Daniel Johnson MSP says it is essential for the rebuilding of Scottish and UK Labour after last month’s historic defeat for all those who value the prospect of a Labour government to join the party now and participate in the next leadership election.
Christmas and New Year is a time for reflection, and clearly Labour Party members have had more to reflect on this Christmas than usual. The combination of a brutal election result and lots of time at home has resulted in a constant stream of analysis and counter-analysis of the result, the party and the leadership.
In the final analysis, only these facts matter. We won fewer seats than the Conservatives. Our share of the vote declined. On both these measures, we find ourselves in the worst position after an election than at any time since the 1930s.
For the party in Scotland it is even worse. You need to go back to 1910 to find are result where we achieved less than 20% of the vote and even so we still managed 2 MPs rather than the solitary MP we returned this time.
What no commentary can get away from is the practical reality that historic and personal voting patterns have been broken. People who had never voted anything other than Labour in places that had never had anything other than Labour MPs moved away from us.
But in truth, they didn’t move away from us. We moved away from them. The greatest irony of the last few years is that while we told everyone we were “for the many not the few” our policy and leadership was more concerned about delivering on a particular perspective of what that meant. A few people in the leaders office relying on a subsection of the party drove through an agenda that meant little to the very many people outside the Labour Party.
That is the context for the upcoming leadership contest and the challenge that confronts us. We need to honestly assess and reflect that disconnection from the key issues and from everyday concerns. We need to stop talking in numbers and isms. We need to start talking in realities. The willingness to ignore critique and label it as ‘moderate’ ‘right-wing’ or ‘Blairite’ needs to end, particularly as the only concern of those of us finding ourselves categorized as such was whether what we were saying was effective and relevant.
The need for the Labour Party to change could not be greater. We are faced by a reinvigorated Conservative Party, unconstrained by the convention and principle of the Conservative Party of the past. A party that will increasingly look to consolidate its historic gains, one that will actively try to reinvent itself as a blue collar Tory party. A party prepared to think the unthinkable not just on Europe but across a range of policy areas, domestic and international.
The imperative to ensure this is curbed goes far beyond the Labour Party. All those who want to see a progressive agenda and a government that holds equality at its core need the Labour Party to change and to challenge this Conservative resurgence.
The leadership contest is therefore not just an internal matter. The wider public and national interest is at stake. The outcome of this contest will have a huge impact not just on the viability of the Labour Party but on the future of the United Kingdom.
For these reasons, it is imperative that people who share the frustrations and concerns set out in this article do something about it. If people care about the Labour Party they must join and have their say on the leadership and direction. If we are the party of the many, ensuring as many people take part and make the leadership contest a true exercise in representative democracy is vital, so that our leader represents the widest cross section of our country, not just one perspective.
For those of us who are already members, it is incumbent on us to do two things. First, reflect frankly on what the defeat means, and then seek to do something about ensuring it does not happen again. In my view that means reaching out to people we know support Labour and care about Labour and get them to join.
This is essential. This contest is not just about winning an internal debate. The stakes are much higher. It is about Labour remaining relevant and viable. Because ultimately we need a leader who enjoys as wide public support as possible, so we can genuinely be for the many.