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The reasons for The Labour Party's miserable defeat in this year's election are many and varied but my summary goes:
- Ed Milliband might be a perfectly good man but we lost this election the moment he became the leader of The Labour Party - he was just too much of an easy target for our enemies;
- We lost to the left in Scotland and to the right in England - caught between two chairs;
- What did Labour stand for? We lacked a clear message;
- Our message wasn't distinct from the Conservative's;
- We were embarrassed by the Blair/Brown governments and tried to deny them;
- We have a moribund grass-roots.
So, what do we do to put things right?
For a quick, short-term boost, the new leader of The Labour Party needs to be charismatic and come out of the blocks with a clear, unequivocal message - something to push Cameron back on his heals.
One thing I still remember about Tony Blair from twenty years ago are the sound-bites: "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"; "Education, education, education". He also had a cause with which to beat the Tories: "sleaze" absolutely dogged the Major government. He also had a very effective rebuttal unit to quickly rebut any crap thrown at us by the Tories and the Tory press.
Blair had two trusted lieutenants to help him with these things, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, neither of whom were front-bench MPs, Alastair Campbell wasn't even an MP, he was the communications maestro. The new Leader needs the equivalent of these two. Unfortunately, I don't know who these might be or where they might come from. Perhaps Kevin Maguire?
In the medium-term, the grass-roots needs to be re-invigorated. We are nothing if we are not a mass membership party. Coupled with this is our relationship with the unions. I believe our link to the unions is something to be championed and cherished, not to be embarrassed about. We were, after all, started by the unions as the Labour Representation Party, i.e. the political arm of the unions. Things have changed and evolved over the years but our relationship with the unions can and should be a source of strength going into the future. Labour Party membership and union membership should be nurtured and grown together in the coming years.
In the longer term, we need to map out our political ground, not be a pale imitation of Tory policies. If the electorate are given a choice between Conservative policy and something that looks like Conservative policy, people will go with the real thing, because, you know what, the Conservatives are really good at being Conservatives, so of course the electorate are going to vote for the real thing.
We need to win in England and to do this we need to establish a left-of-centre politics that is a distinct contrast to Conservative politics that deals with today's issues. Then proudly promote them.
Something that needs to be looked at is the possibility of a progressive alliance. If you look at the votes cast in the last election, there are far more votes cast for what can be loosely called leftist parties than cast for parties of the right, i.e. the Conservatives and UKIP. It is an anomaly of the British system that the Conservatives can form a majority government with just a quarter of eligible votes (a third of cast votes). We may need some sort of progressive electoral alliance with the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru and SDLP - a single block to go up against the Conservatives. This might only be for one election with the sole purpose of pushing through electoral reform, but it certainly needs to be considered.
So, these are my thoughts. Let's see what actually happens.