By Dan Jeffery. Dan Jeffery is a former Labour councillor on Southampton City Council, serving as Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Education. He is an alumnus of the University of Southampton, studying Politics and International Relations. He works as an advisor on medical workforce issues for University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.
This is a guest post by one of our alumni. We very much welcome similar submissions from former students and colleagues to the blog.
1) Progressive alliance in tatters
If we needed any clear signs that the so-called Progressive Alliance is a blind alley, last Thursday’s result was the clearest yet. Support for third parties has crumbled to a 40 year low. Labour has now clearly positioned itself as the big tent party of progressive opinion, and should ignore siren calls for cooperation with Liberal Democrats or Greens. Ironically, on the Isle of Wight, where Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq called for Labour to stand aside for the Greens, Labour is now a clear second, scoring its best result since 1959.
In Scotland, written off two years ago, there is now a path back to power. Labour’s conversation must now include a roadmap to winning seats across the Central Belt, where Labour came within spitting distance of winning even more seats.
2) Warning signs in the Brexit hinterlands
There’s no doubt Labour had a good campaign, particularly in London, Wales, and the South, where Labour is positioned to win in many southern urban centres next time. But we cannot ignore the worrying trend in some of the old Labour strongholds, including former mill and pit constituencies. Labour bastions like Stoke-on-Trent, Mansfield and Walsall were picked up by the Tories, and in Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover, a whopping 7.7% swing was recorded in the Tory’s favour. Our vote was also unevenly distributed, winning 83% in places like Walthamstow, while coming within a whisker of losing a whole bunch of Labour seats in Dudley and Barrow.
3) No more “local” campaigns
Of course, MPs need to campaign on their record, but there was too much cautiousness on the part of party machinery in terms of how Labour projected its messages. Many MPs, working on the assumption that the Corbyn programme was electoral poison, refocused their strategy around what amounted to a local government election. Last Thursday showed there is a path to power on a left programme, so in future all candidates must be more prepared to push national messages and policies. There is also insufficient flex in our bureaucracy to enable a mid campaign shift in resources. I am no campaign guru, and would never claim to be (and of course hindsight is 20:20), but it is a shame that when the polls were shifting in our favour, we weren’t able to re-orientate our party to take the offensive against the Tories. With a membership approaching a million, there must now be real investment in building organisational capacity, and assisting volunteers in doing things themselves.
4) Learn to love the Bomb
In what I think will be looked back as an important moment in the united campaign fought by the party, the neutralisation of Trident by clearly supporting renewal was significant. The party as a whole was able to minimise Corbyn’s lifetime political ambition to ban the bomb. And with Corbyn turning the issue of security onto one of Tory failings, we were able to strike a blow far more mortal than our opponents recognised. But we may not have that luxury by the next election, where our programme will be bombarded every month. Corbyn, in my view, would be wise to do a Kinnock and drop a commitment to unilateralism that would allow us to be painted as weak on defence.
5) Drop the constitutional silly buggers
Corbyn, rightly, has scored an enormous personal victory. His steely determination has united a party that six weeks ago was predicted to be about to embark on the 100th battle of a long civil war. He has earned the right to stay on as party leader, and use his anti-austerity credentials to shape policy. There is now, across the entire party, a determination to unite and defeat the Tories — which makes a Conference punch up over how we elect the leader of the Labour Party all the more unnecessary. Nothing would be a bigger own goal than for United Labour to go into Conference and tear the bandages off of a healing wound. The public don’t care about our rules, they care about our policies and want us to get on with the job of opposition. I would suggest that Momentum consider dropping support for the McDonnell Amendment.
6) Magnanimity in (relative) victory
Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will feel understandably vindicated that having argued for two years there was an electoral appetite for his policies, they have been able to win support (though, clearly we’re still a long way off being in Government). My response, as somebody who didn’t believe these policies were electorally viable, and rejected outright any strategy to raise turnout particularly among the young, is to humbly and quietly do what I can to support my party. But hubris would be unwise. I always believed that a big mistake Blair and his supporters made was crushing dissent within the party, and casting his policies and his outlook as the be all and end all of the Labour Party. And yes, I believe that supporters of Corbyn are also wrong to suggest that there is only the leader’s vision or nothing. These Khmer Rouge-esque Year Zero approaches do not create the conditions for a sustainable, vibrant, democratic politics. So to those who unquestioningly stuck by Jeremy, more credit to you, now lets come together.