A Labour MP bemoans the state of the partyby Jamie Reed / May 6, 2016 / Leave a comment
Seemingly every day I am approached by political commentators and asked to comment upon the issues afflicting the Labour Party. I consider every request on its merits and decide whether or not—on balance—my contribution could help the cause of the Labour Party and, more importantly, the cause of those millions of people within our country who need a Labour government.
Never in my wildest nightmares did I ever consider that these causes could become separated. The best interests of the people for whom Labour exists to serve can only be represented by a Labour Party determined to do what is necessary in order to gain the power needed to change our country for the better. After all, where is the sense in a political party that exists to change society, if that party makes a conscious choice to make itself increasingly less popular within that society seemingly as a matter of “principle?”
I want the Labour Party to emerge triumphant from every electoral contest it enters. This means that I want the party to do whatever it has to do to win and this means being honest about what the party needs to do to be able to win. Without this honesty, there will not be—there cannot be—any recovery. Addressing the party’s weaknesses—this must be done in a public, candid manner in order to have any value. After the general election defeat of 2015—a self-inflicted defeat that Labour MPs saw coming and did nothing about—Jon Cruddas provided a compelling and so far uncontested analysis of the defeat when he told the party and the public that Labour “lost everywhere to everyone.” This remains a painful truth.
Yesterday, Labour went backwards in England, Scotland and Wales. Today, senior Labour figures are claiming that because these reverses are not as bad as many predicted, they somehow represent a vindication of the chaos that has engulfed the Party since the leadership election. It’s time to get real.
Whoever became Leader of the Labour Party in September 2015 was bound to be presented with a difficult task. Jeremy Corbyn’s handsome victory did not make this task necessarily any more or less tough. That said, the political judgments, operations and priorities demonstrated in the intervening period since the leadership contest have indeed made this task more difficult. Subjectively and objectively, there can be no doubt about this.
Losing ground, as we unquestionably have done in these elections against an error prone and unpopular government with a wafer-thin parliamentary majority makes the task of winning power in 2020 significantly harder.
Whoever succeeded Ed Miliband in 2015 always going to be faced with an unprecedented task of intellectual heavy lifting. What is Labour for, who is Labour for and how does Labour win again? These are just some of the questions the eventual victor was always going to be faced with and remain precisely the questions that the party dodged between the bookend defeats of 2010 and 2015. In answering these questions, it would be wise to heed the warning of Peter Kellner who, after the general election defeat, wrote that there was no reason to assume that Labour had “hit rock bottom.”
Yesterday proved Kellner’s thesis right and there is still no reason to assume that there is not further distance to travel.
The only possible way in which to measure whether or not the Party is beginning to make the changes necessary in order to win again is through electoral success. For some in the party, pretending that defeat is victory is becoming something of a pavlovian condition.
Collectively, Labour must now demonstrate the necessary humility and wisdom to acknowledge the fundamental changes required of the Party by the public if we are to win the general election in 2020. Failure to do so will mean that it will take some time still until rock bottom is reached.
Meanwhile—outside of London where Sadiq Khan has campaigned superbly—I have too much respect for Labour’s volunteer army and too much care for those who need a Labour government, to pretend that defeat of any kind represents a triumph of any sort.