Labour lost badly in May and there is no doubt that the task of winning power in 2020 is daunting. We will need to present the British people with a compelling offer that responds to the economic and social realities of their lives. To do that we need to ask some serious questions of ourselves and look urgently at how can we make Labour relevant once more in a changing Britain and reconnect with our lost voters. We must also look at how we can connect with the millions of people who are completely disenchanted with the political process itself.
I believe that Labour is a crusade or it is nothing. We have always fought injustice and oppression here and abroad. We were formed to ensure that those who had no power and no voice in our society could be empowered both in parliament and in the workplace. We have fought to make our society fairer and more equal. We have always believed that such societies are happier and more sustainable. But the global banking crisis has ushered in the political triumph of small state economic orthodoxy and our society is increasingly dominated by a few very powerful interests. Never before have our Labour values been more relevant. Following our resounding election defeat it is obvious that we have to change both organisationally and culturally if we are ever to earn the chance to change our country for the better once more.
Culturally, Labour must end the stifling top down command and control party forged in the Blair era. We need our members to be more than just door-knocking fodder and the background in a photo op. We have to trust our members more and open up the party encouraging more people to join and get involved in a wider range of activities, embedding ourselves in every community. I also believe we need to communicate more regularly with our members and have a more interactive website. Currently our members only tend to get a message from us when we’re asking them for money. We have to give the 50,000 new members who have joined us since May 7th more than general committee meetings to go to! Let’s make politics sociable and fun again.
When I was elected to chair the National Policy Forum I took the view that the entire process should be opened up to allow members a real say. I delivered the most open and transparent policy process for many years. By launching an online policy hub and meaningfully engaging with all parts of the NPF we ensured greater democracy in practice. This was a start and a break with the past but there is much more that we need to do. We can start by embedding this open culture of real political debate in the party at all levels and we need new thinking about how this can be properly represented at our annual conference more effectively. We should be proud of our links with the trade unions and other affiliates. They enrich our party and help keep us connected to millions of people.
Organisationally, the party did what it could in the election with far fewer resources than the Tories had and there were some heroic victories. But there were many more losses. All our candidates fought hard and none deserved to lose. But we fought a static, two dimensional campaign in a dynamic three dimensional era. Many marginal seat candidates got to the count thinking they had won only to see their Tory opponents increase their majorities. This demonstrates that we missed what was going on as well as the pollsters. Our voter pool was too narrow. Even in my constituency of Wallasey, where we doubled the Labour majority with a 9 per cent Tory to Labour swing, it was clear that the scaremongering about the SNP threat in a hung parliament was working. It was also clear that our clutch of retail policy offers was adding up to less than the sum of its parts because we hadn’t dealt with the false Tory narrative about the causes of the global banking crisis so we were not trusted on the economy.
In response to this we have to upgrade our voter contact infrastructure and buy into the micro targeting databases which Jim Messina used so effectively for the Tories. Our techniques haven’t really changed since the 1990s but the world of campaigning has moved on and we have to invest in state of the art know how to be competitive. All this is possible and delivering it will make our party fit to win in 2020.