After Labour lost the 2010 General Election we realised we needed to reconnect politics with people. We needed to rebuild a broad-based coalition around our values that was inclusive and which gave a voice to many who felt politics no longer did anything for them. It would be a real shame if Labour let these results tempt it away from this mission.
The local and Euro election results have generated political shockwaves. Sure, we are not the only country in Europe where the main parties have faced a voter backlash. But we need to take time to work out the implications for the General Election here next year. This will take a while, though some data may help shed some light.
The Ashcroft exit polling finds that 60% of UKIP voters were sending a protest message to the main parties. Half said they would stick with UKIP at the General Election next year, with one in five intending to vote Tory and one in ten planning to vote Labour. That suggests that the Tories have more problems but also could attract back more UKIP votes. However, we know that UKIP targeted not only Conservative council seats but Labour as well, such as in Grimsby, and with some success (see Rotherham, Sunderland, and Doncaster for other examples of UKIP success). A YouGov poll for Channel 4 News found that compared to other parties, UKIP voters tended to be older and drawn more from C2DE social grades. Channel 4 News states the opinion poll also found that “Most UKIP voters feel ignored by politicians and are nostalgic for the 1980s and early 90s, a period most of them believe was a better one in which to bring up children.” There is something about the politics of the main parties which is not working for these people.
Christians on the Left helped lead Labour’s new engagement with communities with the launch of its Labour Neighbours project back in 2010. We have long helped Labour candidates connect with faith groups in their constituencies; we broadened this out to encourage local Labour parties to think about who were their neighbours and how they could get to know them. This coincided with a rediscovery of the community organising which had inspired President Obama and which itself often drew on church community activity. Whatever the origins, the point was to show that politics was relevant, because we were encouraging more people to be involved and to make a difference. Christians on the Left acts as one of those bridges into mainstream political involvement. Meanwhile, the churches and other faith groups also have a responsibility for encouraging greater political engagement in mainstream politics while at the same time holding leaders to account.
The great prize here is still for the taking. It is to revitalise politics from the ground up, combining local action with a clear, progressive, and hopeful message at the national level. That vision has inspired many to join Labour over the past four years. It is not easy to bring to reality quickly and in way that translates into winning more elections (which is essential). It means no one is taken for granted. It means that ‘safe’ Labour constituencies need to become constituencies of Labour people. And the only way to do that is to build relationships, to listen, to understand, and to be prepared to change. Without genuine political relationships, people can lose hope and in its place can come fear and anger as Westminster carries on apparently regardless.
The temptation will be to tack towards UKIP, especially as it is targeting Labour heartlands as well as Tory, in an attempt to neutralise its threat, by harsher messages on immigration for example. With little time left that risks becoming the default option. Ultimately, at national level, what we say on the economy and spending will be most important to winning the next election. We do need policies, for example on immigration and Europe, which are consistent with our values and meet peoples concerns. But to depart from those values, which people across the UK look to us to maintain and fight for, and to give up on broad-based, inclusive, One Nation politics would be just the kind of cynical acts that are feeding people’s disenchantment with politics today.