My Views

From Yorkshire Post, January 3rd, 2020
Written by John Grogan

FOR me Labour, battered and bruised, remains the best hope for social change in our nation. In 2020 we have a duty to pick ourselves up off the floor, not least for the sake of those we aspire to represent.

In truth it was only the votes diverted to the Brexit Party in Yorkshire at the election which prevented a dreadful result for Labour in the county becoming a near death experience. Many voters stuck with us despite severe reservations.

We need a new leader who has a passion for, but also a joy, in the country which they seek to serve. Someone who remembers every day that Tories are not the enemy but that we need to win back the support of voters in Dewsbury, Keighley and Grimsby, earning around the national average wage of £25,000.

Someone who understands the North of England regardless of their own accent and background. Someone who can bring back into the political mainstream the righteous fight against poverty and inequality.

A leader who feels in their bones that so much talent is being wasted through lack of opportunity and who can persuade electors we can practically do something about it. Someone who recognises that the rallying cry ‘for the many, not the few’ rings true, but the idea that the top one per cent in our society will fund all our ambitious social programmes less so.

We need a leader who understands our party’s history but whose relentless focus is on the future. A proper appreciation of the achievements of the Blair and Brown governments needs to be balanced by a recognition that the war in Iraq sowed distrust into the heart of our body politic.

The new person at Labour’s helm needs to acknowledge that their predecessor was elected because of a feeling that Labour had compromised too much with austerity and was too in awe of the market.

Equally they must quickly distance the party from the moral blindspots which Jeremy Corbyn brought with him into the Leader of the Opposition’s office and never seemed to have the political will to deal with.

Reconciliation with the main organisations representing the British Jewish community is essential if Labour is to become, once again, the moral crusade which former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, a great Yorkshireman, defined as our core purpose.

The new leader would do well to remember the dictum of the founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan that the language of priorities is the religion of socialism.

Focus will be important when it comes to the next manifesto, but before then years of opposition stretch ahead. Churchill was right when he observed that a successful Opposition is more like a lighthouse than a shop window.

The new Shadow Cabinet will need to be flexible and agile. Labour should not oppose every government policy but rather rigorously hold them to account. For example, the future of Northern towns is going to be centre stage. We should welcome the proposed grants for infrastructure from the Government whilst pointing out that cash-starved councils need greater resources and powers if real enduring change is to occur. In this respect, we should support radical English devolution, particularly in Yorkshire.

Three-quarters of people work in the private sector. We need to say more about the success of the businesses they work for and take the fight to the Tories. Sure we are now leaving the EU, but Labour should continue to argue that a prosperous Britain needs to remain close to European markets, environmental and labour standards.

We should champion competition against monopoly power, innovative small businesses breaking into new markets and the expansion of employee owned enterprises. Labour’s Green New Deal may, hopefully, be an idea whose time will come, but public ownership, as opposed to tight regulation, of the telecommunications sector is unlikely to come about.

The next Labour leader should prepare for the media onslaught that comes with the job. They should never be tempted to attribute Labour’s recent defeats to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC or even the Daily Mail.

They should instead aim to strengthen the best traditions of public service broadcasting and properly sourced journalism, propose that the social media giants be compelled to accept their responsibilities as publishers, that electoral law should apply online as well as offline and that ‘fake news’ should be exposed at home and abroad.

Social democratic parties have recently formed governments after elections in places as far apart as New Zealand, Portugal, Denmark and Sweden. Economic and social change in our society does not preclude future Labour victories. To win though, we will need the sort of political nous displayed by Harold Wilson in the 1960s.