Lesley Brennan is a Labour councillor in Dundee and was our candidate for Dundee East in the general election. She offers her analysis of where we stand and what must be done.
I have been actively following the contributions by Labour Party activists and elected members over the last week, and I agree with Neil Findlay that now is not the time to be silent. Thus, after 18 months of relentless campaigning in Dundee East, I’d like to share my reflections on the situation with respect to the Labour Party at the UK level and in Scotland.
I consider that there are two reasons why Labour has lost voters: cynicism and policy.
Cynicism: disillusionment and distrust
The Labour Party has implemented many great visions and set ambitious targets of itself and successive governments. But years of politicians over-promising and under-delivering has resulted in scunnered voters, and years of voters being taken for granted has caused serious sores to become weeping wounds.
Prior to the referendum, feedback from canvassing suggested there were three main reasons for not voting Labour in Dundee East:
- huge disapproval of Tony Blair and his influence on the party (i.e. moving to the right and capturing some of the Tories’ political space)
- Ed Miliband perceived as a career politician, who is out of touch with the real issues for people on low incomes
- poor decisions by councillors in the 1990s regarding closing schools, and, in the 1960s a few councillors were involved in corruption
From speaking to key seat candidates in England regarding feedback from canvassing, they were receiving the same feedback regarding Blair and Miliband as voters were telling the Dundee East team.
Thus, with little trust and huge disillusionment, it is difficult to persuade voters that Labour ought to be their choice. But with credible candidates that are grounded and care, and credible policies that demonstrate the party’s values, I thought the party ought to be able to overcome this hurdle.
Then, in Scotland during the referendum campaign, Scottish Labour decided to work with the Tories and Liberal Democrats. I was not comfortable about this as I had just demonstrated in Manchester at the Tory conference with many from the Dundee Bin the Bedroom Tax Group. However, I agreed to participate.
I had decided that I wanted to campaign for a no vote based on my values of solidarity and co-operation among working class people. I decided to participate in Better Together because many people who were undecided did not belong to any political party and it was important to be seen as part of a wider group rather than the Labour Party. In Dundee there were a few political activists from the Lib Dems and Tories and Better Together was a Labour-led initiative. Do I regret being involved in Better Together? No.
For me, if an issue is important, I will work with people to resolve it. With the anti-bedroom tax movement, I was often the only Labour person there. I worked with SWP, SSP, anarchists and folk belonging to no party. The objective was to alleviate this crisis. And the same was true regarding the referendum, I worked with party members from the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Communists. I campaigned hard to ensure that Scotland did not break away from the rest of the UK, as I knew separation would be more difficult for ordinary folk in Dundee and across Scotland, and for those the remaining in the rest of the UK.
However, some voters were angry that Labour had worked with the Tories during the referendum. The anger against the Labour Party is the legacy of Blairism. People saw the Labour Party move to the right with its support of free markets and had difficulty distinguishing between Labour policy goals and Tory ones. Consequently, some voters particularly those of working age, who are struggling financially and have not voted for years, distrusted the Labour Party’s motivates for joining Better Together, it looked like it was self-interest rather than for the best of the country. Hence the chants of Red Tories out.
The election of the Blairite Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader – also seen as a champion of Better Together – was therefore a disaster waiting to happen.
So the Labour Party had lost the trust of the people that it was set up to represent. The Scottish Labour Party failed to recognise the legacy of Blair and elected an uber-Blairite as leader. The policy offer needed to overcome these hurdles had to be credible and bold. Otherwise, the political wounds of disengaged Labour voters would be patched up by the SNP and UKIP.
Lost direction: our policy offer
Ed Miliband presented good policies that many people agreed with and thought were sensible: banning zero-hour contracts, abolishing the bedroom tax, the mansion tax and a tax on bankers’ bonuses.
The leadership, however, failed to even question the “austerity agenda”. Reducing the budget deficit by cutting government spending is having disastrous consequences on the UK economy, in areas that are already deprived like the ward that I represent in Dundee and, on peoples’ lives – especially people with disabilities.
The Labour leadership had no grand plan to reverse Iain Duncan Smith’s new social insecurity system with its savage sanctions that were leaving people, who were out of work, out of money and at the mercy of local charities giving out food. The Labour spokesperson for social security seemed totally disconnected and wished to distance herself from people in poverty. How else can you explain Ms Reeves’ statement, “We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.”
I believe we are a compassionate party. Our policies and priorities did not correspond to our values. We have lost our way not just in Scotland but across the UK. We need to find our way back quickly. However, I am not convinced that a separate or devolved Labour Party in Scotland is the answer. The whole Labour Party needs to get back to first principles of the labour movement and rebuild.
Recognition of where we are as a party
Jon Trickett’s excellent New Statesman article sums up the issue, “This is a defining moment for the future, and arguably the survival, of the Labour Party.” I totally agree. We, the Labour Party, are not only experiencing a crisis in Scotland; we ought to realise Scotland is just further down the path than England and Wales.
Trickett has analysed the voting data, which indicates that middle class voters are remaining with Labour but voters in poverty and real hardship are leaving the party.
Katy Clark correctly points to one of the main reasons, “[P]olicies coming out of Westminster do not relate to what people want in Scotland” and continues “[t]hey don’t relate to what people want in England, either.”
So, to return to government, the Labour Party needs to recapture the essence of the Labour movement and offer policies that are compassionate, offer hope and deliver a better future.
To regain this trust, the party must recognise the importance of having candidates that are intrinsically motivated and are willing to speak up when needed. Having politicians and candidates that are more concerned with their political career than their constituents is ruining the Labour Party. The Labour Party machine has tried to become too efficient by wanting “yes people”, who will adhere to the party line, but the voters do not trust machine politicians and can see straight through these characters.
The first step in rebuilding the party is for Jim Murphy to go.
15 thoughts on “Be bold, be Labour”
Unfortunately left thinking people lost the Party during Blair’s terms. We allowed the Right Wing bureaucrats to change the Party from being the People’s Party i.e. member led to a Party of Committees, sub Committee’s etc. We must regain the Socialist mantel in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
I read your article and it mirrors the views in West Lothian.
I am now retired but I am still the Branch Secretary of our local branch.
I am also the West Lothian TUC Secretary but I am concerned that none of the younger members will take over these posts because that is where our future lies. I do think Jim Murphy was the wrong candidate and viewed as Westminster speaking. it is refreshing to see younger people like you and Neil Findlay standing your ground in this situation. Labour has done great things and there is more to do so lets get on with it.
From west lothian myself and I do agree with you it does mirror the views
You are absolutely spot on, Lesley. I live in Newport, South Wales but am a former miner from Midlothian. The Labour Party in Wales has managed to foster an image of being old Labour rather than New Labour and we increased our majority in Newport East. I work in Leicester, however. Liz Kendall is the local MP covering the university where I work. I dread to think of her becoming Labour leader! I am thinking of organising a public meeting in Newport on the theme “Reclaim the Labour Party”. I don’t suppose you’d consider coming down to speak at it? I would probably look at doing the same up at De Montfort University, Leicester too. Perhaps, contacting others to do the same wider afield……Are you interested?
Christopher, I’m CLP Chair of what is now called Midlothian North and Musselburgh. I heard Owen Smith speak at the mining museum at Newtongrange last year and was impressed by a lot of what he said. Since then I’ve wondered if there is anything the Labour Party in Scotland can learn from Wales and your approach to nationalism and independence? Though obviously there are differences to what is happening in Scotland and Wales. Maybe an idea for a piece which Duncan might publish?
I’d really welcome that, Bernard, Christopher. Please do get in touch.
Interesting. I did not work with “Yes UK” – or “Better Asunder” for that matter – as I viewed the referendum campaign as a damaging distraction from real issues. However, once it became clear that a vote for independence was likely to lead to a severely authoritarian statelet I did participate in “Labour for Scotland” or whatever our own partisan ref. campaign was called.
I don’t really see labels such as “Blairite” or whatever as helpful – everybody is their own person (“Yes! We must all think for ourselves!” – Life of Brian). To my mind, leaving aside Scotland, we made 14 net gains last week and, even including Scotland, our vote share was up twice as much as that of the Conservatives (1.5% compared with 0.8%). So, while we certainly didn’t do anything like as well as we hoped in England and Wales, the fact we now have less seats in Westminster is ENTIRELY down to our poor performance in Scotland. The idea that whoever masterminded our campaign in Scotland could, thus, remain in post is ludicrous. I don’t care if the person involved is a “Blairite” or a “Trotskyite” or whatever – whatever they did failed and embarrassed us and they must now go.
Other than that, yes, good points.
Your views are spot on and reflect not only in Dundee but the whole of Scotland. Thank you for your well thought out sincere piece. I support you in this.
You speak for myself and a huge number of previously silent members and hit nail on head with your summery. Failures are also the complete ‘out of touch with the public’ approach from the top of the party. The members are angry, the previously Labour voting public are angry at the catalogue of failures and refusals to listen. The members are no longer silent and its a relief to see you and others like you speak honestly and accurately. Without the members there is no party we demand to be listened to demand the points you raise and we raise be listened to and acted on. The appointment of Jim Murphy and his continued presence is an embarrassment to the party the members and democracy. The SEC should take note the silent members have found voice and echo the voices of the electorate who turned away from Labour and it contradictory message. We must wipe the slate clean rebuild and move on.
“The appointment of Jim Murphy and his continued presence is an embarrassment to the party the members and democracy.”
The “appointment” of Jim Murphy was via a democratic vote in which he received the backing of the majority of the membership. Just to be clear. I’m not saying that means his “continued presence” is a given, but the idea that he was “appointed” unfairly is a complete crock. He was voted in. Those who cry “democracy” should remember what it means.
Well, isn’t this cosy…
As usual, none of you are facing the facts of the matter and the includes the lady responsible for this analysis.
1) the settled view of the Scottish people, I would guess about 70% at least, is positive towards Scottish independence. Now before you all reach for your off-the-shelf response to this (I.e. The referendum result suggests otherwise), most people I know and many ex labour supporters, more or less agree that the referendum was essentially rigged.
2) By rigged I mean through scaremongering and deception — the Vow that labour put its name to promised devo max and with that many people who, having been tenderised by the media and project fear, were reassured that voting NO would more or less still give us the increased autonomy that most of us wanted.
Now, until you face the above and the responsibility of your role in it, Scotland will hate you and reject you. You might poll well in places like Kinning Park and nursing homes, but that’s about it.
Great analysis Lesley thanks.
I wonder how many no voters from September the yes camp will win over to the cause by telling them that they were either:
Also, academic analysis demonstrates that yes lost due to general scepticism about the economy and currency. You call that scaremongering, which is fine, just don’t expect to convince many people who were motivated to vote no because of those things.
The vow was (a) not a new development, it was a ‘re-package of messages from the three BT parties that, for whatever reason, hadn’t gained enough traction and (b) on my reading entirely capable of being interpreted as being delivered upon entirely by Smith.
Analysis is interesting Lesley, but I’m not sure I would read too much into the manifesto up here this time. Imo the manifesto was spot on, as were the spending committments. Problem was lack of trust.
Last week felt cathartic for a lot of people, but it’s instructive how much genuine interest there is in where Labour goes next.
With new faces and talent, with a long way back, and with very little left to lose I expect we will like what we see from Scotlab over the next few years.
A focus on the culture of middle class bribery that predominates devolved politics, and a genuinely progressive alternative as to how to use the money, coupled with a brave recommendation on how to use the new tax powers for next year, would be a right good start I reckon.
Gerry, I hope you continue to be deluded, I really do, but we don’t need to guess at how many will be won over to the cause — the SNP just won 56 out of 59 seats at Westminster. Their support-base is growing, breaking records in fact.
It’s had to imagine the SNP being much stronger and Scottish Labour being much weaker although maybe in 2016 I will be pleasantly surprised on both accounts.
Now you mention that doubts about the economy played on the minds of those who voted No — that was the main aim of project fear, so thanks for confirming that you agree with one of my premises.
Go back and look carefully at what was offered in the Vow and by Gordon Brown. The clear impression was that it amounted to something like Home Rule or Devo Max. The smith commission doesn’t come close to offering those powers.
As long as you fail to accept the above, fail to take responsibility for the deception, and fail to accept that the majority want dramatically increased autonomy — I’d say 85% of the elctorate here are between the poles of Devo Max and full independence — your trajectory is going to continue downward.
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