We let the people down. Now we must make the changes necessary.
Labour’s founding purpose a century ago was to win power in parliament on behalf of working people and use that power to enact change.
Everything the party is proud of stems from that founding purpose — the NHS, the minimum wage, equality laws and every legislative achievement of Labour governments. All of those achievements depended on winning, on making the tough choices necessary to assemble a governing coalition.
Losing manifestos achieve nothing. When the Labour Party makes the wrong choices — in leadership and in policy — it simply paves the way for the triumph of the Conservatives. And now, amid the ruins of Thursday’s shattering defeat, is the question of whether the Labour Party can ever be rebuilt.
Boris Johnson was desperate for an election based on the false promise that he could “get Brexit done” when we haven’t even begun the hardest part, which is negotiating the future agreement between the UK and the EU, a process that could go on for years.
Jeremy Corbyn played into his hands and voted for this election against the advice of most of his MPs. The programme it was fought on was the dream manifesto for him, his closest advisers and his loudest cheerleaders. He and his team had complete command of the party’s national executive committee, the policy platform and the election strategy. This result is entirely and eternally owned by them.
Labour’s offering was not just unappealing to the electorate. Voters were repelled by it. Time after time candidates were told on the doorstep, “I have always been Labour but I can’t vote for you because of Jeremy Corbyn.” Never again should Labour candidates be put in the absurd position of having to reassure voters who had previously been Labour that it was safe to vote for them to be the local MP because the party nationally had no chance of winning.
What must happen now?
First, leadership. “Played two, lost two” is an election record no leader can or should survive, so Corbyn has to go. But so too does Corbynism.
The greatest danger facing Labour right now — an error of historic proportions — would be to try to carry on with the same view of the world and the same programme with a different face and voice. We don’t only need a new leader, we need a new direction too.
Labour must never again offer the country a leader who voters believe is not really for the country, surrounded by people who believe the wrong side won the Cold War and who are keen to explain away the crimes of the country’s enemies as being our own fault. Voters rightly expect their leaders or aspirant leaders to be patriots and to stand firm against the country’s enemies. They didn’t believe that of Corbyn.
Second, the party needs to exercise responsibility in the programme it puts before the country. The scale of giveaways, nationalisations and confiscations didn’t inspire voters. It alarmed them. Voters do want more investment in their public services. And Labour is right to argue for that. But voters also expect a strategy for government to be credible and deliverable. They did not believe that about what we were offering.
Beyond the size of the programme that Labour offered is also its direction. Radicalism is not endlessly pressing a rewind button in an attempt to recreate the economic balance between state and market that existed in the 1970s. True radicalism is a credible approach based on the problems the country faces today and the problems coming in the future. Labour’s victories in 1945, 1964 and 1997 were all based on the building of a new tomorrow, not the desire to hark back to a better yesterday.
Finally, Labour’s culture has to change. Far too many good people have been driven out or have chosen to leave in despair at the appalling anti-semitism and factionalism that have been given a permission slip by the cult of personality around the leader and the anti-western world view held by him and others at the top of the party. Labour should be an open and tolerant party of all faiths and none, where debate is welcomed and it is the power of the argument that matters rather than swearing oaths of loyalty to the leadership.
Four defeats in a row is a dereliction of duty to the millions of voters who expect us to speak up for those who can’t simply buy their way to better opportunity, who depend on good public services and who yearn for a credible alternative to a Tory party in the grip of right-wing nationalism.
In the choices we have made in recent years we have let those people down. We have a duty to them now. If we do not face up to the magnitude of the task ahead of us after this defeat, we will let them down again and fail in the very purpose for which Labour was founded.
We let the people down. Now we must make the changes necessary. Pat McFadden