The Labour party exists to win elections to improve lives and make the world a better place. But if the shock of our crushing election defeat is beginning to fade, the scale of the challenge facing us is only just beginning to dawn. It is no exaggeration to say that we now face a fight for the very survival of the Labour party. It is a fight in which I wish to play a part, and why I am standing to be Labour’s next deputy leader.
As the debate about why we lost and how we rebuild in the years ahead intensifies, we are already facing contradictory demands for change. Some say the answer lies with middle England, with greater emphasis on economic competence and rewarding aspiration. Others argue that to win back Scotland we need to champion the NHS, public services and redistribution. Other voices say we must concentrate on winning back disaffected working class voters, who found us unconvincing on immigration and welfare.
In all honesty, we do not have the luxury of that choice. We lost working class and middle class voters. We lost support in areas that were previously described as our heartlands and in middle England. We lost in the south and in the north. What all these results show – the rise of SNP in Scotland, the rise of UKIP in the north, our poor performance even among natural Labour voters in the south – are not only are we failing to appeal to floating voters, in many places we were not even convincing our core voters. Just about the only place we didn’t lose ground was in our big cities.
So the challenge is not just about the centre ground, it’s about the ground to the south, the north and in Scotland. It’s about carving out new Labour territory – we need support from all classes, all backgrounds and all corners of the UK.
This is more than a narrow electoral calculation. Wanting to get on in life, to work hard, to make something of yourself, and to hope for a better future for your family, those are things I believe in, things that have always been an essential part of Labour’s reason for being and always must be.
We do not win the votes of people with decent jobs and decent incomes, from the van driver, to the sales manager, to the graphic designer and the restaurant owner, by appealing simply for their solidarity with others, or by merely telling them what we’re opposed to. We have to be for them as well – and without their support and the wealth they create, we will never be able to help those that most need a Labour government.
But to change the country, we must have the courage to change our party too. We didn’t lose this election for want of a better ground campaign – and we owe it to the thousands of Labour Party members and supporters who slugged their guts out during the election to be honest about the causes of our defeat.
One of the reasons people found it hard to connect with us at the election was because there were too few people at the top of our party who look and sound like they understand what life is actually like for most people, let alone have the answers to the challenges ahead. Our party must always aspire to look and sound like the country we seek to represent. But there are still too few women, ethnic minority and working class candidates, councillors and MPs. If I’m elected as deputy leader, I’ll level the playing field for candidates, so money and connections are no advantage in selections.
We must also open our party to many more supporters. As deputy leader, I would support reducing and simplifying membership fees and recognising the role that our members can play in the life of our party. We need our members for so much more than their subs or to deliver some leaflets. That’s why I want to create Labour’s Got Talent, to draw on the talents, skills and contacts they can share.
Most of all, we need a leadership team who both members and voters can connect with – a deputy leader who can inspire our members to go the extra mile, inspire people to join our party and become our councillors and MPs of the future, and inspire the voters we lost with the confidence to support us again and hope for a better future.
As deputy leader, I will lead, inspire and fight for our values. We can reach out to those who have turned away from Labour. Together, we can win again.
This article first appeared on the Fabian Society website on 20/07/2015