Labour needs a Big Bang moment – its existence depends on it

·4 min read
<p>Labour party leader Keir Starmer suffered a humiliating defeat in Hartlepool in the by-elections</p> (AFP via Getty Images)

Labour party leader Keir Starmer suffered a humiliating defeat in Hartlepool in the by-elections

(AFP via Getty Images)

I quit the party again last week. My patience has run out with the latest failing efforts to return the party to electability. Labour has been out of power for 11 years, and by the time of the next general election, the party will not have won for almost 20 years.

In my judgement, Labour, right now, is as far away from regaining power as it has ever been over that time. What is needed is not the gradual change we’ve seen over the last year but a Big Bang moment. The party needs a total and complete reset. Its very existence is at stake.

The Labour Party for the first time in history has lost the seat of Hartlepool. Local election results show a further erosion of the “red wall”. It is crystal clear the party is on the wrong course and, as it stands, will lose the next General Election, its fifth in a row. What is even sadder is that the party does not deserve to be doing any better. What is the route back?

First of all, the Labour leadership need to reflect on a simple question: does the party want to win back power? A clear and honest answer is needed to that. It may sound banal but, in fact, it has deep consequences to be absolutely clear on this point. If the party does want to return to government some clear steps follow.

From the ashes of this week’s results comes a moment, a big opportunity in fact, for the party to show clarity and leadership on core issues of electability.

On the issue of Corbynism, Kier Starmer needs to set out a clear and comprehensive rejection of that politics. It is not simply that Corbynism came with allegations of anti-Semitism, nor even that Corbyn was unelectable, it is that Corbynism itself was a total betrayal of Labour values.

A Corbyn Government would not have delivered on Labour’s values of social justice or equality of opportunity. It would have deeply damaged our economy, created more poverty as a result and led to more suffering for those Labour is meant to serve most of all. Yes Corbyn brought many enthusiastic young people into the party but what they are attracted to is a big idea and radical change – this can be harnessed.

Second, the party needs to level with the public. Labour will, by the next election, have spent well over a decade in an unelectable form. Worst of all, this has been known the whole time. Throughout the 2007 period onwards, the public has been clear with the party that it doesn’t agree with it. It has been clear on many occasions it should not have picked the leader members have chosen. It has adopted policies the public has clearly rejected. Labour has not been a viable government in waiting, it should own up and pledge to change that.

Third, Labour needs to take steps to restore public confidence, particularly on the economy. For most of the last decade, the party has not taken seriously the fact that people do not trust it to spend public money wisely. Some careful steps are needed to meet that concern, as Labour were able to do in 1997.

Fourth, and most importantly, the party is in desperate need of a positive, future-looking agenda to unite the country. Under Corbyn, people had a sense of what Labour stood for but disagreed with it. Now, most people, me included, have no idea what it stands for.

I would embrace the possibility of a tech revolution. This will require retooling the industry, reskilling many workers, upgrading our schools and universities and putting in place world-class infrastructure, particularly transport, across the country.

This vision needs to be one of aspiration, and needs to tackle the left-behind areas of the UK with a credible and clear platform of growth. It requires being open with the public about the scope and scale of the inevitable and unstoppable change coming to our lives with technology, and aligning this honestly with a plan to make these changes work for the many, not the few.

In the spirit of Manchester United fans last weekend, enough is enough. The country in general, and those people most reliant on a Labour government in particular, do not have more time or patience to wait for the party to gradually return to electability. A Big Bang reset is needed now, before it is too late.

Daniel Sleat is head of the Research Unit at the Tony Blair Institute

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