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Looking for a New England

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Labour’s path back to power is hard. And winning a majority in England is still harder.

The last time we won a majority of English constituencies was 2005. It’s been downhill ever since.

To win back a majority in England, to win the power we need to deliver a fairer, kinder country, we need to win 106 more English seats. That means a swing of 11.5%, winning back seats like Milton Keynes North where today the Tory majority stands at 9,753. Nationally our vote share needs to move from 30.4% to 42%.1 It’s a mountain to climb.

Lots of reports have surveyed why Labour lost the 2015 election. We’ve read them all. We’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country through seats we lost – and key seats we should have won. We’ve gone to colleges to talk to young voters. We’ve quizzed voters outside the local McDonalds, Costa Coffee and Tesco’s. We’ve debriefed teams of activists and Parliamentary candidates who lost. We’ve surveyed key groups of ‘don’t knows’ in our own constituencies. What emerges is a crystal clear picture of the ten key shifts that Labour now needs to make, to win back power.

The challenges we face are stark. In May, the electorate simply did not know who Labour stood for. One voter in Watford told us, “I don’t know [who Labour] stands for anymore. I don’t know if they know what they are about anymore.”  Another in Derby said; “Labour used to stand up for working class people – but it has lost its way.”

We’re uncomfortable talking about our English identity – when voters want us to be more patriotic. We haven’t figured out how to talk about our record in a way that works: we suffer a form of self-flagellating amnesia. We’re simply not trusted with public money. ‘Labour just wanted to waste my money’ as one voter told us angrily.

We haven’t grasped the enormity of the radically changing nature of work, the huge rise in self-employment and enterprise. We have little to say about how we’ll create better jobs to replace the ten million British jobs set to be wiped out by technology in the next 20 years. The way we talk about public services belongs to the 20th century, not the 21st. We seem ‘disconnected’ as one young voter told us bluntly.

Our appeal is much too narrow. We had little to say to older voters – while the Tory majority amongst pensioners rose to over 2 million votes. We struggled to connect with people who were doing OK, ‘living in the new build estates’, as one party activist put it. And all too often we failed to talk to young people in a language that works – and we left the conversation much too late. Many young voters, growing up in swing voter households, simply don’t feel equipped with the information they felt they needed before they would support us. And finally, our ground game, was simply out-classed. We had millions of ‘transactional conversations’ when voters wanted a party more serious about building a relationship.

The blunt truth is this: Labour needs a re-boot. We have to fix our broken brand, fix our position on a host of key issues, broaden our appeal and change the way we campaign.

We have to be clear about who we stand for, be consistent, bold and proud of our roots and our mission. We have to embrace not dodge the politics of English identity. We have to reclaim Englishness. We need to clear up our story about our record – and stand proud of it. Perhaps we argue – yes we made mistakes but we got it at least 70% right, changed our country for the better and stopped a worldwide recession becoming a global depression.

We need to weave a fundamental respect for taxpayers’ money throughout our language, our narrative and our political mission – and talk in simple language about what our plans mean for spending. We need to become the party of high-tech jobs, entrepreneurs and the self-employed, and create a new, bold, visionary plan for public services in the digital age.

Crucially, we need to radically broaden our appeal. We need to redraft a new plan for older voters, many of whom now work and many of whom hunger for a return to the contributory principle in our social security system. We need policies for those doing well – the voters who live in the ‘new build estates’ in seats like Milton Keynes. We need to change the way we campaign amongst young people – and start the conversation long before polling day. And finally, our ground game needs to come into the 21st century. No more ‘transactional conversations’ when what voters respect is a relationship.

England is changing. A new England is taking shape. Unless Labour makes the ten shifts we describe, this new England will stay Tory. A majority in England will elude us. We will remain trapped out of power. So: our instruction to deliver is clear. Change or lose. So let’s get on and change with it.

Lots of reports have surveyed why Labour lost the 2015 election. We’ve read them all. We’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country through seats we lost – and key seats we should have won. We’ve gone to colleges to talk to young voters. We’ve quizzed voters outside the local McDonalds, Costa Coffee and Tesco’s. We’ve debriefed teams of activists and Parliamentary candidates who lost. We’ve surveyed key groups of ‘don’t knows’ in our own constituencies. What emerges is a crystal clear picture of the ten key shifts that Labour now needs to make, to win back power.

THE TEN RED SHIFTS NEEDED TO BUILD A MAJORITY IN ENGLAND

Fix our brand – it’s been badly damaged.

1. Fix our brand – from a party that has lost its way to a party that is clear, bold, and proud of our roots

2. Embrace the ‘politics of English identity’ as a positive statement of national expression and pride in England – not as negative, divisive and dangerous

Fix the key issues – address the credibility deficit with a clear plan on the economy, public spending and public services.

3. From 'avoid the record' to ‘proud of the record'

4. Money, money, money – our economic story must the beginning, middle and end of our offer

5. Recognize how the world of work is changing – and become the party of high tech jobs, entrepreneurs and the union of the self-employed

6. Invent a new statecraft – from 20th century gimmicks to a digital age vision for the state.

Dramatically broaden our appeal – to include the successful, the self-employed and entrepreneurs, and the over 55s. In addition, we need to change the way we work with and communicate with young people.

7. Older Voters – become the party of the silver majority

8. The feel-good party – become the party of people doing well and the ‘new-builds’.

9. Young people – educate and inspire our young people that power can be in their hands – if they are willing to turnout and vote

Change the way we campaign.

10. The ground-war – from 'can I have your vote' to an evidence based and innovative campaigning movement that builds two-way relationships with voters

 

The challenges we face are stark. In May, the electorate simply did not know who Labour stood for. One voter in Watford told us, “I don’t know [who Labour] stands for anymore. I don’t know if they know what they are about anymore.”  Another in Derby said; “Labour used to stand up for working class people – but it has lost its way.”

We’re uncomfortable talking about our English identity – when voters want us to be more patriotic. We haven’t figured out how to talk about our record in a way that works: we suffer a form of self-flagellating amnesia. We’re simply not trusted with public money. ‘Labour just wanted to waste my money’ as one voter told us angrily.

We haven’t grasped the enormity of the radically changing nature of work, the huge rise in self-employment and enterprise. We have little to say about how we’ll create better jobs to replace the ten million British jobs set to be wiped out by technology in the next 20 years. The way we talk about public services belongs to the 20th century, not the 21st. We seem ‘disconnected’ as one young voter told us bluntly.

Our appeal is much too narrow. We had little to say to older voters – while the Tory majority amongst pensioners rose to over 2 million votes. We struggled to connect with people who were doing OK, ‘living in the new build estates’, as one party activist put it. And all too often we failed to talk to young people in a language that works – and we left the conversation much too late. Many young voters, growing up in swing voter households, simply don’t feel equipped with the information they felt they needed before they would support us. And finally, our ground game, was simply out-classed. We had millions of ‘transactional conversations’ when voters wanted a party more serious about building a relationship.

The blunt truth is this: Labour needs a re-boot. We have to fix our broken brand, fix our position on a host of key issues, broaden our appeal and change the way we campaign.

We have to be clear about who we stand for, be consistent, bold and proud of our roots and our mission. We have to embrace not dodge the politics of English identity. We have to reclaim Englishness. We need to clear up our story about our record – and stand proud of it. Perhaps we argue – yes we made mistakes but we got it at least 70% right, changed our country for the better and stopped a worldwide recession becoming a global depression.

We need to weave a fundamental respect for taxpayers’ money throughout our language, our narrative and our political mission – and talk in simple language about what our plans mean for spending. We need to become the party of high-tech jobs, entrepreneurs and the self-employed, and create a new, bold, visionary plan for public services in the digital age.

Crucially, we need to radically broaden our appeal. We need to redraft a new plan for older voters, many of whom now work and many of whom hunger for a return to the contributory principle in our social security system. We need policies for those doing well – the voters who live in the ‘new build estates’ in seats like Milton Keynes. We need to change the way we campaign amongst young people – and start the conversation long before polling day. And finally, our ground game needs to come into the 21st century. No more ‘transactional conversations’ when what voters respect is a relationship.

England is changing. A new England is taking shape. Unless Labour makes the ten shifts we describe, this new England will stay Tory. A majority in England will elude us. We will remain trapped out of power. So: our instruction to deliver is clear. Change or lose. So let’s get on and change with it.


This article was written jointly by Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP, Shabana Mahmood MP, Heidi Alexander MP, Nic Dakin MP and Caroline Badley. More information about Red Shift can be found at www.redshiftlabour.co.uk

 

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