Tweaking the website is far from enough
The values of aspiration and community should be the building blocks of Labour’s fightback, argues SUSAN DALGETY
There has been, understandably, a lot of hand-wringing in recent months about what the Labour Party stands for and who it represents.
All I have gathered from the debate so far is that we don’t like rich bankers (even though we helped create this monster class with our light touch regulation); nor do we like benefit scroungers – particularly those with rotten teeth and knives.
We do like the squeezed middle – whoever and wherever they are – and here in Scotland we have a particular soft spot for university students.
There has also been a shot of colour injected into the debate, with Blue Labour arguing we should get back to our roots, and Purple Labour yearning for a new, new dawn.
Tartan Labour is just as confused, grieving as we are for the loss of our long-held position as Scotland’s national party.
Speak to any activist, former MSP or even new member of the Scottish Parliament, and they all chorus: “What the hell happened, and where do we go from here?”
I don’t have the answer, but I do have some thoughts, based on nothing more than 30 years membership of the Labour Party.
First, we need to get back to basics – party organisation, or lack of it. The Scottish Parliament election campaign exposed us as rank amateurs compared to the SNP. We need senior, experienced professionals in charge of strategy, party organisation and membership, media and communications and campaigning.
The party HQ should be in Edinburgh, where the action is (sorry Glasgow but the parliament is not in George Square) and the UK party should federalise its structures now. The United Kingdom changed forever in 1999. The SNP realised that, it is time we did too.
And we need our assorted bag of MPs, MSPs and councillors to stop blaming each other for our dire position and start working with members to re-build a party machine capable of winning.
That’s the easy bit. Now for the narrative. Who are we and what do we stand for?
When I look back on the reasons why I joined the party, and why I remain a member, there are two words that echoes over the decades – aspiration and community,
I joined the party as an idealistic young mother because I wanted a better future for my sons, and the kids next door.
I wanted them to have as a good an education as those parents who could afford to buy their children the privilege.
I wanted them to feel as proud of their background and as ambitious for the future as the children who lived in the “executive estate” up the road from our council house.
When Scotland voted for its new parliament, I wanted our country to remain part of the UK, but to be the best bit – with the best education system, the best public services and the most vibrant private sector.
And I have always wanted a world where all children can aspire to a healthy, long life and not die before the age of five from hunger, disease or war.
I have also, through the years, aspired to a Prada handbag, holidays in Greece and an iPad, which doesn’t make me a shallow, materialistic wannabe – just an average member of the squeezed middle.
Now aspiration and community on their own do not make a political narrative, but it is a start.
Throw into the mix a 21st century class analysis (and for those who don’t think class matters any more just read Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones, a brilliant new book), rights and responsibilities, gender, public service reform, economic recovery and the re-shaping of the United Kingdom and we can start building a compelling story of why we exist, and what we stand for.
Add a charismatic, ambitious leader and a slew of thoughtful policies and we might just stand a chance of winning in 2015.
If we do nothing but muddle through with a half-hearted review that tweaks our website and little else, then we will surely wither away as a political force, just as the new dawn of 1997 disappeared amid the storm clouds of recession.
Susan Dalgety is a writer and communications adviser specialising in international development and women in politics. She joined the Labour Party in 1980 and still believes in the power of people to change the world.