why we lost that starts with the views of the voters, rather than the preconceptions of those within the party who think we were too left-wing or too right-wing to govern. It is no good blaming our defeat on the fact that people voted out of self-interest and wanted a government that worked for them. Saying: “if only people voted for their worse-off neighbours instead of themselves we would have won” is folly.

Secondly, it means the election of a strong, charismatic and prime ministerial leader who can speak to and for the swathe of voters who turned their backs on us this time around. And yes, that means mortgage-owning Middle Englanders as well as council-housed Northerners and Scots.

Thirdly, it means work starts as soon as possible on restoring Labour’s position in local government. Lost in the chaos of May 7/8 was the news that 164 Labour councillors had failed to hold their seats. Without a strong Labour presence at the council level, we lack the foundations on which a national Labour government can be built.  

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, it means making a decision on how Labour tackles the two nationalisms taking hold in England and Scotland, as reflected in the millions of votes lost to UKIP and the SNP. Troublingly, it seems that the two nationalisms demand two separate responses that will be difficult to reconcile in a single party structure. In this context, John Denham’s comments on the need for an English Labour Party no longer sound so strange.

This is no time to sit back and take stock. It’s time to step up and get moving. You can bet the Young Fabians will be in the thick of the action over the next few months. I would urge all of our members – and all members of the Labour movement – to get stuck in too.

Louie Woodall is a member of the Young Fabians Executive Committee

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