Our new writer and Norwich Labour’s Youth Coordinator, Joseph Ward, despairs about the current leadership debate’s parochialism.
Anyone who’s anyone knows that the new Conservative government have sworn themselves in as a “One Nation Conservative” government who plan to get people back into work and look after the hard working people of this great country. While most people on the left give the common retort of the people using food banks and having their benefits cut as hardy evidence to disprove that narrative, it seems to have captured the nation’s hearts – or at least that of the 11 million Conservative voters. This leads to two questions:
Why do people believe that Labour is no longer the party of the average man?
Why can Labour never hold the mantle of One Nation?
The answer stems from one who is seen as not just as a political legend but one whose legacy is so great that it inspires a whole political wing of the Labour Party. The answer comes from Aneurin Bevan. Many will be familiar with his infamous quote:
“So far as I’m concerned, [the Tories] are lower than vermin.”
This quote represents what is often seen as the best of the Labour Party – the cohesive comradery of the working man, standing up to the rich tycoons, knowing that the greatest tool in a democracy is unyielding solidarity. It is from Bevan’s glorious legacy that we parade around on our marches and, I won’t lie, I too sympathise with everything that they say. I do believe that the Conservative Party divides society and often is ignorant to those who suffer. I do believe that workers are wealth creators rather than their CEOS. I do believe that their party is responsible for some of the biggest rifts in society in British history. However, I do also know that you can’t demonise half of the electorate and expect to be seen as One Nation. While the Conservatives may not walk-the-walk, they certainly talk-the-talk and they do it better than anyone else.
Now, before I get the familiar Blairite jeering that I have often received, I shall make it clear that I do think that the Mandelson-esque mantra of being “pro-business” is a load of tosh. Lowering tax rates for big businesses has hit working families the hardest as it has shifted the economic burden onto everyday people in the form of inadvertent taxation, such as VAT rises, and cuts to tax credits in the recent Budget, which was found to leave over 13 million people £500 worse off. But what I do have to give the Princess of Darkness, Liz Kendall, some credit for is that she isn’t afraid of disproving our moral elitism. 40% tax, while I disagree with it, is more encouraging to a lot of the middle class. Kendall is the sort of woman who would drag a voter to the polling station by their ankle no matter who they would have voted for. Now this is no puff piece for Kendall, for she brings more issues to the table than she fixes, but her relentlessness is the exact criterion we need to add to this debate.
Months ago, Chuka Umunna made the great mistake of saying, “Just because [Michael Heseltine] is a Tory should not stand in the way of us working with him in the future and I very much hope to do that.” Again, Umunna is not someone whose insight I find particularly inspiring; however, he raises an important point. If the Conservative Party wants to do something that will in fact help communities, are we going to turn it down because they are our life-long enemy? We can’t let our dislike of their party overwhelm our love of our country and we can’t assume that every bill that is presented over the next five years has nothing but malicious intent. This does not mean that we can become insouciant with our values, as seen with Harriet Harman’s decision on the Welfare Bill, and abstain due to our election defeat.
Labour must have no fears when it comes to talking to people and we must approach every single voter. The root of this problem which we have left unaddressed is that we have kept ourselves on the moral high ground. While I believe that we are there deservedly, people don’t vote on morality; they vote on what they think will help them the most. Labour and the party faithful must leap off the moral high ground and join the rest in the showground. The next five years are going to be spent diving through hoops because that, unfortunately, is the way to win elections. We can no longer go on chastising all Tory voters as “selfish” or “mistaken” or even to make the assumption that no one votes Tory out of need. While I think our emphasis on poverty was well-placed, we didn’t make it clear that we weren’t just making the bottom one percent’s life better, we were making everyone’s life better. We need to set it out and preach it, not just to the choir but to the unconverted. We need to go out to everyone and spread our message.
When I was canvassing pre-election, we had a joke in our canvassing teams that if they voted Tory in 1997, there was little point in knocking at their doors now. Big mistake; I’ve come to realise that those are the people we need to not only talk to but understand. We need to understand why some people want, some people need and some people love voting Tory. I don’t think I do yet but that’s the first step. Jeremy Corbyn said that to win, Labour needs to become a social movement again. I agree with him 100% but for that to happen, we have to capture the people and it starts as soon as we accept that if we aren’t aiming for 100% of the electorate, we aren’t playing the game; everyone else is and I think we’re all tired of being three steps behind.
Maybe I’m wrong; I personally loved the days of good ol’ One Nation Labour. I thought it was genius when beloved Miliband unveiled the theme in 2012. While Miliband’s election campaign didn’t touch on it, his politics did. We must remember our choice isn’t between purity or pragmatism; it is between the what we want to achieve for the people and what the people want us to achieve for them.