Labour’s Route to Victory

The local election results show that Labour can’t afford to rely solely on the government’s unpopularity. To win power, it must put the forward transformative policies the country needs.

In the past week the first shots of the coming general election could be heard. 

First, huge swathes of Britain went to the polls to elect a whole host of local representatives which showed the early electoral parameters. Then we had the Queen’s Speech which set out the terms on which the government wish to fight the next election 

The third factor that will be increasingly important for voters as the months go by is the desperate state of the economy which reflects the Tory priority to reward the rich and bear down on middle and lower income earners.

All three of these matters show that the Tories can be beaten. But we at No Holding Back have no doubt that there is a huge amount of work to be done to develop a radical and transformative offer. We need to root our vision in the experiences of the communities who have turned their back on Labour and voted for the Conservatives, many for the first time.

In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to draw national conclusions from local elections. Both the 2017 and 2019 General Elections dispelled any notion that extrapolating the most recent local results would accurately predict the winner.

None of this has stopped parties or indeed pundits picking the bones of the results and making outlandish statements as to what this means for the next General Election. What local elections do however, is give us a flavour of what the electorate thinks. The Tories suffered a catastrophic result, losing control of eleven councils and almost five hundred councilors. Labour gained five councils and more than one hundred councillors.

Councils have important local functions with responsibilities for social care, schools, housing and planning and waste collection amongst others. Councilors fighting for local residents and campaigning on local issues are important building blocks for Labour nationally. They can begin to make Labour’s vision a reality.

Every additional Labour councillor helps provide a platform on which to build for the general election. But the truth is that Labour’s performance was patchy at best. We have much more to do. But the Party has to be honest with itself and its recent past, and not bury its head in the sand.

Some appear to believe that it will be sufficient to distance the party from a radical policy offer of the type that proved so popular in 2017 whilst pinning hopes on the Tories being so toxic that people will vote Labour by default.

Of course, the country has changed since 2017, and we narrowly lost that election, but the state of the economy, politics, and the breakdown of social cohesion requires urgent and transformative action. Sadly the local elections show that for too many former voters the lure of more progressive parties is not sufficiently overcome by hatred of the Tories for them to back Labour. They also show that whilst the Brexit divide has mellowed, the cleavage of our former voters from the party has not yet been rectified.

None of this means that we can’t win a general election. But to do so we have to take urgent action. The elections showed a weakening of the Tory vote and the Queen’s Speech hopelessly failed to convince people that the government understands the depth of the crisis facing so many communities.

In our document The Challenge for Labour and also in the Labour Together report on the 2019 election, we argued that we must have a radical economic offer that unites socially diverse parts of the country. The current cost of living crisis is just the latest catastrophe that highlights the deep divide at the heart of modern Britain. We need to be able to offer bold and easily communicable solutions to the cost of food, energy and other skyrocketing prices.

We will shortly publish a number of proposals to tackle the multiple crises of British Capitalism after 12 years of Tory government. But isn’t it already clear that a windfall tax on energy companies is a short-term fix, whilst public ownership that would allow us to control prices and supply as well as implement a proper transition to green energy is the common sense long-term solution? Wealth taxes on the super rich and corporations are the only way to truly fund the transformative Marshall plan style investments needed for our held back communities.

With the increasingly authoritarian drift of this government, Labour must also robustly resist the Tories’ plans to clamp down on dissent, attack our rights, and implement draconian laws which could see long prison terms for protesting. We must never fail to defend democracy. 

Equally as important is the issue of Brexit: whilst some progress has been made, it is not enough. The Tories lead Labour by forty-two points amongst 2016 Leave voters in YouGov’s latest poll. In 2019, almost to the seat, we predicted the unfolding disaster in the North and Midlands with our Brexit position. As we have previously set out, we called on the party to apologise to both Leave and Remain voters for our position that sneered at the former and led the latter up the garden path.

Urgent thought needs to be given to rebuilding the links between the party and communities at the neighbourhood level. We have consistently argued that community organising is a vital to any attempt to reanimate the Labour Movement. It was a mistake to wind up the existing unit without at least offering an alternative. 

Across the country people reported fewer volunteers to help with elections. A hopeful vision of the future that we can all buy into would help to stem the exodus of activists that some in the party have mistakenly heralded as a good thing.

To win again we need to rebuild that alliance of working and middle class voters and stop assuming that those who have voted for us in the past are ‘in the bag’. There is a route to victory but it requires a vision of a better and more just future.

About the Author

Ian Lavery is the Labour Party member of parliament for Wansbeck.

Laura Smith is a trade unionist and a Labour councillor in Cheshire East.

Jon Trickett is a Labour member of parliament for Hemsworth in West Yorkshire. He is chair of Tribune's advisory board.