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No Holding Back

If Labour is to reconnect with working-class communities in its heartland areas, it will need to empower local members to organise on the ground – and the time to start that process is now, argues Ian Lavery.

On a Zoom call last week, more than 200 Labour members from across the country discussed how to begin rebuilding in working-class communities that have voted Labour for a century but have since moved away from our party. It was an excellent discussion – one that frankly addressed our failings of the past four decades, but was full of enthusiasm for how we rebuild and begin to regain trust.

Earlier this year, Jon Trickett and myself released Northern Discomfort, a document prepared in the summer of 2019 that predicted huge issues for the party in our traditional heartlands in the Midlands and North of England. Although we didn’t release the document at the time for a number of reasons, the 2019 general election result sadly proved our paper to be correct.

Broadly speaking, our analysis centred on the presumption of New Labour in the nineties – that the working-class had nowhere else to go, and the electoral future lay in wooing what they called “aspirational” voters found largely in the South. In fact, our title is drawn from Southern Discomfort, a paper produced by the then-MP for North Durham, Giles Radice, which formed one of the key pillars of Blairism.

Its ideas sought to break the party away from its historic purpose of furthering the cause of working people and to promote a more egalitarian society built on mutualism, cooperation and shared risk. Instead it put the individual front and centre of its platform. For a time, it was successful. But the tensions between Labour and its constituencies have continued to fray.

As Labour became seen as distant from – and dismissive of – the concerns of working people, and more metropolitan in character, the problems became entrenched. Brexit played a huge part in the fraying of our coalition, but it simply exacerbated existing issues rather than creating them.

It is not our intention to say we told you so, but to actually stem this tide and build a Labour Party that can win again. Every Labour government has been elected with a coalition across the working and middle classes. We cannot and should never want to win without the communities and people for whom and by whom the party was created.

This is why our analysis looked firmly to the future. How do we regain this trust and start to deliver for our communities again?

Our mission is to build a diverse working-class movement that unashamedly puts the concerns of our communities and people at the heart of our party. We need to give voice to working-class socialists and ensure they can access the training and opportunities that will build the confidence to deliver a new generation of activists and Labour candidates at all levels.

Our community organising model, which was much maligned by elements of the Party’s right-wing, has shown a route back to power in our heartlands. We must never forget our central aim, to change our communities and our country for the better. Even out of power, Labour can deliver for people by unlocking the talents of our membership and giving them a real purpose. We must show them the opportunities to make change now.

This is happening already. On the chat, we were joined by Jane Marshall, a phenomenal Labour member in Broxtowe who explained the fantastic work being done by her local party during the pandemic. In five weeks, their High Street Hub has been turned into a pop-up foodbank which has provided groceries to more than 1,000 people, raised more than £7,000 and is working with schools, GP surgeries, charities and other public bodies to ensure the community gets fed. 

We know that in times of crisis, it is working-class communities that suffer the hardest and are expected to sacrifice. But these past few months have shown that the community spirit, which successive Tory governments have tried to stamp out, is alive and well. And initiatives like those set up by Jane and members in the East Midlands are Labour values in action, drawing huge numbers of volunteers and support.

With these examples in mind, we are launching a new project called ‘No Holding Back.’ This is an endeavour with energy and enthusiasm from so many people in held-back communities right across our country. We will also be embarking on a digital tour of the country. If you can get together 25 or more Labour members from appropriate local organisations we will come and talk to you. Our aim is to listen to your views on how we rekindle the flame of working-class socialism in our held-back communities.

Perhaps most crucially, this crisis has also shown us how it isn’t true that the state can do nothing and only react to the whims of the market. The actions taken by Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak demonstrate that it is possible for governments to intervene decisively in everyday life when they need to. We should remember that when this crisis is over. We can never go back to the austerity days, and we must have a Labour Party that can meet the political challenges we face.

We want to hear your views and your suggestions on what should happen next. So please get in touch to let us know what you think.