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11 January 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 2:03pm

Labour needs a “red rose” moment

It's not enough for people to know what Labour is against - they have to know what it's for, too.

By Liam Byrne, Nic Dakin, Shabana Mahmood and Caroline Badley

With the reshuffle done, Jeremy Corbyn is right to say its time to take the fight to the Tories. But, if we want to change Britain for the better, our neighbours need to know what we’re FOR – not just what we’re against.

That’s why Labour needs a ‘red rose moment’. Our traditional values must remain rock solid. But we need a new story – and a new brand – to get across just how our values will help Britain’s families win amidst the fast and furious change reshaping the world around us.

Under Neil Kinnock, the ‘red rose’ was a powerful new symbol of the optimism we wanted to project in the 1980s. Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, ‘New Labour’ conveyed the dynamism of a new political project for the fast globalising world of the Nineties and the new century. But today, the world is changing faster than ever. And that’s why Labour’s story – and Labour’s brand – needs to move on.

Think about what’s unfolding around us. 

The retirement of the baby boomers is triggering a huge demographic shift that means, at the next election, the majority of voters may be over 55. A seismic shift in technology is triggering a revolution in enterprise – which means the self-employed will out-number public service workers at the next election.  Young people and families alike are struggling to figure out their personal strategies for getting on and getting by. 

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And in a world that is ever more globalised, with new powers – and new dangers like Daesh – on the rise, people want a confident, optimistic, patriotic story about their country’s place in the world. The majority of the world already lives in cities – soon 80% of the world’s population will be within reach of the cloud. 

At their best, great brands change minds. They live in the hearts and minds of people. They’re authentic. They have a purpose which acts as a magnet. They have energy; they feel like they’re on the move, and crucially, they have tons of relevance. A brand is not a substitute for values or a story – but in a complex world, a brand helps us tell our story quickly. Today, our brand says too little to too few about the future. 

At the election, Labour lost the people, whether fortunate or less fortunate, who ask – “what is in it for me?” Parties lose relevance when they seem to have little to say about how people prosper in the world they see outside their front door.  

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The good news is that there are lots of brands who have revived themselves. Great brand re-­positionings take a central insight from their heritage and make it relevant for that age. That’s what we need to do today, with five major shifts. 

First, we need a project that’s new. Our story can’t be to ‘finish’ the ‘unfinished revolution’ of the Blair-Brown years. At the heart of our new project has to be both providing both rock-solid security to the retired and opening up the opportunities of this new age to those at work. 

Second, we need to renew our moral mission, our purpose in the modern world. Not power for its own sake – but power to deliver change, a new equality for a new age; not ending capitalism – but mending capitalism.

Third, we need to renew our sense of how the ‘we’ helps ‘me’; reinventing the way we help people get on by doing things better, together. The basic question is this: “How can doing things together benefit me?” Bringing this alive will require us to focus hard on a renewing and reinventing government, fit for the opportunities and challenges of 2020. In an age where there’s little appetite for loads more tax and spend, we’ll need to deliver more with less.

Fourth, we need to offer relevant – which means plausible – collective help to assist people in their personal strategies to thrive. In today’s economy, many are struggling, trying to figure out their personal strategy for how to get by and get on, tapping into, for example, new systems like eBay, or Etsy, or Uber or Airnbnb. We need to provide the answers. 

Finally, Labour must combine ‘security’ for older voters, with ‘empowerment’ for the young. All truly successful political projects need the momentum brought by younger voters, but we have to face the reality of turnout levels amongst the under 35s.  

It was John Prescott who once said that the key to successful modernisation, is to offer ‘traditional values in a modern setting.’ Our values are timeless – but the future looks very different now, compared to back in 1997. So it’s time for a new brand, a new story and a renewed appeal.