Labour has now lost four General Elections in ten years, has lost seats that have been Labour since democratisation, and is is facing a Tory Government with no limits on it for the first time in decades.
So Labour has to change.
But how? Does it change approach, policies, personnel, tactics, or all of the above and more?
The first big change for Labour is to pick a new leader. As much as Jeremy Corbyn inspired hope for some, he proved an electoral liability in the end.
Populus research shows that, even more than Brexit, the leadership was the biggest cause of former Labour voters voting for other parties.
In some regards this eases Labours decision-making. Far from a case for radical overhaul, Corbyn can simply be replaced with a leader the public might prefer. Most candidates probably fit that bill.
The difficulty, however, is that Corbyn was very popular with parts of the Labour Party. So although distance from Corbyn is needed to win back public support, Labour members need to be wary of the comforting but likely self-defeating choice of a leader seen as mere continuation.
Policies – Brexit
The big policy hindrance for Labour was Brexit. Though a smaller hindrance than Corbyn’s unpopularity, it weighed heavily on votes in 2019.
Fortunately for Labour, this issue is largely resolved by defeat. The Tories will now do brexit. Brexit will deliver what it does under the unambiguous responsibility of the Tories. Labour need only scrutinise and campaign accordingly.
Labour is however a heavily remain party by both membership and voter base. It will certainly not like the idea of deregulation and US-NHS trade deals facilitated by brexit. It may find many leave voters dislike those things too but it must be wary of its powerlessness on Brexit now.
So scrutiny will be it’s safest approach, unless Brexit causes such pain as to make “rejoin” appealing to voters.
Policies – Corbynism
While Corbynites must face the bitter pill that Corbyn was a liability, anti-Corbynites must face the equally genuine evidence that his policy direction was not unpopular.
Granted, perhaps the party went too far in some directions. The renewed popularity of state intervention in things like railways and water does not mean people feel safe spreading that into untested areas like broadband.
Regardless of extent, the same Populus data that shows Corbyn was a liability shows that policies were simply not the problem. So while policies will change and evolve, Labour would be foolish to radically overhaul its policy direction and throw the baby out with the bath water.
Edit: In a recent LBC John Curtice interview, the polling expert said data he had seen shows Labour policy was actually popular, not just not unpopular. We bow to his greater data pool.
Approach: Make Friends
Probably the biggest focus for Labour will be a change in approach. Labour has for too long treated all parties as equal foes, sometimes including within itself. That was understandable in regards to the Lib Dems amid their record in coalition with the Tories. But to persist can only damage Labour and let the Tories in government off the hook.
Labour has also lost its meaningful prospects of forming a Majority in Westminster again, following it’s Scottish collapse since the 2014 referendum. Without a massive and unlikely revival to displace the SNP in Scotland, the number of English seats it must win would take a 1997 “once in a century” landslide.
So Labour would do well to seek coalition allies during its time in opposition. Policy scrutiny works better when a clear alternative exists, and if Labour can present a broader opposition alternative, instead of being just one of several oppositions, that would help.
Tactics: Learn Marketing
One of the most baffling failures of Labour this past ten years has been its poor communication. While outriders like Jess Phillips have turned tough seats into big majorities with huge local activism and clear personal opinions, Labour nationally has failed to really stand for much that most people could remember or describe.
Labour must reconnect locally by finding good local candidates quickly. Why wait until months before an election and miss out on years of working with great local campaigns and building trust?
Also, Labour must try to chime with national sentiment for a change. Take the previously mentioned rail nationalisation proposal. To have hidden this among other policies, and to have not sold it as a patriotic “taking back control” policy, was simply incompetent marketing.
And that must change too.
So what next?
Labour will have a new leader soon enough. Boundary changes should also wake Labour up to its post Scotland need for partners.
But in regards to policies and tactics, the indications are that it should move towards fewer policies to give more prominence for those it holds dear. And it should do this in 2020, not 2024.