Labour’s next manifesto needs to be an offer to the whole nation. Britain is deeply divided, but our divisions have been a cause, rather than a symptom, of the EU referendum. Over the past 40 years, the policies of consecutive governments have allowed our economy to be heavily skewed in favour of graduates and those living in big cities. The lack of any industrial strategy has seen globalisation destroy meaningful manufacturing jobs in Britain’s industrial heartlands, while new high-end service jobs have been concentrated in the richer cities. The next Labour government must boost opportunities for non-graduates and those living outside our metropolitan centres.
Labour must be a party of investment-driven, Keynesian economics. Our 2017 offer was strong in this respect and many policies should be taken forward. We were right to commit £30bn to the NHS and to meet growing demand for adult social care. Our £250bn infrastructure fund and our £250bn National Investment Bank would boost business and should be repeated. Our recent promise of 40,000 new green jobs, plus our support for traditional industry like UK steel, must also be upheld.
But if the question was purely ‘which party has the strongest anti-austerity agenda?’ then Labour would never have lost seats such as Mansfield, Stoke South and North East Derbyshire in 2017. Labour’s biggest challenge now is therefore to show that our number one priority is to bridge the values gap between the Cosmopolitans and the Communitarians.
Cosmopolitans tend to be younger, graduates and living in the major cities. They are transient, socially liberal and feel that the last 40 years of globalisation have been positive for themselves and for the country, bringing us enriching multi-culturalism, more personal freedom, and more opportunity. Communitarians are often older, non-graduates, living in smaller towns, who have experienced fast-paced change with a sense of loss, and have in some cases seen their industries and communities ripped apart by globalisation. They tend to feel that individual rights and responsibilities bear equal weight and that people have a duty to fit in and play by the rules, which in turn gives rise to concerns about the social and cultural impact that poorly managed immigration policies and systems can have.
Brexit was a Communitarian backlash against a Cosmopolitan ruling class that had been refusing to listen for 40 years.
While Cosmopolitan and Communitarian priorities often align, for instance on funding for the NHS, good education and affordable housing, on some issues Labour need to be willing to swing the political and values pendulum back towards the Communitarians. Not just for electoral reasons, but also because our party is in danger of becoming ‘The London Labour Party’ in the eyes of millions.
Labour’s historic mission is to be a whole nation party. How can we possibly claim to be fulfilling that mission if we are only listening to one half of the country?
On education, in 2017 Labour was obsessed with cutting tuition fees to the tune of £8bn. That money could be spent on helping the poorest children in their early years of life, or cutting classroom sizes, or perhaps most critically, funding technical training and alternative education for the forgotten 50% who don’t go to university.
On models of ownership, many Communitarians fear the centralised, powerful, controlling state just as much as they mistrust remote, faceless unaccountable corporates. Britain in the 21st century would be far better served by the parts of Labour’s 2017 manifesto that promised meaningful support for social enterprises, workers on company boards, and co-operative ownership models, rather than 1970s style nationalisation.
On multiculturalism, like the Communitarians, Labour must recognise that the route to a successful, diverse, inclusive society is to build bridges between different groups; to recognise that we must bond over what we have in common before we can learn about each other and celebrate our differences. In policy terms, Labour should restore Gordon Brown’s £50m integration fund, reverse cuts to youth centres and expand the National Citizens Service.
Finally, Communitarians are typically prudent, so we’ll need to again fully cost our manifesto. Swinging the political, economic and values pendulum back in favour of the Communitarians so that Labour becomes a whole nation party once more: that is the only route to a Labour majority that can reunite and rebuild our deeply divided country.