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These are new times - we need a new style of leader

These are new and challenging times for the Labour Party. We need new ways of thinking says Jon Trickett MP.

It is odd that the Labour Party didn’t have a debate  about the central question of what kind of Leadership the party and country needs before setting off on the current leadership contest. If we had done so we might have concluded that three tasks face us.

The first is to offer clarity of vision as to the kind of place we want our country to be.  The second is to find a path through the new political landscape, given the rise of insurgent political parties to the Left and Right, as well as Osborne’s attempt to camp out on what he have always thought was “our territory”. The third task is to create a party which is adapted to the new times which have come with the new century.

A leader who represents the old ways, a ‘good Westminster performer’, will not do.

Labour cannot go on in the same old way.  We  need a fresh set of policies for 2020.  Because the country has  changed. But we will also need a new way of working. We need to start from the premise that no successful movement started in Westminster and was rolled out from on high. This is the lesson of Podemos, Syriza and even the SNP. But it also the lesson of our own history.

Tristram Hunt made exactly this point in his recent lecture. But his prescription of a politics of triangulation combined with an insurgent new movement will not work. He was right about the need for a new movement, but people are not looking for a politics of fudge and mudge. They want a new vision for these new times.

The election results reveal that things need to change. At the core of our problem is that the party has never really resolved its central purpose.

2008 was not the first time that Labour was in office when there was a crash. Ramsay Macdonald’s government was faced with a crisis too. The leadership then capitulated to the demands of the financial markets. The Labour party split and had to be rebuilt.

Thanks to the leadership of Ed Miliband the party has not split this time. But the truth is that our current leadership election debates  show  that we have not as a party come to a settled view of the 2008 crisis, its causes or its aftermath.

Commenting on Labour’s plight after 1941, R H Tawney didn’t mince his words. He argued that ‘The Labour Party is hesitant in action because it is divided in mind. It does not achieve what it could because it does not know what it wants.”  This lack of a clearsighted vision he goes on to say leads to “intellectual timidity, conservatism and conventionality “.

Listening to much of the current debate about Labour’s future, one can hear Tawney’s words echo down the generations.

We need a leader who will speak with clarity and act with boldness. Our economy is not working for most people. The Tories simply offer more of the same. But no one who looks closely at Osborne’s recent budget could argue that he lacks boldness. His central purpose is no less than to redefine the centre of gravity of British politics for a generation.

Electing a leader who occupies a variant of the of the current cosy consensus world view will  not deliver a majority to the party. And this is because a party of the centre-left cannot reconcile the needs of its electorate with the desire for continuity.

Therefore we need to offer a clean break with the recent past. But simply changing our policy orientation will not work either. We need a new kind of leadership. It will not do to ask the party to back the candidate who looks, sounds like the rest of the political class.

If we look back to the Labour Party leadership after the collapse of the MacDonald government, they were faced by an overwhelmingly strong Conservative party. The temptation at that time might have been to concede the ground ideologically to the Tories as some are arguing that we should do now.  But in the 1930s Labour’s leaders remained steadfast in their beliefs and our values.

But Labour in opposition during those years did something else as well as holding true to our values.  It also became a wide movement. The party renewed itself and its connections with the communities they sought to represent. With the left book clubs, the Clarion Cycle movement, discussion groups, rank and file mobilisation on the questions of war and peace etc., the Labour movement began the task of intellectual and social renewal.

All of this energy meant that by the time of the Second World War, Labour had recovered and the ground was prepared for entry into the war time coalition and then Attlee’s transformative government.

Some of the current leadership candidates appear to have accepted the old model of politics.  This presupposes a single leader who is almost omniscient and who holds all the reins of power in their office.

This is a profound mistake based on a false understanding of our party, our history and our country. In the first place, no one person can have all the answers to all the problems. Strong leaders, with mistaken ideas can lead us in the wrong direction. In any event, everyone saw the vitriolic attacks which were launched on the person of Ed Miliband. This will happen again and again to radical Labour leaders. The only way to respond is build a movement which is wide and deeply rooted in our communities to counterbalance the pressures of the British establishment.

Labour in opposition and equally in office will need to become a crusade again to put right the many mistakes of the old order which David Cameron and George Osborne represent. The new times we live in require us to build a new kind of social movement capable of creating, sustaining and renewing our party both in the opposition years, but also in government. This means changing the party’s vertical structures which were designed just after the First World War, into a more horizontal, networked, cellular shape fit for the Google age.

It is in the interests of both the leadership and the ordinary members that we end the present huge gulf of mistrust and mutual suspicion which exists between the two.

Two of the leadership candidates have said that they would not serve in a shadow cabinet if the party membership elect someone they disagree with. This is a profound mistake. It seeks to de-legitimise not so much simply  the winning candidate, but all those tens of thousands of members who voted for him.

I conclude therefore that style of leader which the Labour Party needs will make it clear that they will:

  • End the command and control relationship with the party’s grass roots by recognising that top down models do not work in an age when deference rightly died long ago
  • Build strong relationships at branch and constituency level with local communities, and establish new ties with other progressive movements in the country, including adopting fresh ways of organising developed by innovative social activists
  • Change the processes of decision-making so that policies are no longer parachuted from on high out of the Leader’s office with little prior engagement with the wider movement. This means for example restoring rights to the Annual Conference.
  • Develop new ways of allowing the membership of the party to select more local candidates from backgrounds which remain unrepresented in council chambers and the various Parliaments, with no further manipulation of short lists by the centre
  • In a 24/7 media culture it is inevitable that we will give our leader scope to act with rapidity and agility, but the leadership candidate who ought to win is the one who will create new structures of accountability by the leader to the shadow cabinet, PLP and the wider party.

 

The party needs leaders, but it also needs to be a movement. In order to modernise our country we first need a modern style of leader, emerging out of a wider political movement to whom they will hold themselves accountable.

Jon Trickett is the shadow minister without portfolio, Labour deputy chair and MP for Hemsworth.

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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland