The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Dizzy Miss Lizzy

A few days ago I gave a short speech to my local Labour Party in favour of nominating Liz Kendall as leader. Sadly, they didn’t, but thankfully they didn’t nominate any of the other candidates either.

Okay. I’m speaking as a supporter of Liz Kendall, but I’ll try represent her views rather than just my own – even though they are mostly the same.

Liz Kendall’s campaign slogan is A Fresh Start. But what does that actually mean? What it means is, what Liz offers is a new approach. If the Labour Party is going to win the next election it has to be a very different Labour Party. The world will have changed in 2020, the United Kingdom - if it is still a United Kingdom - will have changed, and the Labour Party has to change too.

But what do I mean by change? It doesn’t need to change its values. Liz, like all the candidates, has been in the Labour Party for years, she’s campaigned for improved maternity and paternity care; in particular, her focus is on early education because that’s where the inequality in our society begins. But to be honest, there isn’t a vast difference between Liz’s views and Yvette Cooper’s views, or Andy Burnham’s views. They could all serve in each other’s shadow cabinets.

The difference with Liz is that I think she alone has recognised the scale of the challenge the Labour party faces. And that while Labour’s principles remain unchanged, the Party will not win the 2020 election if it doesn’t change its policies. As the saying attributed to Albert Einstein goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Or as Liz says, ‘If we keep on making the same arguments that we have done over the last five years we will lose’. Labour has to radically change or it will be the party of the past.

Does that mean moving to the right? No. I don’t think it does. But in our current electoral system, the outcome is decided by the middle ground. It’s decided by floating voters. Many of whom were in favour of many of Labour’s policies. But who, on the day of the election, voted Conservative. And for one obvious reason. They didn’t trust us with the economy.

Those are the people we have to win over. Those people aren’t natural Conservatives. They are just people who will vote for whoever looks the most competent. The most businesslike.

What it comes down to is what you think the purpose of an opposition is. If all an opposition party does is oppose everything the government does, it means the government sets the agenda and all the Labour party becomes is a party of protest, of internet petitions and going on marches.

Or is opposition about being an alternative government in waiting. Which is not about opposing everything the government does. For example, when the Conservatives were in opposition, did they oppose Labour’s economic policies? No. They were cleverer than that. They agreed with our policies, to give the impression that the economy would perform just as well if they were in power. They neutralised the issue. They made it look easy. And they are still doing it. Whenever they see something that is Labour territory, they attack it and try to make it their own. They see that the living wage was popular – so they pretend to introduce it. They claim to be the party of working people, they claim to be the party of the NHS, they claim to be the party of progressive taxes.

Unpalatable as it may be, if Labour is to win we have to beat them at their own game. The only way you win a war is by going on the attack. You don’t win a war by retreating to your comfort zone. And you don’t win a war by fighting battles you have already lost. You can only win by capturing enemy territory and making it your own. Labour can only win if it is not just the party of the NHS and the living wage, but if it is also the party of business, of a strong economy, of reducing the deficit, of everything that is currently the Conservatives' territory. As Liz said in her Facebook q and a, ‘If we tell the British public that a strong economy, backing great business and sound public finances are Tory values then the Tories will be in power forever.’

And that’s the question facing us. How much do you want Labour back in power? Because I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn will deliver a victory, because to win Labour has win over the middle ground, not just its own left-wing. And I don’t think Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper will deliver a victory, because they both offer basically the same approach as Ed Miliband but without Ed Miliband.

Whereas Liz Kendall does offer a fresh start. What she offers is Labour taking a long hard look at itself, at its policies, and changing them to reflect the modern world, what people out there, the people we want to vote for us, actually want. Some of the changes Labour will have to make will not be easy, but it has to reform if it is to remain relevant. It reformed under Kinnock, under Smith and under Blair, and it can do so again. Labour can’t win by offering yesterday’s solutions to tomorrow’s problems. The values stay the same, we have to find new ways of achieving them.

I mean, some of Liz’s opponents accuse her of being Tory-lite. I don’t think she is. For instance, last week Liz was the first to speak out against Tory plans to limit union rights. ‘As Labour leader, I’ll oppose them. As Prime Minister, I’ll reverse them’. That’s not somebody who is Tory-lite speaking. But what worries the Tories is that floating voters will think she is Tory-lite, and will take the low-fat option. That’s why Liz Kendall is the candidate the Conservatives fear most. They look at her and go ‘Oh no, she is the sort of person who is going to appeal to the people who normally vote for us!’

That’s the sort of person we want as leader. Someone who takes votes away from the Tories.

So, in summary, I’d say the choice is this. Vote for Andy, Yvonne or Jeremy if you want a Labour leader of the opposition. Vote for Liz Kendall if you actually want a Labour Prime Minister.

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