How can Labour win next time?

Jon Danzig |

To win power, and to stay in power for more than one term, Labour needs to do something special.

It’s a sobering thought that although there have been six Labour Prime Ministers since the party was formed in 1900, only three of them won general elections: Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, and Tony Blair.

The Tory party, the world’s most successful political party, has dominated the 19th, 20th and, so far, 21st centuries in the UK. In the 20th century the Conservatives held office for longer than any other party. Labour has only ever won eight out of 32 general elections.

We also have a press most of which supports the Tories.

Under Boris Johnson, the Tories won a landslide 80-seat majority in the 2019 general election.

Since then, the Conservative government’s effective majority has eroded to 49 seats. This follows:

ten Conservative by-election defeats, and one Conservative by-election victory;

▪ the recall of Peter Bone by his constituents following a finding of sexual misconduct;

▪ the suspension of the whip from Rob Roberts, Julian Knight and Crispin Blunt following allegations of sexual misconduct;

▪ the suspension of the whip from Matt Hancock due to his participation in ‘I’m a Celebrity…’;

▪ the suspension of the whip from Andrew Bridgen for anti-vaccine social media posts (Bridgen subsequently quit the party);

▪ the suspension of the whip from Scott Benton after he was filmed offering to lobby ministers in return for payment;

▪ the surrendering of the whip by Bob Stewart following his conviction for a racially aggravated public order offence;

▪ Christian Wakeford’s defection to Labour;

▪ the resignation of Chris Skidmore in opposition to the government’s plans for new oil and gas licences in the North Sea.

Still, for Labour to defeat and surpass the Tory’s current 49-seat majority will be some achievement, despite the government’s carelessness or rank incompetence in losing 31 of its original 80-seat majority.

Although some recent polls indicate a dramatic landslide win for Labour next time, that’s far from a certainty. Labour would need a record swing in votes to win a majority in a general election – more difficult to achieve than in a by-election.

The Conservatives are the world’s most successful political party because they know how to cling on to power, despite scandalous, corrupt, and sleazy behaviour that has blighted so many of their administrations.

In my view, Labour needs to be brave and bold, and offer new, truly radical policies that will set it apart from those now in office and will animate and arouse a country that is depressed and impoverished from 14 years of Tory misrule, that has included deeply painful and long-lasting austerity measures.

Unfortunately, it appears Labour will offer the exact opposite. The party has said it will copy Tory tax and spending plans if elected – which will mean a continuation of austerity, not an end to it.

In addition, Labour has now ditched its BIG promise to invest £28 billion-a-year on environmental projects, even though it was meant to be the party’s flagship defining policy for the next general election.

The Guardian has reported that Labour is also planning to abandon radical reforms and only offer ‘safe policies’ in a stripped-down, cautious manifesto that is “bombproof” to Tory attacks.

The Politico news outlet has (so far) listed ‘26 key walkbacks in Starmer’s spell as opposition leader.’

For example, when Keir Starmer ran to be Labour’s leader, he pledged to bring public services – rail, mail, energy and water – into “common ownership”.

But, by September 2021, Sir Keir had ruled out nationalising the big six energy companies. By July 2022, he distanced himself from nationalising the railways and Royal Mail.

Another policy pledge that won the support of a majority of Labour members to vote for him to be leader was to “defend free movement as we leave the EU.”

Asked in January 2020 if he would bring back free movement of people between the UK and the EU if he were in No 10, Sir Keir replied: “Yes, of course.”

But by November 2022, Sir Keir turned back on that proposal, saying it would be a “red line” for Labour if it gets into power.

  • From free movement to no movement. 2-minute video

Unfortunately, by announcing and then dropping so many grand plans, voters might not believe anything Labour now offers. Just as bad, the country may not warm or be impressed with a ‘safe, stripped-down, cautious manifesto’.

Today, apart from its prominent pro-Brexit stance, hardly anyone knows what Labour’s key policies are or what the party, or rather their leader, really stands for. Maybe the party and leader don’t know either.

That’s in stark contrast to Tony Blair’s 1997 manifesto, the pledges of which were announced and explained at least a year in advance of the general election. (And with just three months before a possible new general election in May 2024, we still don’t know what will be in Keir Starmer’s Labour manifesto).

Many on the left of the Labour party might not consider that New Labour was True Labour, but the 1997 general election produced the biggest Labour majority in the party’s history, and some of the policies were traditional Labour, including a statutory minimum wage, considered radical at the time.

What many on the left or right of the two main parties often overlook is that to win a majority, they must borrow votes from the other party. So, it stands to reason that to achieve victory, Labour must adopt policies that will also appeal to traditional Tories.

In 1997, Labour won 418 seats, with a majority of 179 – dwarfing Boris Johnson’s majority of a mere 80.

Labour in its 1997-2001 term in office delivered on the main aims of their manifesto including increasing National Health Service spending and reducing class sizes in schools.

In addition, here’s a list of some of Labour’s other 1997 manifesto achievements:

▪ “The right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended” – Promise met.
▪ “We will oblige parties to declare the source of all donations above a minimum figure” – Promise met.
▪ “We are pledged to a Freedom of Information Act, leading to more open government.” – Promise met.
▪ “A sovereign Westminster Parliament will devolve power to Scotland and to Wales.” – Promise met.
▪ “We are pledged not to raise the basic or top rates of income tax throughout the next Parliament.” – Promise met.
▪ “We will cut VAT on fuel to five per cent. We renew our pledge not to extend VAT to food, children’s clothes, books and newspapers and public transport fares.” – Promise met.
▪ “We will provide for statutory interest on late payment of debts” – Promise met.
▪ “People should be free to join or not to join a union.” – Promise met.
▪ “We will raise spending on the NHS in real terms every year… “ – Promise met.
▪ “Labour will establish an independent food standards agency.” – Promise met.
▪ “We will halve the time it takes to get persistent young offenders from arrest to sentencing” – Promise met.
▪ “We will create a new offence of racial harassment and a new crime of racially motivated violence to protect ethnic minorities from intimidation.” – Promise met.
▪ “We will by statute incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law to bring these rights home and allow our people access to them in their national courts” – Promise met.
▪ “The phased release of capital receipts from council house sales will increase the stock of housing for rent” – Promise met.
▪ “We will reform the Financial Services Act so that the scandal of pension mis-selling … will not happen again.” – Promise met.
▪ “Foreign funding [of political parties] will be banned.” – Promise met.
▪ “We have long supported a proportional voting system for election to the European Parliament.” –Promise met.
▪ “Labour will ban the import, export, transfer and manufacture of all forms of anti-personnel landmines. We will introduce an immediate moratorium on their use.” – Promise met.

So, what could be Labour’s winning policies for 2024? Here are ten suggestions to get the debate rolling, not in any order of preference.

They are not all my ideas; most have already been put forward by others. But, in my view, policies such as these – or other policies equally adventurous – need to be pursued by Labour, not only to win power, but to change Britain into a more modern, progressive, and equitable country.

① Roll back the privatisation of the NHS: rebuild it with a full-blooded commitment to Nye Bevan’s original vision for the NHS.

Too many people in Britain are unnecessarily sick and dying as a direct result of the failings of the NHS under Tory rule. That is entirely unacceptable and entirely avoidable.

Britain under Labour should invest heavily in the health and wellbeing of the country. The cost would be miniscule compared to the returns: a country with a fitter, healthier population, with fewer sick-days, better mental health, and lower demands on the NHS in the longer term.

② Truly green public transport. People are getting excited about electric cars, but that won’t be enough to tackle climate change. The issue is not so much what fuels the cars, but how many people own and use them.

We need excellent, reliable, green public transport that’s so inexpensive, efficient, and comfortable, that most of us wouldn’t want or need to own or use a car anymore.

Who’ll pay for that? To start with, those who insist on car ownership for private use, as well as shops and offices for whom it is profitable for us visit them or work there.

③ Free higher education for all, and lifetime learning for everyone: subsidised by the businesses who need clever people to work for them. Education is an investment in the future and wealth of the whole nation and provides huge returns.

If Britain wants a world class workforce – and it does – then the government, not just businesses, needs to be an “Investor in People”.

④ A massive investment in green farming across the UK. Our government must do much more to help our farmers to enable Britain to be more successful and sustainable in feeding its people. Almost half of all our food is currently imported – but with a greater investment in farming, much more of our food could and should be home produced.

⑤ A new system of voting: proportional representation, that almost every country in Europe has now adopted (except Britain and Belarus). Our current voting system of first-past-the-post means that governments get into power that most people haven’t voted for.

Most people did not vote for the Tories in the 2019 general election, and yet they achieved an 80-seat majority with only 1% more votes than they got in the 2017 general election, in which they lost their majority entirely.

Johnson achieved his landslide win with the votes of less than 30% of those eligible to vote. That cannot be right.

⑥ A universal basic income for everyone. Yes, everyone would have enough; an essential income for all. For anyone to live in poverty and suffer hunger in the UK – especially children – is shocking and unacceptable in the modern age.

Can the country afford that? Yes.

Many billions are lost each year by corporations that choose to evade or avoid paying a fair tax on the profits they make in this country. Too many businesses siphon wealth earned in Britain to the ‘treasure islands’ – tax havens such as Guernsey, Jersey, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas. That could and should be stopped. If you make money in Britain, you must pay full taxes in Britain.

⑦ Closer relations with the EU: leading over time to negotiating and applying to rejoin. That will likely take some time because the relationship has been so damaged.

The first step could be to rejoin the Single Market and bring back free movement of people (that the country needs to resolve our chronic shortage of workers).

⑧ The United Kingdom to be an equal partnership of all its four members – England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

That would mean the UK becomes a true union of four sovereign states (if that’s what they want) acting on a similar model to the EU’s 27 member nations. It’s just not acceptable or sustainable for England to be superior to the other three.

⑨ A true commitment to green energy: to quickly resolve the country’s energy crisis. Let’s have wind turbines across Britain and offer farmers financial incentives to site them. Let’s offer proper help for households to install solar panels, insulation and greener sources of heat and power.

This is much better than the current government’s plans to build more nuclear power stations. The Tories say wind turbines are a blight on the countryside, but I love them, and they are better than nuclear power that for sure will blight the planet with toxic, radioactive wastes for thousands of years.

How can this be funded? There is a credible case for large-scale, debt-financed public investment. In other words, borrow the money. There is nothing wrong with doing that for national projects that will achieve a huge return, and more than just in financial terms.

⑩ Subsidised fast internet broadband for everyone: paid for by the businesses who make billions out of us being on the internet, and whose business models simply couldn’t function without it.

So, these are some initial ‘bold’ ideas, but of course they are not nearly enough.

The debate about what country we want Britain to be, and the polices to take us there, should have been taking place well in advance of a general election, not just weeks before one takes place.

Labour should now be leading that debate with panache and passion, offering us dazzling solutions to the country’s deep-seated problems.

The alternative is more of the same, whether it’s delivered by the Tories or Labour. And is that really want the country wants, or needs?

  • Could Labour win like in 1945? 2-minute video

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