It has been a crazy start to 2016 for the Labour Party. From the longest reshuffle in political history to uncontrolled statements on Trident, the Falklands and IS, along with constant murmurings of potential coups, it has left people wondering if the Labour Party has a future.
Putting aside the question of whether Labour’s shift to the left is fundamentally damaging, there are three key areas on which the party needs to focus if it is to have any chance of returning to government: purpose, policy and leadership.
Many of the founding beliefs of the Labour Party – social justice, decency, equality, strong communities – are still relevant today. But they must be reinvented to reflect modern British life. They must be put in the context of the way family life, working life and the British economy have changed. But is anyone in the Labour Party doing this thinking?
There are always debates about whether policy really matters when it comes to voters deciding where to put the X. It does. It matters a lot. Labour needs to open its doors to academia, business, charities, entrepreneurs and public sector workers to really understand what is needed to change Britain for the better. It has been years since the Labour Party had a robust policy pipeline, and trying to engage with the party from the public affairs perspective has been challenging.
And then there is the issue of leadership. Three times in a row the Labour movement has chosen a leader that does not appeal to the public. If Labour has a chance of victory in 2025, or indeed 2030, it will need to choose a leader who is in touch with the public mood and who is willing to put country before party.
We also cannot ignore the current state of party politics. With a significant shift to the left and quite unpalatable emerging policy positions, the question has to be whether or not the public will ever trust Labour again.
Many try to compare where the party is now with the 80s, but that is no comparison. The world has changed. Political tribalism has significantly declined, the left/right political spectrum is irrelevant to most people’s lives, voters’ trust in politicians to do the right thing is at an all-time low, and how people consume information and make their minds up on big issues of the day wouldn’t have been recognisable in the 80s. Labour has not hit rock bottom yet, and when it does it may never recover.
Those who believe the country needs a strong opposition right now, and want a real choice at future elections, have one of two options. They can fight for the soul of the Labour Party and do the hard work to reinvent it and make it electable again. Or, they could look to create a new political movement, reflective of the new political reality and modern British life built upon the technology that has revolutionised industries like travel and taxis.
Those of us in the public affairs industry probably couldn’t imagine a political landscape without Labour. But we should be ready for anything over the next decade.
Jo-ann Robertson is partner and deputy CEO at Ketchum London, and has campaigned for the Labour Party