• Josie Channer

Labour Moving Forward

After an exciting campaign for the GLA seat in Bexley & Bromley, where we achieved a 10% swing, I’ve only just started to digest our good results in the local elections and the disappointment of losing City Hall to Boris Johnson again. It’s a mixed picture that has got us wondering whether we are on track or not It’s clear that we still have a lot of work to do before a general election victory, but what exactly can we take from the local elections success and leave from London’s election failure?

There are three things that I think we can learn. The first is to develop and encourage grassroots talent; the second is to make our party membership more representative; the third is to bring about an aggressive remoulding stategy.

Speaking to a friend shortly after the London election on Saturday morning, I compared our party to the England football team and the feeling I had the next morning after we had been kicked out of the World Cup prematurely. The concerns I had then were the same that I had on the morning after the election – where’s the next generation? Have we done enough to encourage the talent from the grassroots?

I believe that the development of grassroots talent from a diverse range of backgrounds is the next step if we are going move forward. Ken Livingstone made a huge contribution to London politics for 40 years. Yes, he has had his ‘ups and downs’ with the party, but he has brought a bit of sprit and that distinctive London accent to the heart of our party. Even so, I felt that it was a shame that only one other Labour candidate made an impact in the candidate selection contest. I wondered if new talent was struggling to come through. In the Party Leadership contest we were also fishing in a small pond as 4 out of 5 five candidates had an Oxbridge background and 4 out of the 5 had been ‘political special advisers’ (a group that now makes up 30% of MPs!). At a time when politicians are starting to look a bit robotic and similar, if we can create avenues for people from a wider range of backgrounds to come through, then as a party I think we’ll move forward collectively.

Phoning the Labour party’s London membership list, while helping out a little on Oona King’s campaign to be the Labour candidate for Mayor, I was shocked at the level of disparity between our membership compared to the overall London population. I came home and looked at my own ward in Barking. 35% of my ward is black with a rapidly growing young population compared with my list which was 95% white and mainly aged over 60. I wonder had the Labour Party London membership list been more refective of London, would we have still chosen Ken? Would we choose the MPs that we do? And would we have a more diverse range of candidates from different walks of life putting their names forward as candidates? I’m doing my bit by actively encouraging new members to join in my ward, although it’s a small contribution if we all did a little we could change the face of our party.

I also believe we need a more aggressive remoulding strategy. Aren’t you tired of hearing on the doorstep “you’re all the same!”? I could quite happily spend all day telling people what makes us different from the Conservatives, but I feel that that message isn’t strong enough yet. It’s what we stand for which has the most impact — practical polices, rather than an idealistic stance. ‘What would we do?’ is the question that needs answering. New people from a wider range of backgrounds will bring new ideas and life experience that could make politics matter again.

Because the Coalition has made such a hash of their own economic strategy I believe that our message for growth, rather than austerity, is strong and clear, although my ward colleague disagrees. Councillor Cameron Geddes, Labour councillor for over 20 years and currently lead member for Regeneration in Barking & Dagenham, believes Labour has two problems on the economy, “One was touched on in a recent ‘New Statesman’ article about the American book, ‘Don’t Think of the Elephant’ (as soon as you read the title you think of…the elephant!) We relate our policy to defeat the deficit by relation to the Tories’, i.e. we won’t cut as fast or as far as they do. B people just think of the elephant — by which I mean the Tories’ policy — and see us as just a pale shadow of them. The Tories have the proper elephant and we have just a pale imitation. The second is the complication of the economy and international finance. People know that being in debt for an individual or a household is bad — and so think that the Tories are being strong and wise in forcing us to accept the ‘medicine’ of balancing the books despite the pain that they are causing in do so via their preference for austerity over growth.”

Many will agree that the London election saw personality over policy; unfortunately it seems that a little bit of both will be needed in the years to come. The Coalition is starting to lose people’s faith in their policies and we have an opportunity to really break ahead. As for personality, we will miss Ken in London, but there’s also an opportunity to develop the next generation who will represent Londoners with the same dedication and passion.