Ed Miliband talks to students during a press conference at Belfast Art College on January 22, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour needs more radical policies to avoid losing its base

The party's policies do not measure up to the needs of post-recession Britain.

Labour isn’t just fighting to win on 7 May but is fighting for its long-term survival. Greece, Spain and, closer to home, Scotland show what happens when social democratic parties disconnect with their core voters. Labour faces real electoral threats from insurgent parties of the right and the left that are targeting our base. Some people have argued that Labour should have a safety-first manifesto in order to reassure target voters. I argue that only a radical manifesto will give the party the clear identity it needs to galvanise existing supporters and reach out to the voters we have lost since 2005. A November 2014 ComRes survey showed that only 29 per cent of voters agreed with the statement that "Ed Miliband stands up for working people". 

My new pamphlet, Labour’s Eleventh Hour, shows that the erosion of our base of working class support has deep roots. While our problems in Scotland are obvious, Labour has had problems retaining and mobilising our base across the whole of Britain for some time. The 2010 election saw big falls in working class support in places like Southampton. Some within Labour place exclusive focus on the need to engage middle income voters in southern English marginal constituencies. However, the 2014 European elections saw Ukip poll well in southern Tory-Labour marginals in working class wards and this represents a real threat to our ability to win these seats in May. Labour can only win if we mobilise our traditional core vote and reach out to aspirant voters in southern England. A more recent development is the increase in the Green Party’s support. The Greens are gaining momentum amongst younger voters, exactly the group of the population where Labour should be intensifying its support. Ukip’s target voters often identify with positions that are to the left of the Labour Party on issues not relating to identity and culture.

Labour’s policies do not measure up to the needs of post-recession Britain. Labour lacks robust policies to adequately address job insecurity, low pay, housing pressures and the financial stresses facing young people Labour’s Eleventh Hour documents the high levels of insecure employment and under-employment faced by many heartland voters. Job insecurity is not restricted to those on zero-hours contracts but is a wider feature of the working conditions faced by people in retail, care and hospitality – a fifth of all employment. Young people have experienced a sharp downward pressure on their wages since the financial crisis of 2008. Significant numbers of middle income voters face the prospect of serious mortgage repayment difficulties if interest rates increase by 2.9 per cent. My pamphlet also highlights the housing pressures that are affecting target voters in the south of England.

We have also failed to tell a clear and compelling story that explains why Britain needs a radical progressive government. The Tories have told consistent stories about welfare dependency and deficits in order to anchor their policies. Labour should be telling a clear and self-confident story that wealth and opportunity has become too narrowly distributed in today’s Britain and that the financial crisis took place in large part because a wealthy elite pursued its interests at the expense of the rest of society.

Labour should embrace policies in its manifesto that show heartland voters that we are serious about tackling their concerns. We should set a target to move one million workers onto the living wage. We should back new incentives to drive up the skills of young people in the workplace. The private sector should be given new legal duties to deliver equal pay for women and to challenge low status female employment. Labour also needs to adopt more radical proposals for paying the deficit down in a fair manner, including additional wealth taxes and overturning the provision that allows British-based companies to avoid taxes on their overseas earnings.

Labour should take ownership of the democracy agenda. We should be willing to back moves to direct democracy in social policy matters and require local decision makers to show how they have acted on the views of local people following public consultations.

Some people have argued that Labour needs to embrace austerity policies in order to build electoral confidence. If Labour were to adopt these policies in government, it would lead to severe public spending cuts in local government, housing and education. Working class voters would be greatly impacted by these cuts with the risk that these policies would intensify their alienation from Labour.

Even at this eleventh hour, Labour could adopt policies that would rally our electoral base. Tackling low living standards and insecure work could unify low and middle-income target voters. We need a bold and progressive manifesto that rallies our core support in order to secure the turnout Labour needs on election day. In France and Spain, the traditional left has been outflanked by populist insurgents of the right and left. In Germany the Social Democrats have never recovered after adopting free market policies that alienated working class voters. In the months to come, we must show real determination that this will not happen in Britain.

Matthew Sowemimo is the author of the new Compass pamphlet Labour's Eleventh Hour

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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.