Answers for Owen Jones
I’m a Labour member, but not a Corbyn supporter in the slightest. Despite this, I thought I’d have a crack at answering them, because the questions largely remain valid, regardless of leader.
You may disagree with some or all of my answers, and that’s fine; these are the kind of conversations Labour needs to have, and we should all welcome Owen’s attempt to open the debate.
Here we go, then.
- How can the disastrous polling be turned around?
I’m actually going to jump back to this later on, as I think it is actually a function of many of the other answers.
2. Where is the clear vision?
Labour is always best when it can seize the mantle of modernity and optimism; Attlee, Wilson and Blair all won in this way. Jones is right to say that “anti-austerity” is a purely oppositional politics, it says nothing positive.
So what can we say that is positive? Where could Labour pitch itself?
I’m crap at slogans, but the broad idea is “Britain can be better than this”.
Britain is a great country, with huge potential, but the Tories are just letting it all go to waste.
Labour can be a proactive government, that won’t just let British industries go to the wall, or sit idly by while poor people are forced to rely on food banks, or do nothing while the elderly suffer in poverty, or leave whole communities to rot. There is much that a government can achieve.
Seize the mantle of patriotism. Labour believes in Britain. Set that against a Conservative party that just doesn’t care.
3. How are the policies significantly different from the last general election?
I’ll come back to this one.
4. What’s the media strategy?
Stop believing social media and a few thousand people at a rally is any sort of triumph, for a start.
It’s a neat piece of symmetry that the New Labour era began with The Sun endorsing Blair, and ended with Tony Woodley ripping up a copy of the same newspaper at conference.
It’s really easy to demonise the “MSM”, but it’s also really childish. The mainstream media is mainstream because that’s where most people get their news. To ignore it is to live in a weird bubble.
Labour needs a professional, high-quality PR team. It needs to develop some basic messaging, and keep all MP’s repeating these messages. MP’s that are not media-friendly should be kept away from the limelight. And we need a leader who is an excellent, telegenic communicator.
We know that many newspapers won’t ever reconcile to Labour leaders, but we can’t win by ignoring them. We should start trying to set the agenda rather than counter it. Get on the front foot.
5. What’s the strategy to win over the over-44s?
Given that this question really is “How do we win over the over-44s that vote Conservative?”, this sits within the answer to question 7.
6. What’s the strategy to win over Scotland?
Living in Southampton, my knowledge of Scottish politics is somewhat limited, and I’d be happy for someone else to jump in on this one if they’d like.
But I’d say that we need to stop messing around with considering a second referendum or becoming a separate Scottish party. Labour is a party that believes in Britain, and should remain so.
In terms of winning back from the SNP, the record they will have to defend will become easier and easier to attack. Call them out. Say that they aren’t really “progressives”; they’re just acting so because it suits their goals, because all they really care about is independence. Why did they oppose a tax rise on high earners to fund education?
Labour’s niche in the Scottish political scene is to be a social democratic, unionist party. Fill that niche, and be good at it.
It’s also worth remembering how well UKIP and Plaid did in the Welsh assembly elections; we need to work hard to make sure Wales doesn’t go the same way as Scotland.
7. What’s the strategy to win over Conservative voters?
Fiscal competence. First and foremost. Most people want to know that the government can be trusted with the nation’s purse strings. Not the most exciting thing, but if people don’t believe we can run the economy properly, nothing else matters.
This is Rule Number One, so it bears repeating:
If people don’t believe we can run the economy properly, nothing else matters.
This hence requires things like good leadership; we’ll come back to that.
National security will be important too. Members may not like it, but I’m afraid that means we have to commit to multilateral, rather than unilateral, disarmament. Nothing wrong with seeking to push hard on multilateralism in government, but pledging to independently chuck our nukes away will hurt us electorally. It also means not threatening to pull out of NATO, and it means funding our armed forces properly.
No starry-eyed rubbish about revolutions, or looking to Latin America for inspiration. We should love the country we actually want to govern; we should want to govern the country because the Tories are letting it down.
As for the over-44s, the answers are generally the same, although I think we should be looking to do more. Labour is at its best when it is building organisations that embed themselves in the national fabric. The NHS, Open University, Sure Start; things that can make a material difference to people’s lives.
So let’s pledge to build a National Care Service. Many people, particularly older people, worry about spending their final years in poverty, or requiring round-the-clock care that they cannot afford. We can do something about this.
We can propose that this new service is at least partially funded from increased inheritance tax; those who die with much can help pay for those who have nothing in their later years.
8. How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?
A Labour leader could say this:
“We have always been a country of immigration, and we should be proud that so many people from around the world choose to make Britain their home.
We in the Labour Party believe that immigration brings benefits both economic and social; without immigration, vital services such as the NHS would cease to function.
But we also recognise that these benefits may not have always been fairly shared across the country. Successive governments have failed to hear the cry of communities that fell behind, as old industries closed down, replaced by nothing. Yet it was easier for governments to blame immigrants, instead of their own failure to act.
If I lead a Labour government, we will hear these communities, and we will help them.
The economic benefit of immigration is around £2bn per year. We will earmark this money, and spend it to help redevelop communities that have been left behind.
We will use this Immigration Development Fund to improve schools, and hospitals. To encourage new companies to set up in these areas. To reskill local workforces. We are a government that believes Britain can be better.”
9. How can Labour’s mass membership be mobilised?
This is a slightly irrelevant question. Labour has a membership that is already greater than the Conservatives, and is mobilised well enough. We already have lots of brilliant members willing to get stuck in.
We need two big developments; a greater air war to give members something to defend on the doorstep, and also a more sophisticated way of targeting voters.
On the latter, Tim Ross’s “Why The Tories Won” is a fascinating account of the Conservative electoral machine. They won partly by tailoring their message to tiny slices of the electorate, via highly personalised mailshots and social media advertising in swing seats.
Labour needs something like this. Mobilising millions of members would be great. Rallies look good on TV. But we need to work smarter more than harder, and that can, and should, be co-ordinated by HQ.
And the air war needs to be top-notch. We need to give members something great to go and sell on the doorstep.
Coming back to Question 3, which was:
How are the policies significantly different from the last general election?
They aren’t, at the moment, because the National Policy Forum hasn’t met since Jeremy Corbyn’s election.
I’d suggest a National Care Service, an Immigration Development Fund (as mentioned above), plus infrastructure investment along the lines Owen Smith is discussing.
But, whatever it is, it needs to be costed properly. Policies will be scrutinised to the finest degree, and we need to be absolutely on the ball with our figures. We need to win back trust on the economy, or all of this is moot.
How can the disastrous polling be turned around?
It’s going to disappoint Owen, but a necessary step is getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn. He is a woeful leader, and will certainly lead us to failure.
If he is in charge come the next election, the Tories merely need to ask why he should be trusted to lead the country when 80% of his MP’s don’t trust him. He cannot win.
But there’s more. We need to start attacking the Tories, properly. Get some simple messages, and repeat them until we are all sick of hearing them.
They missed every deficit reduction target they set themselves. They lost our AAA-rating. The value of the pound has collapsed due to their recklessness.
Small business owners who trade with Europe. Farmers worried about the loss of EU subsidy. These are the types of people we can win with such messages. The Tories have been irresponsible with Brexit, and we will fight for the best possible deal for Britain.
But really, it boils down to this. Just be a sensible social democratic party, that is fiscally responsible, patriotic, strong on defence, that believes in investing to benefit the country, and has a strong leader who communicates effectively.
That’s what has won us elections in the past, and it will do again. The rest is just noise.