Thursday, 19 July 2012

Winning Back The 'Lost Left' Voters

This is a response to political letters in my local newspaper, the Newton News ... but the issue is one which faces many local Labour parties - how to win back the 'lost left' voters.

I don’t know about you, but I found the letters in last week’s Newton News exciting!

Mr Welsh, as usual, wrote a cogent and plausible letter, though I always feel his sentiments would be more appropriate for a Surrey Conservative Club than a north-east new town.  Three more years of this government’s policies and he will be literally, as well as metaphorically, ‘a voice crying in the wilderness’ … because that is what this government is going to make of County Durham.

However, it was the letters by Mr Hodgson and ‘WS’ which interested me the most because – though far to the left of Mr Welsh – readers will have seen that they too criticised ‘New Labour’.

New Labour’s problem
In the years 1997-2010, some 5 million people stopped voting ‘New Labour’.

Those who moved to the Lib Dems seem now to be returning to the Labour Party relatively easily, since they realise the Lib Dem MPs are just propping up an incompetent and wicked government, assiduously betraying everything they claimed to believe in.

The Labour Party, however, seems to be finding it much harder to win back those who left the Party because they felt that ‘New Labour’ was betraying traditional Labour principles.  Indeed, many people who stayed in the Labour Party were also uneasy with policies which introduced such as academies, PFI, marketisation and free-market economics.

‘WS’ is correct when he says that – even under Ed Miliband – Labour has been slow to abjure its ‘New Labour’ principles.  But the Party quietly dropped the ‘New’ from its name in February last year.  And Labour is, gradually and carefully, redefining its vision, distancing itself from policies which have surely been discredited by events. There is an ongoing debate within the Party – characterised by ‘colours’ such as ‘Purple Labour’, ‘Blue Labour’, ‘Red Labour’ etc. – about what form that new vision should take.  There is also, (albeit painfully slowly), a growing acceptance that policy must be evolved from the membership, not imposed by the leadership.

The irony is that, the longer the more left absent themselves from the Labour Party, the less likely it is that their views will form any part of Labour’s evolving policies. 

Focussing on the Future
Some of the principles of ‘New Labour’ must never be abandoned.  ‘New Labour’ shed Labour’s ‘loony left’ reputation, and aimed the Party’s policies squarely at the centre-ground of public opinion.  We can never abandon that ground if we want any hope ever again of forming a Labour government.

But some things that were right for 1997 were no longer right in 2010, and now we need a ‘renewed’ Labour Party with policies appropriate for the future, not shackled to the past.  Both ‘WS’ and Mr Hodgson would find many current Branch Party members who agree with every word they wrote, and it is vital that Labour distance itself from some of the crueller policies that New Labour tried, but found wanting … i.e. it is true that – if we want any hope ever of being elected – we need a Party which is able to accommodate and articulate the aspirations of ‘WS’ and Mr Hodgson.

Labour does not yet have ‘a manifesto’ which sets out its stall before the British public – it does not need one until 2015.  But it is at the moment vigorously debating what that manifesto might contain, and I urge people to join Labour and have their say within that debate … before the Mr Welshes of this world, so cogently and plausibly, lead us into the neoliberal abyss.

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