As I write, it’s been just over 11 years since Labour left government. Quite frankly, that’s too long, and simply not good enough. Not for the party’s sake, but for the people and nations we seek to serve.
In order to win again, Labour needs to renew. Labour, frankly, has to establish a new contract with the British people. A new British promise.
For The Tribune Group of MPs and its supporters, that policy renewal and tone are key with the task of all of us who believe in Labour, to support our elected Leadership team and to focus with them on how we win again. 2021 has proved Labour to be a formidable force in areas across the UK, some of which we lost in 2019. Manchester, West Yorkshire, Merseyside and London saw some outstanding mayoral results, and Mark Drakeford returned a majority to the Welsh Senedd yet again. And with mayoral wins in the west of England, Cambridge and Peterborough – and a renewed leadership in Scotland – Labour is beginning to nurture change.
But large swathes of the country still need to be won over. Parts of the North East, West Midlands and areas around southern England feel distant from our message, and those areas need to be won in the face of a Tory national Government that looks, on the surface, at least, like it starts to believe in Government. And not to mention a Tory local government, such as the Tees Valley Mayor, that does so, too.
To win back, we need to remember, cherish, and explain our values. Why we formed as a party. What binds us together. The values that underpin our party. But that needs putting into a context of renewed and relevant policy focus.
This is a contribution to that debate.
The Labour Party has to be a radical party; fighting constantly for change and presenting our values in a modern setting, and now to show it has a future appeal to take on today’s Conservative party. We can, and have to, win over traditional Labour voters, but we also need to explain our values to appeal to those voters who have not voted for us in the past, or have lapsed – especially after the 2019 heavy defeat.
If we are to win Government and put policy into practice, we need to focus our arguments and renew around key Labour values:
A Britain of opportunity and aspiration for all. A Britain of respect for all people’s lives. A Britain with a dynamic and supportive state. A Britain that is fair and is seen to be fair – on taxation, on rights, and on your side. A Britain which is outward-looking in a post-EU world. A Britain that puts security of its people at its heart. A Britain that reflects patriotic pride in our nation and its achievements. A Britain that looks forward, and in doing so, harnesses the changes in technology and society to benefit all of its people.
That means clear policy in key areas.
Opportunity and aspiration
Labour has long been the party of opportunity. Unlike other parties, we do not see someone by where they are from or what they are, but by what they can become. Now more than ever, we need to refocus the argument and our policies towards ensuring that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their goals and aspirations, no matter what their background.
Antony Crosland, not a natural Tribunite, but one of Labour’s greatest post-war thinkers, pinpointed the issues facing Britain with precision accuracy. He said that:
“In Britain, equality of opportunity and social mobility… are not enough. They need to be combined with measures… to equalise the distribution of rewards and privileges so as to diminish the degree of class stratification, the injustices of large inequalities and the collective discontents.”
This perfectly sums up how Labour should be seeing the world today. If we espouse equality of opportunity but do not back it with policies to promote it, we will only be delivering empty promises. It is important that we should make clear that we stand for greater equality in the round.
Equal opportunity has been implemented in part by Labour in the form of universal healthcare and social security. We should build upon these successes and progress further into other policy areas. Not only should this approach apply to the world of work – which is inevitably the main focus of equality of opportunity and aspiration – but it should also ensure that people have opportunities for self-improvement, leisure and family/life balance. As we move into a fully post-Covid society, these metrics will become ever more important. But we should not become obsessed with policies that just rotate around spending. We must be the party that delivers the best environment for people to get ahead.
There was once the ‘British Promise’ whereby the next generation could always expect to do better than their parents. Sadly, that has evaporated away to a promise that exists for the few and not the many. This has led to a generational divide which is fracturing the relationship between millennials and baby boomers. It undermines our society, and can only be tackled if millennials have the same opportunities offered to those before them.
Many in the Parliamentary group are beneficiaries of aspiration in investment in life chances – we should be promoting that to the world now. Our policies on housing, education, health, benefits and work are key in reflecting this. Our parents had aspiration for us all to do better than they did. We must share that for our children also. Aspiration is a Labour goal.
Respect for each other and our community
Labour should be promoting what binds us, not what divides us. We are the country that built the NHS, and we are the country that has developed one of the most progressive international aid policies in the world; displaying our shared national compassion.
After the EU referendum, there has been a spike in hate crime. Now we have left the EU, we may feel more isolated than ever, chasing the next trade deal in a cold world. The advent of social media – which generally has empowered people – has created an echo chamber, and one that is very often filled with aggression. These two factors in themselves are helping to unpick the cohesion within our society.
We need a greater emphasis on community, and the good that local and central Government can bring. It is a key value of this party and group that equality means respect for lifestyle choices, sexuality, gender, and contribution to society as a whole; and our policy offer should reflect that.
We have always been the party promoting women’s rights. We need to push forward and not rest until the injustices of imbalance within our society are destroyed. For too long, business and Government could be described as old, pale, stale and male. This needs to be ended to allow women their rightful place in an equal society. This will mean Labour has to examine every policy proposal through the prism of women’s rights and equality.
The time for the Dynamic Supportive State is now
The UK needs a dynamic and supportive state. For too long, we have allowed the Conservatives to undermine the good that a dynamic supportive state can achieve. If the Covid crisis has taught us one thing, it’s that government is central to our nation’s life, and it can lay a transformative role in creating and supporting wealth and opportunity.
Conservatives always talk of Government in terms of getting in the way of people’s lives, inhibiting economic growth and being an all-round nuisance. But this fails to recognise that the state is where people can come together to solve problems at a local and national level, such as has been done with the Covid response.
Government is the instrument which can be harnessed to ensure that those with the least are not left behind. The state allows people to have access to services which could be beyond their means without it. Labour can harness a series of policies surrounding state support for businesses, for example. Many fledgling businesses cannot go forward as the British system of business is risk averse, unlike the system in the United States. The state could step in to ensure that we revive the quaternary sector and secondary sector. We ask people to be entrepreneurial, so why can the state not practice what it preaches? But we can also make the case for public spending: public investment grows the opportunity for all, and it also finds its way into private business. We should make the case for public investment.
Let’s be clear. A dynamic, supportive state means an active state. Not simply one which makes sure people aren’t left behind, or in terms of industrial strategy; but one which makes sure the economy works effectively.
Unregulated markets produce perverse outcomes and disincentives. This can be seen quite clearly in the current equity markets which reward short-term investment, leading to the collapse of private sector research and development spending. This unregulated banking led to the creation of financial products that created the crash of 2008. Every time the hands-off approach has been taken by Government towards the market, it has led to great inequalities and injustices for individuals, businesses and the country.
But a dynamic and supportive state helps its people to achieve not just great things, but those things that matter daily – education, health housing and work.
A Government that doesn’t turn a blind eye to issues such as the closure of the GKN plant in Erdington, Birmingham, which Unions said was salvageable. The Minister said he wanted to do something, the local MP and Tribunite Jack Dromey worked hard to save it, but in the end the plant will close in 2022/3. Why? Because the Government still don’t like to get involved in these aspects of the economy.
That dynamic Labour Government can, and would, be central to lives.
Britain in the World
Britain has to look outward to the world.
The rise of populist nationalism around the world is causing nations to turn inwards; shirking their international responsibilities and undermining past successes. This has come about because globalism was allowed to run rampant due to states recoiling through fear of interference.
Globalism has badly wounded internationalism. Labour is an internationalist party, as are the British people, and as such we should be fighting tooth and nail to ensure that internationalism and globalism aren’t conflated. We should not leave anyone behind in the world. But we cannot just preach internationalism. It will require action as well. This will mean international aid and supporting allied governments during times of national emergencies. This includes being an active member of supranational organisations such as NATO, the UN and the WTO. If we succumb to the populist outlook on the world whereby we refuse to maintain our acceptance of Article 5 of NATO, thereby allowing international pariahs to grab spheres of influence through military action, we will be failing our founding principles.
Being a progressive internationalist means that we want to see our friends thrive and succeed. That is why we express our wish for a strong European Union, with which we’ll work closely, challenging the approach by some who wish to weaken international and European institutions.
Law, order and justice form the foundations of our society. That is why any Labour Government must have values which demonstrate that we take no nonsense when people break those foundations. We must produce a set of policies and principles whereby the armed forces, police, security services, border force and the often-forgotten prison service are given the support they need to do their job. A Labour Government’s values must include action on reducing crime, supporting our forces, strong clear policy on border control and migration. All part of the active and dynamic state.
The Labour Party should cherish the achievements of its citizens and be proud of our country. As ever, George Orwell provides the best quote possible for patriotism:
Patriotism has nothing to do with Conservatism. It is actually the opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same. It is the bridge between the future and the past.
Being proud of Britain has become a taboo, not to be spoken of by mainstream political parties. This has allowed for populist parties to twist patriotism to their will. Changing the true patriot narrative of community, internationalism, entrepreneurship, individualism and aspiration towards isolationism, bitterness and mistrust. If asked, the population would agree with the former and oppose the latter. We should build upon this patriotism internally as well as externally. What is meant by that? We should be ensuring that policies that flow from the Labour Party recognise the patriotic identities of the component parts of the UK, but they should unify the whole nation in a sense of justice and fairness. Two of the values we all share and which underpin all the regions and nations in the UK.
A Labour Government should promote fairness in all it does.
BHS, Sport Direct, RBS are all examples of where corporations have worked in the interests of an elite and not for the people who work for and consume their services. Labour wants to see ethical business become the norm in the UK. With policies that encourage greater involvement of the shareholders, workers and consumers into the operations of businesses, we can create a system that boosts the ethical nature of business, and marks out British businesses from the rest of the world. Leading the way and giving British business a unique selling point around the world.
We cannot ignore the power of taxation policy in delivering all of the above. But too often, taxation is used as a stick to deter behaviour. This causes resentment of taxation, but if we were to refocus taxation policy onto a progressive forward-thinking footing, it could finally be viewed in a better light.
Labour needs to make it known that we believe in a fair and progressive taxation to deliver a just society, which provides the services that people need. We must work with our constituents to assure them that taxation is an investment not only into their future, but of their children’s and their neighbours. There is a middle way between the hard-right opinion that all taxation is intrinsically bad, and the hard-left delusion that everything can be funded by the rich or tackling tax avoidance.
Another failing of taxation policy in the last 50 years is its focus on income. This has a detrimental impact upon people in work, who have no other means of income, whereas unearned wealth is something that instils the inequality within our society. Taxation on unearned wealth should be used as only one of many tools at a Labour Government’s disposal. We should be in a society where everyone feels like their taxation is being spent wisely and being raised in proportion to their income.
World of Work
Work remains the core of our society.
A frank and honest discussion needs to be held on the world of work. There are some who wish to claim that all jobs that have been lost to emerging economies and automation will return – they will not. But the current policies have sought to replace these lost jobs with insecure, poorly paid and low esteem work.
What has made Britain a world beating economy is the ability to evolve. We were the first nation in the race to mechanisation, the first to adopt the agricultural revolution and then the first to harness the growth of the service sector. Demonstrating each time that the UK understands that nothing economically lasts forever, and we should jump at the opportunity to grab new markets.
However, what has been missing is a Government that ensures that the world of work evolves with the economy. We need to recognise and reward jobs of the future, like care work. We need to shout clearly that we are the party of work, it’s in our name, and that we are not afraid to put forward policies that move decent jobs to where they are needed.
And we need to look to the future and how we as a society harness that new technology for the benefit of all.
Labour needs to be both forward-looking and optimistic. We have the values to develop the policy for the future.
The above can appeal to traditional voters and to those we need to win; the key is presenting policy in a value context.
Aspiration, support to grow business, fair taxation, a strong supportive and dynamic state helping people achieve their potential, ensuring security for the nation’s residents and being proud of our
achievements, being outward-looking to the world.
That’s the UK we, Labour, should aspire to.