My latest post from Public Finance. – with a little bit added!
It’s official: New Labour is no more. We have it on the word of one of the previous government’s sharpest political brains, former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, the first to throw his hat into the ring for the party leadership. With his trademark air of authority, Miliband has informed us that we are now living in the era of Next Labour.
Personally, I’m still reeling from the demise of the old regime. Although never a fan of New Labour, it seemed indomitable in its way. But then so did Thatcherism and Blairism ( the yolk to New Labour’s egg) once upon a time.
So what will Next Labour look like? Of course, it’s too early to say. Labour faces a prolonged period of soul searching. It urgently needs to reconnect with both the public and the party’s grassroots, many of whom fell away, particularly in the years after Iraq. In fact, I suspect that none of the leadership candidates will continue to profess loyalty to the decision to go to war in 2003.
The Miliband brothers have both declared a refreshing willingness to re-think the party from the ground up. Idealists within the party over the last 13 years may have been dismissed as dinosaurs or utopians or both but David himself now talks of the need for ‘idealism and transparency’ and radical political reform. His younger brother Ed, currently the only other contender for the leadership, has talked of the ‘loss of a sense of progressive mission and of being in touch with people’s concerns’.
Of course, New Labour was always good at talking the talk, on fairness, flexibility, aspiration and the rest, often leaving the rest of us unsure what they actually hoped to achieve, a skill that the Con/Dem coalition leaders have successfully reproduced. By September, however, vaguer talk of change will need to solidify around some clear pledges for progressive reform on everything from housing to education, welfare and the living wage .Despite, or perhaps because of, the fast moving 24/7 news age, with its newly Presidential tone, never has it been more important to say what you mean and mean what you say. Neither the public nor the party faithful have the stomach for more high flown fluffy generalities, with the real stuff of government going on behind closed doors.
For that reason, it is vital that the next Labour leadership engage with, and show greater respect towards, their own activists. As David Miliband pointed out on Newsnight last night, Labour did best in those seats like Birmingham Edgbaston (and Barking) where a grass roots campaign was mobilised. People not money. People not platitudes. These are surely the meaningful lessons to be drawn from Labour’s recent defeat and longer term decline.
So over the next few weeks or possibly months ( the timetable for the election will be decided today) the candidates will have to consult widely and think hard about the building blocks necessary for the progressive coalition and nation they want to build. Only when these are in place, and voted for, will we have a clearer idea of what Next Labour really means, and how different it really is from its brutally discarded political sibling