After the inevitable failure of the last three experiments, it’s time for Labour to discover winning again.
Let’s be honest, Labour has been all over the place on strategy for the best part of a decade.
Blair’s winning strategy died with his departure in 2007, and with it, began the consistent charge that Labour under Tony Blair had been too “neo-liberal”, too in-step with vested interests, and hand-in-glove with an abhorrent right-wing press.
This may have been true to an extent, but the response to it should not have been to dismantle an entire winning strategy that in reality, needed only minor tweaking, and a dose of radicalism.
Even Gordon Brown, who was undoubtedly New Labour through-and-through, felt the need due to his antipathy towards Blair, to have a clean break from his predecessor.
He was keen to move on from Blair, and that is understandable when considering the bitterness of their relationship, but it essentially contributed to the rut the party has ended up in today.
Brown’s negative attitude towards Blair meant that discontent began to fester around every single element of his predecessor’s period as leader (which was of course most of Labour’s time in government), when the party should’ve been talking up its years in power.
This failure to defend Blair’s record of course reached its peak under Ed Miliband, as the party rolled on unconvincingly, yet again, towards another crushing defeat, and yet more silence on Labour’s achievements in government. Yes, serious mistakes were made on foreign policy, but how can a party hope to get back into government if it insists on bashing its own record constantly?
There’s a reason you never hear the Conservatives bang on about any errors (and there have been countless) they made in government, at any point in history. It’s because they know that to do that, would be to damage the party brand, and with it, their electoral hopes.
The simple fact is, Blair and his team had the winning formula, and Labour needs to start realising this. It is not even a discussion on policy – it is a simple acknowledgment of the fact that New Labour’s strategy was one that bore fruit.
A modern adaptation of New Labour’s formula would mean positioning the party broadly in the centre ground on key issues, and in terms of its messaging – but this time, taking ideas from all wings of the party into account, based on their own merit, and adapting them for the population at large.
When Corbyn goes, that doesn’t mean we should banish all that he stood for – there was clearly something there to inspire so many. Why not harness the enthusiasm of thousands of new members?
That said, other than some interesting, radical policy ideas that may also prove electorally palatable, Labour of course needs to bin everything else Corbyn and Miliband brought to the table, in terms of strategy, and leadership.
Further still, the party should be treating Alastair Campbell’s script on communications and strategy as gospel. Faced with a hostile media, Labour needs to have a clearly crafted line on every area of policy, and a team that dedicates its entire time towards setting and controlling the media agenda.
Regrettably, “spin” too – the dirty word of politics – needs to make a comeback in any future winning strategy.
Corbyn supporters go on and on about a ‘hostile media’ and they’re right to. Why do you think Campbell was the most overworked spin doctor of all time?
It was because he was working tirelessly to spin negative stories about Labour into positive ones. It is a full-time, 24-hour-a-day job, with a press as ruthless, and biased, as ours.
The media were as hostile to Labour then as they are now, but instead of running away from them and hiding behind revolving doors, Campbell took them head on, and at times sensibly tried to bring them on-side.
All wings of the Labour party need to learn lessons from New Labour and their obsession with winning. As Blair said recently in an interview with Progress, “New Labour was a state of mind” – and a return to it does not necessarily have to mean moving back to its policies.
Of course – criticise them for their errors, but I think we can all agree that after the last ten years, we are now pretty much going around in circles on the negatives.
If Labour is to win again, as a party, it needs to finally start acknowledging the good in New Labour. If you can acknowledge nothing else, acknowledge that they won, and think to yourself, how?