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Values and visibility must be cornerstones of the Labour fightback

It is not a matter of looking for the right electoral buttons to press or grasping at the first populist policy that comes along.

We can turn things around for Labour but there is no magic solution that will somehow make things better.

Much is being said and written about the direction Labour should take.  One school of thought argues we should focus on our core vote.  Others suggest we adopt ‘authentic’ policies that are clearly Labour, even at the expense of losing the next election: we should go out in a blaze of glory they say.  This view is firmly rejected by those who believe we should concentrate on providing policies that appeal to voters in the South, for example on immigration.

Talking values

But before we think about policies, we must think about how we come across.  This is all the more essential with a deteriorating economic situation.  Progressive instincts can become dulled.  It is our task to show people how our values are relevant to the times in which we live, in contrast to both Tory rhetoric and conservative principles.  Talking about values is not the same as talking about what we want to do or describing the content of the next Queen’s Speech.  We need to pepper our speech and writing with reference to, among other things, the equal worth of individuals, the Common Good, our responsibilities in society towards each other (especially the disadvantaged), our belief in cooperation, and an acknowledgement that we are leaseholders on this planet.  We must do this constantly and without sounding as if we have swallowed a think tank.

We must keep relating what we are doing to why we are in politics in the first place.  And the policies have to fit the ambition – or at least point to it.  There is no point in emphasising values if all it leads to is a cones hotline for example.  Policy development also has to be dynamic and consistent, as we provide answers to tomorrow’s problems rather than those of yesterday.

In this way we can avoid the debates about whether or not to focus on the mysterious ‘core vote’.  If some people always vote Labour we owe it to them to build the society to which our values point, not to take advantage by indulging in outdated policy prescriptions and bad economics.  Neither do we start by focusing on a few hundred marginal voters.  Instead, we can appeal to the progressive instincts in people across the nation, including the South.  Not long ago we grasped the mantle of a ‘one nation’ party.  In this respect, we should keep it.

Campaigning task

There is another dimension we must concentrate upon.  We need to review once more Labour’s organisation at constituency level.  The current national headwinds against us are highlighting the need for organisation in areas we would normally regard as relatively secure for Labour.  The basics of campaigning (such as high quality leaflets, voter identification, getting candidates to meet as many voters as possible, running local campaigns and surveys) must be in place.  We could all do more.  There will be CLPs whose activists feel discouraged as they survey the scale of the task.  They are doing what they can and often having more impact than they realise.  Even some regular campaigning is better than none.  We were encouraged in Lambeth and Southwark, since in the London elections the high profile political battle helped increase Labour’s majority and share of the vote.  The LibDem vote was squeezed.  Where Labour is present and presenting a clear case, voters will respond.  We must not forget that, win or lose, these elections have provided many local Labour parties with a wealth of voter id data.  In Vauxhall we plan to stay in touch with them and invite strong supporters to join the Party. 

So, there is no magic solution.  But there are things we can do that will help to improve the situation for Labour over the next few months.

A version of this article previously appeared on the Progress Online web site.
Stephen Beer, Tuesday 13 May 2008
Progress Online 13 May 2008, 13/05/2008

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