Some of you might think I’m the wrong person to write this article. I’ve never voted Labour at a general election and I’ve spent most of the last four and half years slagging off Corbyn and telling anyone who would listen why everything Labour was doing was wrong. But that’s why I think I’m the right person to write this: what follows is what it would take to get me to vote Labour at the next general election. Some of it might not be what you’d expect.
First of all, Labour can’t just “go back to Blairism” – it won’t work in 2020. Moreover, some notion of trying to rediscovering soggy centrism isn’t the answer either. The one thing I can say for Corbynism is that it demonstrated that some policy ideas that would have been considered too left-wing actually had purchase. I think it had an effect on causing the Conservatives to move left on economic policy, which may be its one lasting positive legacy.
I just think centre-left policy making needs fresh ideas that are genuinely doable and will actually fix some of the problems that 21st century Britain. The four-day week is not it – and is a good example of Corbynist thinking at its weakest. The ideological pursuit of nationalising industry is another. Yes, nationalising some things might be a good idea and be popular, but you have to put that into an overall policy prospectus that makes sense to people’s real lives.
The one thing I would actually recommend Labour takes from the New Labour era is its approach to the Lib Dems. This has been wrong since 2010. It was understandable that there was such a strong initial reaction to the Lib Dems going into coalition with the Tories, but the burning hatred of the Liberal Democrats has actually helped the yellows in a strange sort of a way. It has helped keep the Lib Dems on life-support, able to flare up whenever anger at certain areas of Corbynism struck a wrong chord (like at the European elections in May). Labour needs to get back to treating the Lib Dems like their little brother. You need to make the Lib Dems irrelevant if you want their voters.
The strategy (in the loosest sense of the word) on gaining Lib Dem voters since 2010 has been to demonise the Liberal Democrat party as much as possible. This just made a lot of Lib Dem voters dig in. I think they felt personally insulted by the tone of Labour attacks on the Lib Dems. Instead, the party should have taken a “oh, the poor Lib Dems, being shown a shiny object by the Tories. They know not what they do” kind of approach. This would have been more effective than making the Lib Dem party the boogeyman.
Any move to try and create a sort of movement for all progressives – hell, for anyone who just wants an alternative to the Conservative party – will only end up helping the Labour Party in the end. If you believe that Labour should own the progressive vote, then start acting like it.
Labour needs a leader that can reach out and make the party a big tent again. The obvious choice for me is Jess Phillips. I can’t see some massive policy shift to the right under her leadership, and yet I can see her selling centre-left ideas way beyond Labour’s current reach. The fact that Nick Boles fell in political love with her tells you a lot. You need to stop thinking that having Tory and Lib Dem voters putting a cross on the ballot paper for Labour is a bad thing. If they are voting for a policy prospectus that you broadly agree with, then I don’t see how this isn’t a win for you.
Any continuity Corbynista as Labour leader will fail. Mostly because the Labour Party needs to be seen to have learned its lessons and changed in response – Rebecca Long-Bailey will not do this for Labour, even if she performed to her peak. If you’re on the left of the party, think about this: you now have one chance to keep the party in a reasonably left leaning policy space. If you go RLB and lose again, the right of the party will eventually take over and blame everything on leftist policy. By being strategic now, you can save a lot of what you want policy-wise. If you get cocky and think you can do whatever you want because the Lib Dems are in pieces, you are simply guaranteeing the next Conservative election victory and a total defeat for the left of Labour within five years.
A decent Labour leader should be able to get all left-leaning voters to go for them and to reconnect with the base they lost this time round at the same time. With a good leader and a sound set of policies, it wouldn’t be that difficult to do given the weakness of what the Tories are offering. No one really understands what the Conservatives stand for any longer beyond get Brexit done. And the Tories can’t take that slogan into the next election. Labour can win by doing what they have done at any election they have ever won: by giving forth a positive message that sounds and feels plausible. It will be interesting to see if the Labour Party can pull this off over the next couple of years – or if they will continue to navel gaze.