It’s fair to say that my party came out of the 2017 general election on a high. We went into the campaign with low expectations, but Jeremy Corbyn’s energy, an inspiring manifesto and a clear, socialist anti-austerity message took us to 40% in the polls.
Yet we still came second. And despite the shambles of the Conservative’s Brexit negotiations, the polls have barely moved an inch since. We should now be 20 points ahead, so why aren’t we? And why is our politics in this worrying state of paralysis and deadlock?
These are the questions that we must ask ourselves before putting pen to paper on our next manifesto – questions that I tackle head-on in a new book; ‘Spirit of Britain, Purpose of Labour’ – a joint project between myself and a host of leading Labour MPs and thinkers.
In the book, we recognise that our country is more polarised than at any time since the Second World War – by age, education, place and wealth – but above all by values. On one side of the Values Chasm we have the Cosmopolitan tribe – typically university educated, urban, highly mobile and confident in the modern, globalised world. On the other we have the Communitarians – often non-graduates who value familiarity, security and community, and who have typically experienced the profound economic, social and cultural changes of the last 40 years as loss.
Whilst the EU referendum did not create these divides, it certainly sharpened and deepened them, with the Leave vote coming predominantly from the Communitarians who were fed up of being ignored.
But most worryingly the 2017 general election actually entrenched our country’s divides.
Labour’s success in June 2017 was built on our ability to win over all the groups who tend to include high numbers of Cosmopolitans; 49% of graduates backed us, as did every age group under 50 and it was of course a cause for huge celebration that we won in Cosmopolitan hot-spots such as Kensington and Canterbury.
Yet we struggled amongst those who left school at 16, the over 50s, and lost to the Tories in seats in our Communitarian heartlands such as Mansfield and Middlesbrough – those areas that need a Labour government most.
Communitarians are central to our future success. A ‘one more heave’ strategy will be fruitless – there is no point strengthening in those Cosmopolitan areas that we are already winning if we go backwards elsewhere – and, worse still, it would be an abdication of our moral duty to represent those Communitarians our party was founded to serve.
To win the next election we need to show Communitarians that we genuinely share their values and priorities, and not just through resorting to patronising retail offers.
We need to show Communitarians that we want to offer those who don’t go to university the same opportunities as those who do. In ‘Spirit of Britain’ Dan Jarvis suggests establishing new ‘Adult Education Funds’ and introducing government funded ‘right-to-learn days’ for all workers.
We need to invest in small towns and not just big cities. Redcar MP Anna Turley and Plymouth Moor View’s Charlotte Holloway suggest scaling up community banking, reforming business rates to boost high streets, and using procurement more effectively.
We must work with the private sector to transform workplace culture; Trevor Phillips – former John Lewis chair – suggests legislating for workers on boards, championing employee ownership and reforming the Companies Act.
And we must show them that we recognise that a system of managed migration is more in line with Labour’s traditional values than free movement; Sunder Katwala and Jill Rutter of British Future suggest reforms to reduce pressure on low wages.
Ultimately for Labour the next election will be all about the mood music. Do the public see us as a party for the Cosmopolitans? Or are we ‘whole nation’ Labour, ready to govern for the many and re-unite our deeply divided country?