Ten More Hard Truths for Labour
In the spirit of Tristram Hunt’s call for a summer of hard truths and Anthony Painter’s starter for ten, here are ten more hard truths for Labour:
- The state can be just as oppressive, destructive and amoral as market forces. This manifests itself in actions from the harsh sanctioning of benefit claimants to NHS staff behaving in an unpleasant, uncaring and unaccountable manner.
- Power in the modern world is more fragmented than in the past. This reduces the governments to impose change from above.
- Labour has offered no convincing answer to the challenges posed by secular stagnation and the UK’s productivity puzzle.
- The idea that Labour loses elections because it is insufficiently left-wing has no basis and is a myth that should not be indulged.
- The public are not interested in the talk of bold, radical plans so beloved of certain sections of the Party. In a post-election poll by GQR Research on behalf of the TUC, when asked to choose between parties offering “concrete plans for sensible changes in this country” and parties promising “a big vision for radical change in this country”, the public overwhelming preferred the former. This result was replicated across social grade, country, 2015 vote, gender and age group.
- Many of the policies we implemented in government have been eroded in just five years of opposition. As Anthony Painter argued in his superb book, Labour failed to build or renew institutions that embedded our values and policies.
- There is a deep vein of intellectual conservatism within the Party. There are lots of great (and not-so great) ideas and policies being developed, and experimented with, outside of the Party. We should be open and curious about the means by which we seek to change the country.
- The talent and experience of the PLP has been hollowed out. The heavyweights of the New Labour era left the stage a while ago and the SpAd generation that followed are distinctly middleweight. We lost potential ‘greybeards’ partially through their own individual decisions to leave the stage and partially due to Brown’s brutalising of any potential challengers.
- We need to be able to talk about Tony Blair, his victories, his government and his failings in a calm and reasoned manner. There can be no place for beatification or demonisation. Only a critical and constructive reflection upon New Labour will allow for political closure and renewal.
- We must develop a “realistic idealism”. Trying to build a better world is, at least in part, what motivates most people in politics. However, our hopes and designs for that New Jerusalem often fail to account for the limits of the human condition; limits recognised by thinkers down the ages but made clearer by recent developments in behavioural science. Revising our thinking and policy to take this in account is vital to governing well in the future.