New Labour: Rebuilding the Coalition

By Buck, Karen; Burden, Richard et al. | Renewal, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

New Labour: Rebuilding the Coalition

Buck, Karen, Burden, Richard, Challen, Colin, Chaytor, David, Denham, John, Eagle, Angela, Griffiths, Nia, Goodman, Helen, Ruddock, Joan, Salter, Martin, Todd, Mark, Whitehead, Alan, Renewal

Everything written about New Labour in the summer of 2006 will be overshadowed by the coming change of leader. But this change, hugely important though it is, cannot answer all the questions about Labour's future chances of success. The choice of leader is only one element in the urgent need for Labour to renew its vision for our country, to develop our ability to communicate that vision, and to show we have the means to put it into practice.

This brief paper has been written by Labour MPs who want to help develop that political strategy. We hold in common the belief that Labour needs to rebuild the broad electoral coalition that led to our success in 1997 and the more recent general elections. Our ability to unite a broad cross-section of British society, rather than to appeal to narrow sectional interests, is not only important to electoral success; it is the precondition for achieving progressive political change.

To do this we must identify clearly the challenges that face Britain today, and the Labour Party's most effective response. It may be that a serious debate on Labour's future direction will now develop. We want to reject the idea that the only choice for Labour is between its current course and a return to the Labour politics of the 1980s or, even worse, the 1970s. This false choice is an unhelpful caricature, which too often stifles debate about the direction the party should now take. Labour's hope for successful renewal relies on a cool-headed analysis of our strengths and weaknesses as a government. As the next election approaches, Labour will be operating in a changed political and organisational climate and in a context which has been affected by both our successes and failures in office.

Britain faces powerful economic and social forces at home and abroad. Unchallenged each will make our society less fair, more unequal and more divided; their power will feed our sense of insecurity. In a vicious circle, the more divided we become the less able we will be to manage those forces and regain a sense of security. Labour's core value--that only by working together can we all do better as individuals and families--still provides the best answer.

New Labour's success

New Labour's original momentum and success grew from our ability to describe and explain Britain in a way that made sense to the voting public. As a result, Labour's values were seen as widely and deeply held across society. The policies we proposed were understood as a commitment to change our country in tune with those values.

The emphasis we promised on collective provision was popular in a society reacting against the private greed and run-down public services of the Tories. People wanted the new opportunities we offered to those in poverty and deprivation, but they wanted to be sure that responsibilities would be enforced alongside rights. They were assured that we had clearly accepted the central role the private sector and markets would play in economic success and were comfortable with using part of the benefits for social justice. Equally important they were reassured that we also recognised the limits of markets and the importance of public provision and social interventions. In promising to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime we reflected both the public desire for protection and the understanding that social problems had deep roots.

In international policy, too, we held out the prospect of ending the growing isolation and lack of influence of Britain in Europe. We committed ourselves to the reform of global institutions and to introducing a more ethical dimension to foreign policy.

New Labour's original vision was much more than sets of individual policies for individual people. It was a reasonably coherent description of British that made sense to people in many different walks of life. It brought them together to vote us in. For some time, it infused Labour's actions in government and delivered the changes we are proud of. …

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