Archive for July, 2016

Whatever you’re about to do, Labour…

July 2, 2016

Here are some things I hope you’ll consider. Above all, stick to your values, have courage in your convictions and give the 48% an alternative to the Conservatives.

There’s no point in seeking a mulligan on the referendum. The people have spoken, but the mandate they gave is pretty weak. Labour needs to say the UK will leave, but pursue the strongest damage limitation exercise possible.

I realise that there’s a lot of anti-immigration feeling and it’s probably tempting to read into the referendum result the need to cut it. Please don’t. Although it sounds like most Leave voters want to limit immigration, there is clearly a sizeable minority who don’t (18% of Leavers, says Ipsos; around 15% says Ashcroft). We can assume that The 48% preferred the status quo too, so that leaves 55-57% who are not going to be won over if Labour starts talking about immigration controls. And are the rest really going to consider voting Labour?

Instead, Labour needs to make the case for immigration. Don’t say things you don’t believe, and don’t try and avoid the subject, because those are the two mistakes Labour has made in recent years. Immigration is essential to the economic health of the country. Without it, we won’t have nearly as much tax revenue to spend on the health service and pensions. Most Britons are pragmatic people – they’ll won’t buy into the cuddly cosmopolitan stuff, but they would accept a case for the benefits if made with enough conviction.

A corollary to this is the need to address genuine social pressures in certain parts of the country (particularly where Labour is losing traditional voters). If people say immigration is a problem, I would guess (and I would welcome another view) that most of the time the real problem is low wages, health care, schools or housing. If Labour sets out an action plan to address all these things (and I read about one before the General Election, but it was at the end of an article in the Guardian) then makes that a central part of their manifesto, they ought to be able to win round the heartlands. And guess what, we won’t have a functional NHS or enough new homes without Italian doctors and Polish builders. There’ll obviously be a few Send ‘Em Backers who’ll reject even this, but any efforts to appease them will only alienate The 48%.

Labour still has to contemplate places like Hartlepool, where 70% of voters backed Leave. But 64% of Hartlepool’s voters didn’t vote Labour in 2015. A further swing against them would hand the seat to UKIP, but how likely is that? Is there not a case that the revolt against Labour there has peaked and a message more attuned to the town’s problems would bring them back? For fuck’s sake, non-UK born residents represent 2.3% of the local population, the lowest in the North East.

If Labour accepts the need for free movement, then it’s a hell of a lot easier to consequently retain the Single Market and protect the City – both things that the Conservatives seem set to gamble with. Labour can be the sensible grown-ups, speaking for the rational majority, and winning round business (especially if enough investment was made in infrastructure too). Under the circumstances, a plan to get a Norwayesque deal counts as a long-term economic plan. Nick that, and start banging on about it. (I’m half joking.)

Furthermore, the UK faces its biggest crisis since the war, and division within the progressive movement could really impair its chances. Labour should seriously consider a pact with the Lib Dems (who’d probably win Cornwall back), the Greens and even the SNP.

If we’re going to “take back control” then maybe it’s time the people started electing their upper house. A deal to reform the Lords and introduce an element of PR could be part of a pact.

You may therefore end up with the next General Election being effectively another referendum between complete divorce and Single Market, between closing the borders and supporting the economy, between tyranny of a minority and broad consensus.