The Labour Party has, for the past 18th months, being going through a crisis of identity. Is it too left wing? Is it not left wing enough? Yet, fundamentally, the question of left and right is a distraction. For Labour to be viewed as electorally competent and win the 2020 election, or failing that, the 2025 election the party has to focus on one subject; reform.
Labour has always been a party of reform in government – Attlee’s radical reforms of the structure of British society included the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. Wilson’s first government achieved a great deal thanks to Roy Jenkins; capital punishment was abolished, homosexuality decriminalised, abortion legalised and voting rights lowered to 18 (they have not been lowered since). The New Labour years also brought through vital reforms to what was permissible (the banning of fox hunting), reform of local society with the introduction of the minimum wage and the introduction of devolved powers to Scotland and Wales.
It isn’t as if reform isn’t needed; post-Brexit Britain needs a shakeup of real change; the sort of change Labour should be providing. Reform is the life blood of the party and the reform to Britain’s post Brexit landscape is what Labour must do if it wants to seize power again.
Yet, you may ask, what to reform? Reformation for the sake of it has never worked and Labour’s main targets for reformation should be chosen carefully. Britain’s relationship with the European Union is an obvious one; we will be leaving the EU, which will inevitably impact rural communities that receive grants from the European Union. To leave Cornwall and areas of rural Wales without any protection is foolhardy – yet the money must come from somewhere. For Labour to provide a real alternative, the party needs to reform how the government spends money – what is the purpose of this scheme, what effect does it have?
Similarly, the type of regeneration project underway in Hull this year should be looked at and seen if it can be replicated. Not only must our most vulnerable communities be protected, they must be nurtured. Labour must set forward reform that can convince voters who may be disaffected or disengaged that their lives really can be changed by a Labour government.
Housing, of course, is only one issue; what about transport? The government’s plan to continue building HS2 is, for all intents and purposes, a vanity project designed to show that Britain is at the forefront of highspeed rail. This is all fine and dandy but what about the dilapidated state of the rest of the train network?
In recent years strikes have become more frequent and service dire. Fights between unions and train franchise owners show the divisive effects of modern transport incentives. To add to this, the average train is 21 years old – reform is urgent and needed. If HS2 was scraped and the money diverted, work could begin on a far more improved and modern railway system for all of Britain. IPPR North went as far to say that passengers are “paying through the nose for decrepit trains.” Yet, it isn’t just trains that are affected. Bus services are also crumbling. These are used far more on average than trains.
Indeed, the very roads that our vehicles move on are costing jobs, money and lives. The Road Safety Foundation recently released a damning report into the state of British roads; Dorset lost 200 million from its local economy due to crash costs over three years and the crash costs for Hampshire, Kent and Essex are in excess of half a billion. Labour needs a clear transport plan; reform of all areas of transport to make it effective, efficient and ready for the 21st century.
Similarly, defence is another key area in need of reform. What are our armed forces for? Millions are spent on them and yet we are still none the wiser – do they exist to protect our nation? Or are they the world’s police, intervening even when British interests are not directly threatened? For Labour to regain credibility in the eyes of the military, the party must examine what the purpose of the military is and reform it; spending on weapons like Trident is necessary but the future of our defence must be thought out. We also have an ageing navy that needs to be upgraded for the future.
A reforming agenda for Labour is essential – without it the party will be seen to have lost its purpose. To do the job we are meant to be doing, we have to focus not simply on fixing the problems that this country faces but changing it forever. Only then will Labour regain power.