We now have a Labour mayor in London. Well done Sadiq Khan – who now has the largest personal mandate in Britain. Wales was better than we feared and so was England. Scotland was a disaster.
But what next?
Three simple points.
- Come up with a well considered, radical programme. We must have a positive vision to offer people that is more than ‘increased spending on the NHS, education etc.’ This must anwer the question of how we would run the economy. And what we would offer (for example) a young woman, working as a freelance software developer, bringing up a child or two on her own?
- Answer the constitutional questions about the UK [see the ‘Lessons’ below]. When I arrived in 1977 Britain was essentially a single nation. It is not any more. Recognising Scottish and Welsh nationalism was a major achievement (which Labour brought in). But we have to answer the issue in England. Is is powerful mayors in Manchester, Sheffield etc? Or is it new regional parliaments?
- Deal with real concerns about migration, refugees etc. Assuming Britain remains inside the EU (and I will be campaigning hard to achieve this!) we must still provide answers to those whose lives are damanged by migration. What do we say to the truck driver who sees his hourly rates driven down by companies bringing in East European drivers? What do we say to plasterers who faces cuts to their wages because migrants living 4 or 5 to a room will undercut their rates? These are real issues – not a figment of right wing imaginations.
A great deal of work to do.
Lessons to be learned from Scotland
The BBC has been leading its news that the election in Holyrood has been a disaster for Scottish Labour.
Even I, as a serial Labour loyalist, cannot pretend that the result has been good for us.
However, there are more conclusions to be drawn and lessons to be learned and, although immediately after is not the best time to do so, here goes.
The Scottish National party is claiming this as a historic victory – but that is another of its typical hyperboles. Nicola Sturgeon has failed to achieve the overall majority that the more abrasive Alex Salmond did in 2011. That is the biggest story out of Scotland today.
But we need to look at why we have been overtaken by the Tories in Scotland, of all places, and have the worst result for a century.
Our decline has not been in the last few weeks, months or even years, but over the past few decades, so Kezia Dugdale should not be blamed.
It has resulted from complacency, arrogance, indolence and some bad luck.
Some of our members of parliament took victory for granted and did not work hard in their constituencies. It is salutory to note that the MP who had the smallest majority in 2010, Ian Murray, worked hardest and was the only one to hold his seat in 2015, and we won the Holyrood seat from the SNP yesterday.
But the death of Donald Dewar was one of our pieces of ill-luck. Later, in 2007, an election dogged by administrative mistakes in the count, surprising SNP gains in regional lists and an adroit Salmond coup over a stunned Jack McConnell started the SNP bandwagon.
Then we have had a series of leaders, dogged by various problems, some of their own making, which has denied us any continuity and consistency of leadership.
Meanwhile, the SNP has been building its strength, sustained by the cash of Brian Souter and the EuroMillions winners, but also a slick and effective administrative machine, and the Tories have been rebuilding under effective leadership.
Kezia has been a strong but personable leader but has not had the time to get both her personality and leadership over to the people of Scotland. We now need to reaffirm her position as leader so she has the time to become liked and respected by the electorate as she is by those of us who know her well.
I hope she will forgive me making public one piece of advice I held back during the campaign. We did not acknowledge that the constitution was still an issue in the way the Tories did.
Privately I have been arguing that we should be offering a positive alternative for the constitution of the United Kingdom which is stable, comprehensive and coherent and different from the separation of the SNP.
A federal or quasi-federal UK is my own preference but a convention which consults widely throughout the UK is the way we should move forward as we did in establishing the Scottish parliament.
With a leader of the calibre and charm of Kezia establishing herself over the next few years, an anti-austerity programme and a real alternative to separation we can not only build for victory in Holyrood in 2021 but also hold our position in council elections in 2017 and contribute towards a UK Labour majority in the UK in 2020.