From the resignation of an incumbent PM to the crowning of his successor in a little under 3 weeks. Credit where credit’s due: the Tory party know how to put themselves back together after a crisis. The Labour party now faces a state-educated, One Nation Tory (soon-to-be) PM; no more easy Eton/Bullingdon shots across the despatch box. With her proposals regarding legally-binding shareholder votes on executive pay – as well as board representation for workers – Theresa May has not only parked her tanks on the left’s lawn, she’s staking a claim on the house too.
This article is not about the current Labour leadership challenge; the arguments remain the same regardless of who is at the helm. Labour lost elections in 2010 and 2015, with Corbyn not even a blip on the electorate’s radar. So the assumption that a new leader and the adoption of a slightly more right-wing platform alone will have voters running to Labour in droves is wishful thinking.
These unconventional times require unconventional thinking. The EU referendum result shows that people in the UK are hungry for change, and Labour is at its best when it presents solutions to people’s problems which are both radical and pragmatic. By and large, the defining split which has become apparent is not between left and right. It is between those who have benefitted from globalisation, and those who feel left behind.
Immigration was the biggest issue throughout the debate precisely because it has been the most obvious metric of change over the last 20 or so years. While this was surely the case for some, I don’t believe most Leavers expressed a desire to return to the past in order to return to a more culturally-homogeneous Britain, but what they see as a more communitarian Britain.
A key tenet of small-state rightwing thinking is that when the state is rolled back, charities and individuals step in to fill the gap. This is evident in the now-distant memory of David Cameron’s “Big Society” rhetoric. At best it’s naive, at worst it’s delusional. Instead, a conjunction of rapid globalisation and Thatcherite indivdualism have meant that as we have grown closer to our neighbours overseas, those closest to us have grown more distant. Labour must find a way to connect with this feeling, while wholeheartedly rejecting the crude, atavistic identity politics that at times pervaded the Leave campaigns.
More powers to local councils could help people with whom “Take back control” resonated to do just that. Welsh Assembly-style parliaments for English regions – with devolved spending – would let disenfranchised voters in these areas feel included in politics again. Microcurrency initiatives would encourage spending on community-based businesses across the country, allowing local enterprises to prosper where multinational chains currently dominate. By proposing some inclusive localistic policies, Labour can make an offer to unite communities where UKIP and the Tory right so plainly seek to divide them. It can remain an internationalist, outward-looking party, while allowing voters who feel alienated from Westminster to feel more engaged in our democracy.
Card-carrying Labour members will know Clause IV’s current incarnation:
“The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”
If Labour is to win the next election, whenever that may be, the public will have to know they mean it.