Labour must reconnect with voters, or risk being relegated to minority party status, argues John Mills.
The Tories face an opposition in disarray. At the moment it is not easy to imagine the Labour Party winning the General Election in 2020. But the real tragedy is that we ought to be able to win. Labour’s message of aspiration should be able to appeal to a very large number of voters across the country.
I have been involved in the Labour Party for over 50 years, and I know that the party has a strong message to sell to the public.
In the past we have been able to appeal not only to people in the North of England, Scotland and Wales through our ideals of equality and fairness, but also to many centrist voters in the rest of England who appreciate our left-of-centre values when they are blended with sensible economic policies that will help the country grow faster and more fairly.
The problem is that in recent years we have focused too much, albeit successfully, on appealing to metropolitan voters in cities like London and Manchester. This has disenfranchised a large number of other Labour supporters, and, as a result, we have failed to present a credible alternative to the Conservative government.
Many individuals who voted for the party in the past have since migrated to the Conservatives, UKIP, Greens, or the SNP. Or they are now not voting at all.
In the face of this challenge, it is now more critical than ever that Labour adopts a coherent set of policies that resonate with the electorate, to help it reconnect before the 2020 General Election.
First, the party must accept the result of the EU Referendum. During the course of the campaign the party made the mistake of being much too Europhile. Of the 9.3 million people who voted Labour at the 2015 general election, a poll by Lord Ashcroft indicates that 37 percent – about 3.4 million – of these Labour supporters voted Leave in the referendum.
If this same number desert Labour at the next General Election, most MPs with majorities of less than 5,000 would lose their seats. This would mean the loss of around 100 MPs in 2020.
But rather than do this, a number of members of the Labour Party are now attempting – or saying they will attempt – to block the invocation of Article 50. Or they are calling for the referendum to be run again. There is no democratic mandate for this rerun, and it will only gift more votes to UKIP who are already nipping at our heels in the north of England.
Secondly, Labour has failed to lay out to the public an economic alternative to the Tories and their unpopular eight years of austerity. In spite of Theresa May’s attempt to claim the term ‘industrial policy’ for her own, it doesn’t ring true for many people in the country who know that the Conservatives were the key cheerleaders for the hollowing out of our industrial base.
Labour must now argue for a transformative industrial strategy, based on radical changes to our monetary and exchange rate policies, to make sure that globalization works for the many and not the few. Investing in and reviving British manufacturing will create good-quality high-paying jobs for working-class people in this country, and encourage them back to voting Labour. It will also rebalance the economy away from financial services and drive higher levels of growth, which is equally appealing to middle-income voters in the English shires.
If we get these two things right, Labour can win again. We have had hard times and we have bounced back before. Now we need to do the same thing again.