Labour Needs a Big Idea To End Britain’s Political ‘Stalemate’
The summer of 2017 is now but a distant memory. With the turn of 2018, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s post-election honeymoon came to a halt.
The local elections were a test of Corbyn’s leadership. They were not a disaster for Labour, but they were lacklustre. An opposition should perform strongly in midterm elections, especially against such a weakened government.
Though Labour enjoyed its best result in London since the 1970s, wild hopes of scalping Conservative strongholds like Wandsworth, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea were shot down.
With Labour blighted by antisemitism the Tories increased their seats in Barnet, a borough with a prominent Jewish community.
Elsewhere in England, Labour notably captured Plymouth and Kirklees (from overall control), but the Tories saw them off throughout the country, boosted by UKIP losing nearly all of its council seats. They took control of Basildon in the southeast of England, Peterborough in the north and Redditch in the Midlands.
As David Cameron captured votes from the Liberal Democrats in the 2015 general election, Theresa May has established her party as the natural home for Brexiteers.
This election, however, was a promising one for the Lib Dems, who took Remain-voting Richmond, Kingston and South Cambridgeshire from the Tories.
how can Corbyn’s Labour IMprove its prospects for the next general election?
The result reflects the national trend in opinion polls: a tie between the two main parties, in a Westminster election likely producing another hung parliament but with a potential Lib Dem resurgence.
On these figures, the best Corbyn could hope for is a minority government dependent on cooperation with the Lib Dems or Scottish Nationalists. Or worse the Tories may continue with a small minority or their DUP alliance.
This might be better than his critics predicted, but how can Corbyn’s Labour improve its prospects for the next general election?
Local election issues directly relate to national dilemmas. Along with police cuts the closure of youth services fuels violent crime, and underfunding of social care piles pressure on an NHS in crisis. Councils lack the power to urgently tackle housing shortages.
Yet Labour’s message is struggling to resonate. Perhaps the problem is not the principle but the way it is being delivered.
Corbyn might profess outrage about Tory spending cuts and a widening wealth gap, but how would he actually change Britain for the better in power?
In short, Labour needs a big idea so voters understand how the party will improve their lives.
Labour has already pledged to invest in public services. Now it needs to showcase an economic platform that will empower workers.
Just as the state protects the private sector through law enforcement, the private sector should have a duty of care to communities. Jobs should have living wages and cannot be exported overseas on a whim.
Trade unionists and employees should sit on boards to ensure better pay and conditions. This would combat corporate greed and prevent management abuse that has seen CEOs rewarded for failure.
Compulsory reports on environmental impact can assist in tackling pollution and climate change.
A decade on from the Great Recession and with the rise of the gig economy, these values have never been more relevant.
Corbyn’s responses to the closure of Tata steel plants and the collapse of outsourcer Carillion - demanding intervention to avoid job losses and stricter regulation of public service contracts - were prime demonstrations of them.
They echo a concept which influenced Tony Blair - all too briefly - during the early days of New Labour: the stakeholder principle.
“Stakeholder Britain” can be the avenue for reaching out to the left behind voters
A commitment to building a “Stakeholder Britain” can become a new Labour election strategy. What “for the many, not the few” will mean in practice.
A universal dividend, funded by public shares in a private sector reliant on state investment, can provide a guaranteed minimum income to every citizen. This would boost social mobility by helping to eliminate poverty, secure housing and expand access to higher education.
Combined with ending the welfare state subsidy of insecure work and inadequate pay, “Stakeholder Britain” not only wages war against inequality but challenges Tory claims to aspiration and fiscal responsibility.
In 2017, Labour was the main choice for Remainers who must be kept on side, but the Tory success in Brexit-backing areas suggests Corbyn must do more to win over Leavers. Forging this coalition is the key to a proper victory.
“Stakeholder Britain” can be the avenue for reaching out to the left behind voters who spoke out by backing Brexit, having being promised the shift of power from elites into the hands of the people.
It will be taking back control. Not just by tinkering around the edges of the economy but - most importantly to the left - by irreversibly transforming it for the better.
About the author
Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.
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