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What must Labour do next?

ConservativeHome's panel gives its view:

Ruth Porter: "Wean yourselves off the belief that state spending is the answer."

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 13.17.55"Recently I read an article entitled something along the lines of: "What is the point of Labour?". Well, quite.

No amount of spin can change the fact that at the time of the next election the national debt will stand somewhere around the heady heights of £1.5 trillion (if you include liabilities like pensions, it’s much higher, over £5 trillion). Even with short-term growth improving slightly, the UK is in for a tough time of it. The challenges we face are immense. Against this backdrop pollsters are now talking about how voters see Ed Miliband as “weak”.

People are feeling the squeeze of stagnant wages and rising prices for fuel, energy, housing, food and childcare, amongst other items. The structure of the NHS and its poor productivity is being brought under the spotlight as more scandals emerge. On top of all this it is hard to get through even a week in Westminster without yet another think tank report coming out looking at how demographic changes are compounding all these challenges pushing up the welfare bill and making our current funding model for healthcare look unsustainable.

So what should Labour do? If they want to be taken seriously they have to exude economic credibility. This means facing up to the reality that high levels of public spending cannot continue and that the tax burden must be lowered. The private sector must be freed to invest and create jobs.

This isn’t enough though. They must demonstrate that they are on the side of hard-working people. This requires convincing the electorate they have a solid plan to reduce living costs.
To put these suggestions into action they would need a proper plan that focused on freeing business from the clutches of Whitehall and council interference.

Can Labour really wean itself off the idea that more state spending isn’t always the answer? Can they begin to understand that increasing taxes damages the economy and destroys jobs? And can they grasp that state subsidies of housing and green energy aren’t the answer to reducing costs?

Labour should embrace free markets and trust that the British people are enterprising enough to meet the challenges coming our way."

Ruth Porter is Communications Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs

Max Wind-Cowie: "Recognise that culture matters"

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 13.20.47"On immigration, integration and social cohesion Labour is playing catch-up. Ignore the naysayers, immigration is down. And despite the reluctance of some Ministers (sadly, some of them Conservatives), we finally have a Government that's open and honest about the centrality of real integration to a long term racial justice and/or social cohesion agenda. There is so much more to be done. But, thanks largely to Theresa May, so much progress has been made.

So, how do Labour recover some ground on what is - routinely - one of the issues voters poll highest as a priority? Well they need to embrace their boldest, most radical and most interesting thinkers. Frank Field, Maurice Glasman, Sir Robin Wales and Jon Cruddas have all expressed deep (and 'labour' orientated) misgivings about the radical cultural and economic change wrought by Blairite/Brownite mass immigration. Listen to them, Mr Miliband.

Of course, the Left is always happier discussing immigration in terms of economics - for good or for ill. But the very real and pressing questions about culture, behaviour and norms also need to be addressed. I can't help wondering whether Ed wouldn't be better off picking a fight with Unite over their ridiculous legal challenge to the Government's campaign against illegal immigration than over some obscure selection battle in rural Scotland. Because, until Labour begins to really understand why people like Gillian Duffy are upset about waves of immigrants - immigrants that have never stolen a job or a home from them personally - they will be at odds with the folk they claim to represent. Resources are important. But culture matters too."

Max Wind-Cowie is Head of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos.

ConservativeHome's Deep End: "Do nothing! It's working fine."

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 13.28.46"What should Labour do next? Well, that’s an easy one: Nothing – or at least nothing more than they’ve done already. After all, it’s working well enough. 

As Pete Hoskin explains here, team Miliband’s secret plan for the next election is called the ‘35 per cent strategy’ – because 35 per cent of the vote is all that Labour needs to win in 2015. Whether than means winning outright or merely coming in first as the largest party in a hung parliament will depend on the Conservative share of the vote. But the fact is that if Labour do get 35 per cent, then to keep Ed Miliband out of Downing Street, we will need a significant improvement on the 36 per cent David Cameron got last time.

Most polls show Labour on considerably more than 35 per cent, but can they achieve it when it actually counts? Well, let’s start with the 29 per cent that they got in 2010 (despite everything). Next, we’ll assume that a small number of floating voters switch directly from blue to red, which is not unreasonable given the painful decisions the Coalition has had to make. That could take the Labour base up to, say, a nice round 30 per cent. The remaining five per cent would come from left-leaning former Lib Dems, who voted for Nick Clegg in 2010 and won’t be making that mistake again. In fact, Ed Miliband would need less than one in four Lib Dem votes to reach the 35 per cent threshold – and all the indications are that he’s already got a lot more than that.

In other words, Labour doesn’t need to reach out to middle England, but to centre-left Britain, which isn’t the same thing at all. If Miliband manages to achieve that much, then our biased electoral system and the depredations of UKIP will do the rest."

Ah, but what about UKIP? Couldn’t we see some of Labour’s working class supporters defect to the purples? It’s a possibility, but Miliband is on to it. With help from John Cruddas, he’s making the right noises on issues like crime and immigration – coaxing socially conservative Labour voters back into the fold in time for the next election. Of course, after that, it’d back in the box for Cruddas and business as usual for Labour’s lefty-liberal elite.

OK, leaving UKIP aside, what about the economy? If the green shoots continue to grow, won’t that change everything? Unfortunately not – because even if growth does pick up, two years is too short a time to restore most people’s living standards. In the absence of a compelling Conservative vision for Britain’s economic and social future, Labour just needs to play on current discontents – just as they have over the last three years.

And finally, what about Miliband and Balls? Are they not useless? Well, yes. But even if the British media break the habit of a generation and hold Labour’s leaders to account, they can always be replaced. By Autumn next year, Alistair Darling will be a hero for saving the Union and with Alan Johnson as his Shadow Chancellor, the novelty of new Labour dream team should be sufficient distraction from the fact that Labour still has nothing to offer the nation.

Jonathan Isaby: "Give taxpayers value for money"

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 13.32.26It’s hard to admit when you’ve made a wrong call, especially when you’re a political leader asking people to trust your judgment. But if you need to shift your position on an issue, it surely makes sense to do so sooner rather than later – and to make a virtue out of it: far better to say that you have listened to people’s concerns, taken them on board and reviewed policy accordingly than to plough on mindlessly with bad (and electorally unattractive) policy.
There are several key areas in which Ed Miliband and Labour ought now to be preparing to do exactly that if they are to do the right thing by taxpayers and be well-placed to win the election.
Probably the most important area is welfare policy. The household benefits cap and scrapping the spare room subsidy (cannily branded by Labour the “bedroom tax” on the realisation that people don’t like taxes, even though it isn’t one) are not only fair on those footing the benefits bill, but hugely popular among voters across the political spectrum. Labour currently look like the party of welfare rather than the party of work – ironic, given their name – and they ought to be addressing this as a matter of urgency.
Ed Balls has sown the seeds of a sensible policy by accepting George Osborne’s proposed cap on total welfare spending. But there is more work to be done, on the issue of work requirements for those on out-of-work benefits, for example, which is an area we at the TaxPayers’ Alliance will be looking at in the coming months.
Some of us have been saying for a long time that HS2 would be a monstrous waste of taxpayers’ money, based as it is on flawed assumptions and a shoddy business case. But the wide-ranging chorus of opponents is growing by the day and it is noteworthy that they have been joined in recent weeks by the former Chancellor and Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling; ex-Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson; and Tom Harris, the former railways minister.
Labour will be under pressure to show that their sums add up at the next election and scrapping plans to spend what is now set to be upwards of £50 billion on this white elephant would give them significant fiscal credibility (and wiggle room elsewhere). It would also be politically savvy, causing chaos for the Tories by making it virtually impossible for the Coalition to get its legislation through, given the level of dissent on the government benches.
Finally, the EU referendum. It’s a no-brainer that Labour should match David Cameron’s pledge to put British membership of the EU to the people for the first time since 1975. It would shoot a Tory fox and put an end to the damaging accusation that Labour don’t believe voters can be trusted to make a decision on this crucial issue.
Jonathan Isaby is Political Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance 
Stephen Tall: "Miliband must take risks and play to his strengths"
Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 19.01.04"The first thing they need to do is recognise how little they can do. It is hard, very hard, for a party which has been in government for a long time to bounce back within its first Opposition term. Just ask William Hague. Like Ed Miliband, he was a fresh-faced leader who was ineluctably tainted by his inheritance. It proved terminal to Mr Hague's hopes. Mr Miliband is in a better position, not least because the electoral maths favours him: Labour can win an outright majority even if they're level-pegging with the Conservatives on 35 per cent each.
Ed Miliband should also accept that Labour has lost the argument over which party is to blame for our economic troubles. With growth, however anaemic and however London-centric, beginning to return Labour should give up fighting the battles of the past. Ed Balls' mantra that the Coalition was cutting "too far and too fast" was a useful rallying cry for Labour in the first half of the parliament. Its downside is that it will now allow the Coalition to claim the credit for the tentative recovery.
Labour needs to move on, fast, and start shouting about the need to secure a 'One Nation Recovery'. The good news is that Michael Heseltine's 'No stone unturned' regional growth plan provides both the policy ground-work with its call for greater investment as well as the political cover against Conservative accusations of profligacy.
Labour has a bigger problem with its approach to public services: they're stuck in a rut. It is not just that the party launches a 'Save the NHS' campaign every other week. More importantly, its emphasis should be on offering those of us who use our public services greater choice. Unfortunately for Mr Miliband three things prevent him from focusing on us, the taxpaying consumers.
First, Labour's reliance on Unison, the public sector workers' union, whose job is to safeguard the rights of its workers and which will sometimes rub up against the over-riding rights of the public.

Secondly, the popularity among Labour activists of Bennite-left campaign groups such as the People's Assembly which emit a visceral hatred of private enterprise and view it as incompatible with public service. The reality is (inevitably) messier: just as there are good public sector providers and bad ones, the same is true of private sector providers of public services. Government's role is always to ensure that our public services offer the consumer maximum choice. Labour has lost sight of that.

Thirdly, though Labour under Tony Blair talked the language of choice what that too often meant was handing mega-contracts to companies such as Serco and Atos, which, as Peter Hoskin has pointed out these pages, simply created 'a state outside the state' without any additional choice for the public.

Labour desperately needs more creative thinking about the delivery of public services, but it seems instead to be retreating to the safe harbour of cherishing large, centralised monolithic systems in the name of efficiency even though all too often neglect the needs of the public as individual citizens.

The most important thing that Labour can do is let Ed Miliband play to his strengths. Whatever his political failings, he appears to be a man of integrity. He has, for instance, shunned (so far) the entreaties of those who have urged him to call Cameron's bluff and push for an immediate in/out EU referendum simply to expose Tory divisions. It is not that he cannot see the gains from playing politics in this way. Rather, he is playing the long game. In less than two years Ed Miliband may well be Prime Minister and having to deal with the fall-out from a decision which seemed oh-so-clever at the time.
We live in the age of the geek. It's cool to be a nerd, and that's essentially who Ed Miliband is: a policy wonk.  Look at his summer reading list, for heaven's sake. Yet Labour remains policy-lite, scared that if they speak too soon the Conservatives and their friends in the press will steal the good ideas and pick holes in the rest. But the result is that Labour's drifting without purpose. Ed Miliband can afford to get it wrong a bit more often. What's more important is that people see a man of ideas, a leader with some vision and energy. At the moment, they just see a blancmange scared of its own shadow. And they feel sorry for it.
Stephen Tall is the Co-Editor of LibDem Voice.

Kathy Gyngell: "Outflank the Tories on the family"

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 13.29.45"Ed Miliband should outflank the Conservatives on family policy.   He must acknowledge that many children brought up in lone parent families do not flourish, that not all family forms are equal, that the widening marriage gap between rich and poor is now an urgent social justice issue.
By reviving a Labour tradition of ethical socialism rooted in strong families he can reverse the ratchet of family breakdown and welfare cost. Professor Halsey’s minority report to Labour’s 1996 Commission on Social Justice will enlighten him.
This approach demands he radically rethinks Labour’s failed state driven, universal childcare, gender equality and maternal employment ambitions; all uncritically adopted by the Coalition.
These costly ‘social disadvantage reduction’ policies have only widened gap between rich and poor,  catalysed family breakdown and failed in their primary objective of lifting children out of poverty.
The Conservatives’ seismic shift away from traditional family values into Labour’s ‘statist’ ‘nationalisation of children’ territory is Mr Miliband’s opportunity -  to restore the two parent family, remove the single earner married family tax and  child benefit cap penalties. The time is ripe.

A two million stay at home mum backlash has just begun.  Infuriated at perceived as worthless and economically unproductive they are rejecting their mothers’ march towards equality in the workplace.  Most would prefer to get married first, have a baby second and go to work  later – in that order.  Those who do so are the happiest.
Ed can be the first politician to listen to them and resist  feminist colleagues’ mantras that would turn swathes of the country into mum as well as dad deserts.
His new guru should be The Young Foundation’s Geoff Dench.  Geoff’s British Social Attitudes Survey analysis shows while women want to be free to work they want a home and children more than a job.  They believe family life suffers if women work and that being a housewife is a rewarding role, one that most lone mothers aspire to.
The key elements to ‘making families stronger’ are:

  • A legal requirement for fathers to sign the birth register
  • A ‘social justice’ marriage policy - meaningful tax breaks and social housing priority for married families.
  • A ‘stay at home’ parent allowance for families who opt out of state subsidised nursery care (opting in if they go back to work) as starting in Germany this month.
  •  Universal child benefit restricted to 2 children
  • Grandparental responsibility for young lone mothers and contributions docked off dads’ welfare for each child sired, to become legal requirements.

Kathy Gyngell is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies

Nick Faith: "Get moving on housing"


Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 18.46.41Miliband made a brave, albeit reactionary, move to distance Labour’s relationship with Unite. That earned him brownie points with the press. He needs to take another brave decision and bring back the ‘grey beards’, namely Alistair Darling and Andrew Adonis. I doubt he’ll do it but replacing Balls with Darling, a highly respected politician who steered the country through the 2008 financial crisis, would play well with the media and the business community. Adonis is the architect of the Academy schools programme and the only person who could seriously lay a glove on Michael Gove. The fact he sits in the Lords will mean this is also an unlikely move. But Miliband needs to be brave and he needs to surround himself with senior people who have the profile and nous to clarify Labour’s policy positions while attacking any Coalition slip up.


The policy cupboard is about as full as Old Mother Hubbard’s. Ask most voters and you’d struggle to find a clear answer to Labour’s position on education, welfare reform, immigration, housing...the list goes on. The ‘Two Eds’ still trail Cameron and Osborne on economic competency and it seems that the Tories are making a move to reposition themselves as the party of job creation. Miliband has 18 months to demonstrate that Labour can be trusted to run the economy. That not only means a change of personnel at the top of the party but a clear campaign that outflanks the Coalition and cuts through to the public. ‘Getting Britain Building’ would be my campaign of choice. We are currently on course to build the lowest level of housing since the 1920s. The average age of a first time buyer is creeping up to 40. The housing waiting list and benefit bill is growing. The Coalition’s Help to Buy scheme has been widely criticised for creating a new housing bubble. Attempts to change the planning system have received short shrift from local residents. Labour could build on its ‘standard of living’ theme by focusing on an area of policy that not only concerns all parts of society but could lead to local and national growth.

Nick Faith is Director of Communications at Policy Exchange