The Labour leadership – some initial thoughts

by Tom Miller

Wow. What a thumping. There are clearly some exacerbating factors. Our complete collapse in Scotland (and the hammering in England we took for its consequences, unable to change the narrative) being some key ones.

The Blairites are placed in an ideal internal situation by Ed Miliband’s defeat. They are therefore making the running whilst the centre left, having advanced internally over the last decade, are stunned.

So now, people are talking about the leadership contest as if the economy is the only thing that matters.

It does. In particular, how do we create a high growth economy that works with society rather than against it, and protect the life progress that aspirational workers have already made? We had too little to say.

But there are several issues which are considerably more serious even than whether we win next time round, particularly around existential threats and secular decline.

Nobody will get my vote unless they appreciate the seriousness of tackling this as well as winning the next election.

Scotland and our attitude to it is one key question. A leadership candidate needs a strong strategy on this. This would be a good place to start.

There are others. Ed Balls lost his seat because of votes lost to UKIP. Nationalism is increasingly an existential threat to Labour in the North of England, and our working class post-industrial base, though it still exists, is crumbling away from us significantly enough to matter – towards the false security of this nostalgic nationalism. The crumbling is faster than ever.

We need to think about the constitution. The Tories will legislate to make it impossible for Labour to achieve office with the boundary review, and they will legislate to make it impossible for a majority of UK MPs to vote on English legislation, on the basis of an idea of a single Englishness without regions. Which ironically is a very un-English concept to everyone outside of the M25 commuter belt.

Together, the three points above amount to what I shall call ‘the national conundrum’.

No leadership candidate can seriously believe that committing to joining up local government regions and letting them regulate transport will solve these deep questions of governance and identity. If they do, they are too naive to vote for.

Finally, some questions which are a little more nebulous, and about how we do things, rather than what policies or lines we take.

Why is it that we don’t understand where our support is hard or soft? And are we getting our emotional pitch right? And our candidates? Are we organising in the right way? Are voter ID drives in swing seats working for us in the short and long terms? How do we tackle the idea that we are another group of political careerists who are disjointed – should we be massively expanding community work and doing things like running food banks?

In the longer term, do we remain as a labour party, or become a US style democratic party? And if that particular reversal of 100 years of progress does take place, how does the labour movement respond? Is there common ground between right and left of the Party, or are we about to enter a big internal war? Perhaps for example there is enough buy-in to our current policy offer for it to be a question of adding to it rather than changing much of what is there.

I appreciate that his is quite scattered. I didn’t expect us to lose, let alone by this much. This view was shared by much of the media, even on the right, so let us not conveniently forget this as we bask in hindsight.

Just to summarise, however, some issues for a new leadership to deal with:

– Scotland, class and secular decline
– The economy
– What Labour is for and how it does it.
– The UK, England, Our regions and constitution
– What kind of party should we be if the Tories make it impossible to win? Would we need to reconsider our relationship with the wider left?

I haven’t decided who to vote for, but if all a candidate can do is recycling platitudes about the economy, they are missing most of the iceberg.

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Some secondary points.

1) I agree with this¬†and this. Let’s ground the debate to follow in evidence and analysis, not prejudice or anecdote.

2) In the meantime, there is someone who understands power, the scale of challenges, and politics in the digital age. Please support Tom Watson for Deputy Leader.