Sadiq is right: Labour needs reflection rather than spin

Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan speaking at a London Young Labour event, (Lewis Parker 2015)

“My slogan was ‘A mayor for all Londoners’. It should never be about “picking sides”, a “them or us” attitude, or a having a political strategy to target just enough of the population to get over the line. Our aim should be to unite people from all backgrounds as a broad and welcoming tent – not to divide and rule.”

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London

Sadiq Khan’s intervention is a welcome move in changing the debate and moving forwards. No matter how you try and spin it, the local elections are a terrible result for Labour. As a party we are down in Scotland, down in Wales and down in England.

Following Khan’s overwhelming victory in the capital on Friday night, ‘holding on’ to power in Wales and a ‘better than expected’ performance in England, it would be easy to overlook the local elections results – especially with the unhelpful spin coming from the leadership. If as a party we want to beat the Tories and form a Labour government in 2020 then this is a mistake we must not be allowed to make.

For a leadership that promises ‘straight talking, honest politics’ we’re being fed a false narrative that will further damage the party and lead to electoral defeat. Speaking of the results, Diane Abbott told the BBC that as a party we are making ‘steady progress’ and are ‘on track for 2020’. She could not be any further away from the truth.

The only way to measure whether or not the party is beginning to make the changes necessary to make its way back into government is through electoral success. A success for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour would have been a result where we gained over 500 seats, had a high turnout of newly engaged non-voters, and had a substantial lead of ten percent or more over the Conservatives. As a party we failed that test.

It is worth noting that without Scotland, Labour need to be 13 per cent ahead to win a general election majority. We did not even achieve that in 1997.

We are now the third party in Scotland – with the Tories being the official opposition to the Scottish National party – we only just ‘clung on’ to power in Wales, and in England we suffered a net loss of councillors.  The BBC national vote share had Labour with a one per cent lead over the Conservatives. In historical context and with future projections, a one per cent lead in the 2016 election result means that in 2020 we are on course to be worse than Ed Miliband’s Labour in 2015, and worse than William Hague’s Conservatives in 2001.

The narrative seems to be that we have done far better than expected. But the real question should be: why did we expect to lose this election? The Tories are currently in crisis: cabinet member resignations, a split over Europe, junior doctors on strike, and a budget that fell apart within days. It is the duty of the opposition – which is supposed to be a government-in-waiting – to take advantage, criticise the government, offer a different vision and make a positive case. By expecting to make losses when the ruling party is in utter chaos, the leadership has proved that it is in fact an ineffective opposition. It is failing to break through – and their tactic and strategy needs to change.

As Labour party members, we often criticise the Conservatives for rewriting our history from when we were in power. However, we now have a Labour party leadership who are not only rewriting our current history, but allowing a fog of delusion to sweep over and cloud our judgement. Thursday’s results were a devastating blow to the party and any attempt to spin it as anything otherwise is incredibly disingenuous and dangerous to our future success.

It is a betrayal to the thousands of activists and candidates across the country standing and campaigning for Labour gains. This is the real betrayal of our values.

Instead of spin we need reflection. We need to look at what went wrong and what went right.

The results were not all doom and gloom. Despite the general picture being far from pleasant, we did take control of London and see some council gains. If we seriously want to regain power in 2020 we have to look at places like Ben Bradshaw’s Exeter, where the party retained control on the local council and made gains from the Conservatives – winning 30 out of the 39 seats.

We must look at Khan’s winning campaign, which realised that the personality factor and getting it right on the big questions that voters are interested in matters. We won in inner and outer London by appealing, targeting, and winning over voters outside of our strongholds. If we do not repeat that, will never win nationally again.

As a party we have achieved great things. If we want to continue building on our legacy then we need to actually make gains and win elections. In his victory speech on Friday night, Khan said:

“The Labour party has only been able change people’s lives and make our society better by winning elections.”

He is right. We do not help the people who need us by telling the public they are wrong, or by standing on an ideological platform that does not resonate with the electorate’s worries. The only way to move forwards is by listening to those who have a track record of winning and looking at where the party went wrong. Not by putting our head in the sand and living in an alternative reality.

First published on Progress Online, 09/05/2016 –

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