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No holding back: we in Labour need to be radical

We must nurture working-class leaders and champion working-class communities inside the Labour Party and in general — and we will reach them only with a message that promises deep-seated change, argues IAN LAVERY MP

FOR 40 years and more Labour has been letting down what was once its base.

As a party we moved away from a radical reimagining of society and offered little more than something slightly less bad than the Tories.

It is certainly not just a problem here in Britain: across Europe and the globe, left-of-centre parties have followed similar fates.

The heady “third way” politics of the 1990s and early 2000s bucked the trend but the inability of these governments to make transformative and long-lasting change stored up greater problems for the future.

The British electorate have shown now on multiple occasions that they are fed up with the status quo, but sadly many are also fed up with Labour.

Trust is a priceless commodity in politics but it has been squandered over a long period of time with a failure to deliver for those who are desperate for change.

But over the past decade, starting with the expenses scandal and culminating in a failure to uphold democracy after the Brexit vote, it has been in terminal decline.

While many might suggest this is a plague on all our houses, it very much suits the Tories to have Labour lumped in with them.

The public expect higher standards of a party whose DNA is stamped with equality, fairness and social justice.

In 2019 we were taught a harsh lesson by the electorate as the so-called “red wall” collapsed.

The gains of 2017, when we were a hair’s breadth from Downing Street, were erased with an almost 8 per cent drop in vote share, while the Tories achieved a modest increase of 1.3 per cent.

Indeed, the Tory vote has risen in every general election since 1997.

Should Labour fail to change course, we could end up with 2017 being our best chance of a Labour government for a generation.

In 2017 the party went to the country with the Brexit issue having seemingly been settled and with a radical reimagining of what was possible.

In that election Labour achieved the votes of so many who voted because of and in spite of the leadership, perhaps for one last time putting their trust in the party to deliver for them and their communities.

If we do not change we could be doomed to repeat the lessons of the past. In spite of their woeful handling of Brexit and the current pandemic, the Tories are still ahead of Labour in the polls.

Our approach throughout has been so called “constructive opposition” which while in some cases has been the right thing for the country, in too many others has allowed the Tories off the hook.

It is not opposition for opposition’s sake when tens of thousands of people have needlessly lost their lives.

The focus on competence without tackling the failed approach of the government is the worst of all.

While clearly the government is incompetent, if we don’t tackle the politics behind its approach it gives tacit support to the strategy.

Labour’s polling has improved, of that there is no doubt. But among the sections of society that we need to win back to our banner if we are ever to form a government again, we are still struggling.

Since early spring of 2020 Laura Smith, Jon Trickett and I have been working on a project to rebuild Labour as the natural home of the working class once more.

No Holding Back does exactly what it says on the tin, and our report The Challenge for Labour certainly pulled no punches.

The reopening of the Brexit issue gives a new impetus to our call for the Labour leadership to apologise for us getting it badly wrong on the issue. But there was much more in there.

2021 will be a big year for the project. We do not intend to idly sit back as our country is decimated by incompetence and corruption.

We will start to put into action our plans to rebuild Labour’s roots deep in our communities and seek to build on our successful digital tour of the country.

We firmly believe that the answer to problems in working-class communities lies within the communities themselves, and we will do whatever it takes to identify, nurture and give confidence to leaders in these communities, right across the country.

We’ll be working alongside trade unions and communities to campaign to ensure that those who’ve put themselves on the front line of the Covid-19 crisis are properly recognised with pay and conditions that match their keyworker status.

We’ll be campaigning to hold to account those who’ve benefited from state-sanctioned corruption, and for a profiteering windfall tax to be imposed on these vultures.

And we’ll be campaigning for structural change inside Labour too.

We need to embed strong working-class voices at the very heart of our party and get rid of the barriers that have led to our membership being heavily weighted towards the south and middle classes.

Diversity in Labour is key to rebuilding for the future and this includes across the class fissures that still define British society.

To be clear, we reject the lazy analysis of politics that simply assumes pivoting to flag-waving will win back those working-class communities that deserted us.

Gesture politics is simply no replacement for the hard slog of rebuilding the Labour Party in the very communities from which it was created.

I firmly believe that the values which mean I’m Labour are shared by the majority of those in working-class communities: fairness, equality and social justice.

It is up to us to convince people that Labour as a party still believes in them.

So as we enter 2021, expect big things from No Holding Back. Our communities cannot afford to be purposely left behind any longer and it must be Labour that articulates a positive vision of the future that people can get behind. Nothing else will do.

Ian Lavery is MP for Wansbeck.

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