It's foolish for Labour to think that the voters have turned left

 

Share
Related Topics

The results of last Thursday’s council elections confirm Labour's modest but steady progress since its historic general election defeat in 2010. Labour made significant advances, even though many seats being fought were in hostile territory. New leadership has begun to reinvigorate the party, and a wide-ranging policy review is underway. The Tory-led Coalition appears increasingly accident prone, and is being dragged to the right by an insurgent Ukip threat, crushing David Cameron's hopes of establishing a new brand of centrist conservatism.

But it is clear that Labour still faces an uphill task if it is to win a governing majority in 2015 able to sustain the party in what everyone recognises will be challenging circumstances. The truth is that Labour is still not doing well enough to be confident of victory. It is an inescapable fact that if the party is to win the next election, it has to do much better in southern England. The sheer number of seats in these areas makes them key to a successful electoral strategy: in the South East alone outside London, there are 114 seats. South of the line from the Wash to the Bristol Channel, there are 302 parliamentary constituencies. Labour will not win an electoral majority by amassing more votes in the northern and Celtic heartlands.

The challenge for the party is re-establish the electoral coalition that brought it three consecutive victories, while recognising that it cannot just re-use the electoral play-book that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown fashioned in the 1990s. Ed Miliband is right to argue that the public have moved on from New Labour. For one, there is visceral anger at the lack of accountability among Britain's political and economic elite, manifested in the parliamentary expenses scandal and the outcry over banker's bonuses. British politics today feels more fluid and unpredictable: we have entered a phase of multi-party politics in an age when politics itself has never been held in greater disrepute. In appealing to voters in the southern seats it has to win, Labour must avoid the comforting but fundamentally illusory belief that the British people have shifted irrevocably to the left. Instead they have moved against the British political establishment, which, like it or not, includes Labour.

Labour enjoys a four-point lead over the Conservatives in the national projected vote share – a considerable improvement on 2009 when these seats were last fought, but this hardly indicates a decisive shift back towards power. In the Kent marginals that tend to determine which party can secure a parliamentary majority at Westminster, Labour’s progress was patchy. The party gained seats but its progress was halted by the Ukip surge. In bellwether constituencies such as Gravesham and Dartford, Labour gained several wards but the Conservatives were able to hold on to many of their councillors. In the Essex new towns, Labour made progress by winning nine wards across the county. However in 1997, Labour had won 23 out of 79 seats here. The swing towards Labour across the South was, more often than not, underwhelming.    

We have entered a phase of multi-party politics in an age when politics itself has never been held in greater disrepute. In appealing to voters in the southern seats it has to win, Labour must avoid the comforting but fundamentally illusory belief that the British people have shifted irrevocably to the left. Instead they have moved against the British political establishment -- which, like it or not, includes Labour.

Moreover, people no longer see policy issues in conventional 'left'/'right' terms. Indeed, they are increasingly uncomfortable with the false choices implied by what passes for political debate at Westminster. On the economy, many voters are desperate for a stimulus programme that revitalises Britain's infrastructure and housing stock, and gets the young unemployed back to work. But they fear that too much profligacy and an increase in public debt will endanger economic stability. They want to see vital investment in schools and the NHS, but they also demand greater value for money and an end to waste. Voters recognise that it is necessary for the rich to pay a higher share of tax in an era of austerity, but those on average incomes feel squeezed, and want government to recognise that the burden is already high enough for them.

Above all, Labour has to win the battle of ideas. The lesson of history is that Labour triumphs when, as in 1945, 1964, and 1997, it is seen as a party capable of uniting a broad spectrum of constituencies and classes. This means reaching out beyond narrow, partisan and tribal lines, demonstrating that Labour is a national party capable of governing in the national interest.  Winning voters trust to manage the economy competently, spend responsibly, and tax fairly need not be achieved at the expense of improving conditions for those most in need, tackling inequalities of income and wealth. In challenging times, Labour must be a party capable of offering a hand up to those who want to get on, as well as a helping hand to those in trouble.

Patrick Diamond is a former Downing Street   policy adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions