Conviction

We need to be more direct; to argue for success for all; to explain why today’s economy and public services under-achieve.
Our last three general election defeats have all featured leaders unable to say what they wanted and needed to say.
Create a movement based on values rather than trying to protect a leader from the public.


Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but drawing from my training in science, I thought I should put my conclusions at the top.

A political defeat should be a time for a re-assessment, and I’ve blogged references to a range of opinions on what happened and what Labour should do, now that we lost the General Election in such an unexpected way (Alan Johnson, Alan Simpson and John Prescott, a view from a candidate and Progress supporter; and from Andrew Marr; even Roisin Conalty).
The challenge at the moment is understanding just what went wrong. It’s plain from phoning people (who’d previously answered that they would indeed vote Labour) on Election day, that a very high rate of them hadn’t or didn’t intend to. Much higher in the marginal seats than in The Meadows, in Nottingham.
Now there are things that Nottingham Labour got right, but given there was so little opposition on the ground, we also need to understand whether the rate of registration, turnout and support was actually that high. (Yep, my share of the vote fell – I will have to be nicer to people.)
Silent Tories is the mooted explanation for 1992, or indeed the Sheffield rally, but 1992, 2010 and 2015 all had incidents a week before the day whereby interactions with members of the public, arguably hostile, found Labour leaders not saying what they really wanted to – Kinnock on PR in 1992, Brown on immigration in 2010 and Miliband on public spending in 2015. People laughed at us.
Meanwhile, nationalists (with a different kind of conviction) did relatively well in 2015, in part cos they could show conviction. Addressing issues in a primary way, rather than qualifying what’s said cos of secondary impacts.
Conviction, and arguing a case on what’s deemed to be an opponent’s territory gives gravitas, a sense that someone could actually be in charge.
Convictions can also lead to movements that are less vulnerable to a media that through ownership is often hostile, or to journalists (seeking or claiming credibility) who are often cynical.
Now there are lots of other factors to include in an assessment of defeat beyond the media – social change, demographics, labour markets, economic welfare and so on.
All much more interesting than tedious reductions of complexity to left and centre-left.
Although I remember Dennis Skinner telling me at the 2010 party conference, that in the absence of a genuine left-winger, we should choose David Miliband as leader because he was the one the Conservatives were afraid of. Put another way, the biggest criteria for a Leader is the ability and determination to argue the case for change (radical change) for the people and the country, including when under pressure.
Credibility as part of package that you need to win an election. You might also consider hegemony, or reducing an opponent’s ability to speak, as part of a package (although this again can draw you into second-order politics).
Credibility was lost most significantly in Gordon Brown’s era – claims of abolition of boom and bust, (arguably increasing public spending during an up cycle of economy, but it is arguable), failure there and then to point out the crisis that came was caused by the financial sector (although he had by then praised them and not re-introduced some of the controls that could have prevented a crisis), and emphatically the abolition of the 10p tax rate (despite big warnings from his own side; along with the complex nature of tax credits). A failed technocrat.
Late on in the last leadership campaign, David Miliband said to me that he thought we ought to do more about explaining our aims in the context of our party aims – (the new) clause 4, part 4.
And that’s where I end up too. Your aims (or as Bernard Crick would put it, your dogma) reflect your fundamental understanding of the economy, society and environment. And you need to keep getting that across.
That’s the basis for inspiration and a movement (and more helpers). Something that can resist bigger things like mass media and smaller things like problems at work. Provide conviction and soul.
You still might need a key seats strategy, although I’m alarmed at how often people talking about mega individual contact work being able to deliver a victory in a mechanical manner – when it’s obvious 7 million contacts absolutely didn’t in 2015.
There’s too much to say on issues as big as this.
But we need character at the top, and a movement, which means an emphasis on values and arguing the analysis that comes from those values especially on what is presumed to be others’ territory.

The Labour Party’s clause 4 part 4 says –
The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

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