Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

Where next for the Labour Party after May 2021 elections?

by Lloyd on 12.05.21 in news, Policy

Geographies don’t vote, people do. When we say traditional Labour heartland what we mean is traditional Labour people. But in last week’s elections Labour failed to regain people, we lost in 2019 and didn’t break through enough with people in some of the southern and shire seats we needed; traditional Labour people and new Labour people alike were cold on the current Labour brand.

An early and edited version of this article was published in the Mirror after the election day. www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/local-elections-2021-four-labour-24062813.amp

Geographies don’t vote, people do. When we say traditional Labour heartland what we mean is traditional Labour people. But in last week’s elections Labour failed to regain people, we lost in 2019 and didn’t break through enough with people in some of the southern and shire seats we needed; traditional Labour people and new Labour people alike were cold on the current Labour brand.

This is not unique to Labour, we see across western democracies Social Democrat parties which once relied on the coalition of blue collar workers and metropolitan liberals has fallen apart. How has this happened?

Those of us on the left often say “Labour’s policies are very popular”; on economic, health, education issues Labour is much closer to the people than the Conservatives, but abstract policies are not enough. After 11 years of austerity there is a limit to how much local councils can blame Westminster for failing services and the voters buying the central government bogy man argument, if it is only made when the election turns around. That should mean in Conservative shires we are pushing at an open door full of potholes and closed libraries but in industrial and urban centres where Labour has traditionally ruled it was always going to be an uphill struggle.

Compounding this, in an age of social media, social issues are polarised like never before. Labour has always lead on social issues rather than follow, but for some we can’t lead enough and for others we are already too out of sight, so far ahead we are about to lap them.
The Greens on the other hand managed to start to hit that sweet spot, their vote has rocketed and here in East Sussex they are taking seats from the rural Conservatives, market town Liberal Democrats and urban Labour alike.

Only Joe Biden in the USA has managed to get the coalition back together. The USA’s “Uncle Joe” is able to be right-on social issues like Trans Rights without being “woke”, put forward relatively radical economic policies such as a $15/h federal minimum wage or a national broadband network and change the conversation around Trade Unions and industrial rebirth capturing forgotten and left behind communities.

If Keir and Labour wants success, we need to revaluate how we build that coalition, doubling down on “new leadership” or flag waiving without the actual values of progressive patriotism will ring hollow and the voters have seen it.

Biden created a policy commission with Bernie Sanders team, gave space for the left to lead in areas whilst not compromising on his image and reaching out to swing republicans. In the US federal autonomy, for many years seen as the Democrats weakness, is now their strength. Biden is not the leader of their party, he is just the president and was the democrat nominee.

If Labour is also to survive we need to start to consider ourself not the Labour Party but the Labour Parties, geographically independent London, Scotland, Welsh, Cornish or Yorkshire parties but also an honest coalition of many outlooks: Greens, Momentum, Progress, Cooperative Party standing candidates under the Labour brand.
Where we had strong individual brands and personalities Labour did well, Manchester, Wales, Preston, but where we realised on a catchall national message we fell short.

In Brighton and Hove for decades (way before my tenure as an MP) the more centrist Labour MP has been in Hove and more left-wing MP in Kemptown – activists went were they felt comfortable and we respected each other. That respect now needs to be shown in the electorate, a coalition of northern or working-class interests working with urban liberal interests not one ruling another, but both coming together as equals to build a new coalition. Is Labour up for the challenge?, because these results show if they are not, we might not be a party of government for a long time.

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Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Kemptown and Peacehaven

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