Hello Owen (like you are reading this…)
First off, thanks for writing that. It sums up in many ways how I have been feeling. I will try and answer your questions but I, like you, am just a flawed individual with flawed ideas.
Bit of background — I work in financial services. I am known in the office as the ‘lefty leaning, tree-hugging, liberal student’ for no other reason than using my job to help ‘normal’ people get as much from their employers as they can rather than helping rich people pay less tax. To say I am one of very few people in my industry who are as far to the left of the political spectrum as I am would be an understatement. I have been told I cannot be a Labour supporter and do my job and, for many years, I was not — bored by Blair, unconvinced by Labour policies and furious at a refusal to make arguments that would move the centre-ground left I voted in ’97 and then spoilt every paper in every election since. Living either in safe Labour seats in London — where Jeremy was my MP — or safe Tory seats in the home counties meant my vote didn’t really count (issue for another time).
But when JC was elected leader, I not only felt likely to vote Labour but I joined the party for the first time. I am one of those new members and, while there are many of us, I am one of the few who actually goes to meetings and is becoming active.
So, I live in an area where Labour needs to reach out, I am desperate for the party to do well and I am prepared to help. I joined because of JC and I have fought his corner many a time. I have indulged in shouting back at Blairites slandering me as an entryist, deriding me as a Trot, patronising me as naive and foolish and idiotic and, while I regret some of that, I am also never going to allow myself to be characterised in ways which are not only wrong about me but wrong about many, many people in a similar position.
I have no formal connection with politics — I do not know any of the players, I do not attend many political meetings (except those of my local CLP) and I have no influence. So my thoughts are rough around the edges, no doubt, but they are passionately felt.
Now, turning to your questions.
In general, I think the answers to many of your questions will revolve around two main issues — competence and bravery. I believe many aspects of this angry, divided and volatile world are a predictable result of the world’s systems and processes as they have been implemented for the past 35 years. You need to show your ideas, though different to what has been put forward for years, have their foundations in every day life. I would be asking some fundamental questions about the benefits system — take on some of the core assumptions about the non-contributory aspect of some of them. Doing this will paint you as tough in an important area and by doing so, you can make what is in place both affordable and much better targetted. Introduce improved benefits based on contribution levels, all administered through existing systems like NI. Labour should be for the working people first and foremost, and if some others suffer as a result, that is no bad thing. The short-term unemployed will be fine, as should the disabled and the sick (although different definitions should be considered, including the possibility of providing work for people through State provided jobs which must be taken) but those who have never had a job, or who refuse support with retraining etc, less so. As it happens, that will not make a big dent in the costs, so radical thinking on pensions is necessary — but not just for those approaching retirement, those in retirement. Remove the State pension from higher-rate tax payers? Tax the State Pension for Higher Rate Tax payers? How many higher rate tax paying pensioners will ever vote labour? The NHS always there, of course, but consider some of the sacred cows (perhaps a refund system for GP appointments? Perhaps an expanded NHS based upgrade system — not provided by private companies but for those who may want better food, better rooms etc) and challenge them. Make paying into NI really worthwhile. Get dentistry and eye tests back. Reform benefits. Improve them for the many by challenging the issues with the few.
Also, electoral and political reform. Introduce a form of PR. Perhaps reduce the number of constituency MPs — they are important, but not as important in the modern world as MPs think they are — and then have a top up list on a simple share of vote basis across the country. Again, more research probably required, but this is something that should be a priority.
And make voting compulsory. Allow none-of-the-above and spoiling papers, of course, but make voting a compulsory part of being in society. It is one of the contributions you need to make to society to allow you to take anything out of society.
Then, crucially, you need to show you have the competency to enact any of these ideas when called upon.
1 — How can the disastrous polling be turned around?
Largely by making the arguments that matter in a way which resonates with people. These arguments should be based on traditional Labour ideas of how things work and on sound, consistent principles — I think it is very important that should an issue come up, people have a good idea of how a Party will respond to it before they have.
The economic system is failing people. That should be the starting point of everything. We have not been in it together. We have not been benefitting from the economic order as a country for decades. Show that this is not a UK thing, but a systemic issue. It is the same in the US. It is not capitalism that is broken, it is our capitalism. Show where the money has gone — dividends and shares, not wages.
And set out the issue of the super-rich. The person who earns £60k per annum and has one Buy-to-let flat because they married someone with a house should not be the enemy of Labour. It is the huge riches at the very top that should be the target for redistribution. Show that by making changes at the very, very top, you can pay for big changes for everyone. Explain that you want people to do well, but that greed is not good. You think it would be better if business leaders had one yacht rather than three and gave their workers a bigger Christmas bonus. You think it would be better if companies had a responsibility to the country that their workers and customers are, rather than just to their shareholders (I would change that law — it is too often used as an explanation for tax avoidance and evasion). You want people to share in the work that they do — people can and should profit from their endeavours, but this needs to be done more equally.
Help self-employed people by levelling the playing field — support them with getting money paid on time by companies, changing the tax system to protect on-shore business from off-shore businesses — and reduce red-tape on business by bringing some employer responsibilities in-house to be covered by the state. Place many laws on a ‘afterwards’ basis supported by increased criminal responsibility — employers do not need to do things until things go wrong. If, when they do, you did not follow the correct procedures then directors and company owners — including shareholders — should be much more accountable, and criminally so. That is one of the risks for your return Mr and Mrs Risk-Taking Wealth Creator.
2 — Where is the clear vision?
Exactly. The clear vision should be for a more balanced economy — all else comes from this. I no more believe that the State should be running donut shops or travel agents than I think the profit motive is the solution for education, defence or healthcare. Establish the idea that the market is not always right — people know this, they can feel this so tell them they are right and that you agree.
Have policies ready which challenge the principle of the free-market uber-alles. Start in areas where people agree — trains — and then expand from there.
The State is not a problem — it is a tool to help and assist people reach their full potential. And when targetted correctly, it helps everyone achieve more. Those against this are against this for their own reasons — it is not the politics of envy to ask people with billions to help those with nothing, and it is good for everyone, even those with billions. It allows your children to aim for careers in a range of industries — it allows the state to help creative industries like our world leading film and music industries — and these principles are already applied for vested interests like the City and the arms industries. If the principle applies for them, it can apply for others as well.
Because the market is not always right. And the State is not always bad. Together, market and state, we can achieve more.
3 — How are the policies significantly different from the last general election?
Not sure they are, and I am not sure that is terribly important. I do not have all the information, but it feels to me that the last GE was lost on fear. It was fear of moving from the ‘safe pair of hands’ that was in place — wrong though that was. It was fear of the SNP. It was fear of immigration. It was fear.
Milliband was putting forward many decent policies very badly — competency. He was failing because he didn’t have a simple core message to hang his policies from. He lacked the bravery to clearly state where he was coming from — things were not good for many people and this was because of those at the top, not those at the bottom.
The policies in place now are similar, but not the same. And, crucially, they are being put forward in a different way.
The Media — yeah, it had to be considered at some stage — have a huge part to play in this. The ‘feel’ of policies can be more important than the detail to many casual voters. Milliband got that wrong —many did not see enough of a difference and it became about his personal weakness (lack of bravery) amongst voters and a question of his ability to get them done (competency) — and JC is as well.
But what has been different, and is the reason I and many others are now members of the party, is the feeling that the Labour Party now at least may be able to start talking about these things. Much of that is down to Ed, more than people realise, but I am proud of a Labour Party which now talks about renationalising, a word which would have been banned under Blair. I am proud of a Labour Party leadership seen on the picket lines with striking doctors, a leadership who gives support to strikers rather than just platitudes.
Those things matter — and that is very different from, if not the last GE, from how the party has felt since the early 90s.
4 — What’s the media strategy?
There isn’t one and it really shouldn’t be that hard to have one. Many Labour supporters do not despise spin per se, they despise the ends that the questionably justifiable means were being used for. Engage with the media in a mature way and you can over-come its innate hostility. When faced with a hostile media, JC has decided that disengaging is better so as not to feed the fire with the fuel of quotes which will be twisted. That is understandable, but it is not good enough — dealing well with the press is a part of the leaders job and he needs to get better at it. Rebuttal is not spin. And rebuttal can now be quicker and more effective — use social media to rebut nonsense said and it will often be picked up by MSM. Go on the attack against the media, show that you do not feel they can be trusted and why. Don’t say it, show it. But, it cannot always be ‘clarifying the position’ — that sounds mealy-mouthed and like apologising. Show what you said, show what was printed or reported and ask people to decide what was accurate. Record all your interviews yourself. Call out the bias. The technology and the reach is now there. Use it.
Apart from that, I do not know enough about the media to set out a strategy other than to say it should be based on disciplined engagement.
5 — What’s the strategy to win over the over-44s?
Their kids, their jobs and their parents.
No one is secure in the current climate and losing a job in your 50s can mean losing a job forever. The way the economy is working at the moment is broken — it is serving the few not the many. It means that your children may still be at home when you are in your 60s because they cannot afford a house. It means companies can take hundreds of millions out of the country while paying very little into your pension. It means problems for the care services your parents are relying on.
Relate the core message — the economy is not working for us all — with how that relates to them.
Their jobs, their kids, their parents.
6 — What’s the strategy to win over Scotland?
There is not one. That is the easy part. The tricky thing is what it should be.
Scottish Labour should be answering similar problems in similar ways — the economy is not working for us all and the SNP are not doing enough to change that. It would also go some way if UK Labour started to praise Scotland for getting where the PLP needs to be first — left of where we were. Say it. Praise them. Explain how Scotland should have been listened to and if it had, there would have been fewer problems both North and South of the border. That mistake will not happen again. Scotland has a socialist heart, built on tolerance and traditional values. It should be the soul of the Labour party and it will not be neglected again.
I would suggest Scottish Labour should look to show the competency problems of the SNP — becoming clearer and clearer by the month — and the lack of actual progressiveness in their policies as a lack of bravery with regards their choices. They have lots of power as a result of devolution, and this should be pointed out. The blame is more often at Holyrood’s door rather than Westminster and the SNP need to be called out on this.
If Westminster is the problem, they need to get the Tories out. As has been shown, even with almost all SNP politicians, that cannot happen. Only Labour can beat the Tories.
7 — What’s the strategy to win over Conservative voters?
Accepting you cannot win them all over, for a start. Those who have suffered as a result of Tory policies should be first — we will look to reintroduce some universal benefits because, middle-class mum, you get your child benefit because you are as deserving as anyone. You have paid into a contributory system, so you can take out.
And we can do this by looking at fixing an economy that is not working for everyone.
We will allow small business and the self-employed to flourish. We believe in the markets, but better markets where you do not need to worry about competing against an Amazon not paying it’s taxes. You do not need to worry about legislation that we, the government, should be dealing with for you.
We need to come together, not pit each other against one another. Halcyon days of the past were possible because we had a more equal society —that can be achieved again if we come together to free up the capacity of everyone in our country to suceed. This, if done properly, will mean less from many people and more from a very small number. It is the super-rich and the offf-shore companies that can pay for this.
With a more fair distribution of what we already have, old people should not need to worry about care costs, people should have a realistic chance of owning a home and business owners should be able to compete fairly.
A race to the bottom is not how markets need to work, and it is not how the free market in this country should be aiming to work. Cheaper transport costs for workers and their employers, better education for your children and for employers, better health-care for you and for employers. All possible by fixing an economy which does not work for us all so that together, we can achieve more.
8 — How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?
Reduce fear. Ask people about much of their own experiences — most people who know immigrants like immigrants — about nurses, teachers and their colleagues.
The issue is not immigration but the impact of immigration — explain that thinking otherwise is racist. People do not like being called racist, so give them an out that allows them to be angry with what has happened but not with the people. It is an old sales trick — if the concerns about immigration could be solved, would you buy immigration? Well, we can fix the problems of immigration by changing the way that our economy works. Together we can achieve more if we rebalance our economy to help the many. Build more schools and hospitals by taxing the companies who sell things to people educated in schools and born and looked after in hospitals, but who move their profits off-shore. Where immigrants are will get the most investment. Your children will benefit from more schools and surgeries. There will be more housing. Our country will grow and it needs to keep growing. We cannot hold back the future — we need more people, more schools, more businesses. We need people to want to come here. So we need to make sure that they pay their way. A more contributory benefits system would ensure that — I doubt that many people would begrudge a hard-working immigrant what they are entitled to if they have worked and paid for it over a lazy local who has never paid into the system.
This can be done now that Brexit has been voted for — embrace the reality and explain that this is now possible.
9 — How can Labour’s mass membership be mobilised?
Reform the CLPs. They are awful. They are a broken model not fit for purpose. They should be better split between the formal and the less formal. There should also be a redistribution of wealth (remember that) from the central party to the CLPs. The new membership are probably not aware of how little of their subs go local. I stopped giving money centrally as so little of it went to my local CLP. 130,000 x £25 = £3.25m. Lets use that windfall to help CLPs across the country with local efforts.
The data management is awful. There is no training. There is no use of the members in ways which would engage them. Get people involved, not by inviting them to a stuffy room to watch old people engaged in some strange Kafkaesque play about motions and chairs, but by asking for specific things for specific purposes. And encourage them with training and support, which costs money.
The people are there, and I think some of them will get more involved when given the chance. But a large proportion of new members would, when faced with what a CLP meeting looks like, probably never return.
But finally, do not worry. The Left is in trouble, but it will not die. Just look across the world at different solutions being put forward by people. Bernie Sanders, a self-identifying socialist, was almost candidate for President. A socialist… America…. The world is in flux and things are bad. But they can get better. It is scary at the moment, but there are different ways of wanting to run the world. These different views will never die.
Thanks for letting me rant. I needed that.