Labour’s chance of winning the next general election looks certainly remote; with polling showing the party at an all-time low, the Copeland by-election resulting in the first gain of a seat by a sitting government since the 1980s and enthusiasm for seats that were once solidly Labour, like Stoke Central, seems to have waned.
There is a variety of reasons for this – Labour’s internal divisions, problematic leadership and the repetition (including those in the party itself) that the last Labour government were responsible for the financial crisis of 2008 which still dominates policy today. Yet there is another factor that was highlighted by the latest edition of John Harris and John Domokos’ excellent series, ‘Anywhere But Westminster’. Towards the end of the video Harris talked to a disaffected young voter who, when asked why he wouldn’t vote for Labour, stated that the Labour council had done nothing for him so why should he do anything for them.
The rest of the video highlighted the state of parts of Stoke; neglected and lacking in the type of vibrancy and vision that Labour and its activists were arguing for at both by elections. For Labour to present itself as a party of government again when it does have power, in local government, it has to use that power to improve the lives of ordinary people and show them on however small a scale what the Labour party can do when it is allowed to serve the people of this country.
This is not to say that all of Labour’s councils’ problems have their problems; some of them are doing excellent jobs serving their communities. However, there is clearly discontent amongst the residents of Labour council controlled areas that has to be addressed. Of course, Labour councils have problems that are outside their control; this is due to government funding and cuts that are sent down the line and have to be implemented whether the council like it or not.
Yet this does not mean that councils cannot or do not have the will power to adapt and change. Another point that was raised in the video was that representatives of Labour had not gone into certain estates in Stoke since 1997; aside from being a misfire in regards to campaigning it helps ensconce the image of Labour in the mind of Labour council residents as not thinking of their concerns, not seeing them as vital to serving the communities they represent.
For Labour to advertise itself as an alternative government it has to prove that it can govern and as such local government is vital for Labour to succeed. Our presence should not just be felt on online media but on the doorstep, in the council chamber, making sure that Labour’s message is getting out there. What that message should be is in flux at the moment and the only way for Labour to express it properly it to ensure that it listens to those who it represents – only through engaging with the electorate can Labour find its voice and prove that it can be an alternative government.
Local government should not be seen as something that can be forgotten about by Labour – it has to be key to the future of the party. If we cannot ensure that Labour’s voters trust Labour councils to ensure that bins are taken out on time, that libraries are available for all, that new businesses are encouraged and that local healthcare is of satisfactory standard then we cannot claim to be serious about government. Until Labour’s local government responsibilities are fully realised, then we will forever be trapped in opposition.