Dear Andy, David, Diane, Ed & Ed,
As you set of on your hols I thought I’d give you a few thoughts to chew over. I know you’re getting advice from every quarter at the moment, but with all of you expressing a greater commitment to listening and to party democracy, I thought I’d add my twopence worth.
I’m a fairly ordinary Labour Party member. I am probably a bit more active in national bodies than I am locally, but I am not important or influential in the party (hands up who stopped reading at that point), I have no money to donate (still with me?) and no strong faction to bring to the table (hello?!). But I understand the Labour Party and its members. I was born into the Labour Party and my parents – especially my Dad – are the kind of grassroots members who keep us going and whose intervention and shoe leather stopped us falling all the way off our cliff in May.
I live and breath Labour politics. I discuss endlessly with my colleagues, friends and family how Labour could win again, could be better and could win/win back the support we don’t currently have. From these conversations, and my own observations I offer you the following pieces of advice:
1. Be a leader, not a fighter.
You will have plenty of colleagues who will be able to take the fight to the Tory coalition. You will need to be a figurehead who is see as above that. Yes, attack at PMQs will be important, as will rebuttal. But wherever possible, you must delegate this, and use your platform to inform and inspire. The more you can be seen as a real embodiment of a positive Labour message, the better.
2. Give up some of your power
If you want to have the ultimate authority of becoming Prime Minister, what you really need is a strong team behind you. Not just the bright young Oxbridge Grads that scoot around after you as you go from husting to husting, but the army of Labour members, who may understand they are the foot soldiers, but still want to play a vital role in policy making and in steering the direction of the party. Let them.
Sure, we may end up with a few policies you think will harm us in the Daily Mail, but then we are never, ever going to win over the Daily Mail. We will definitely end up with a considerably more energised and committed party willing to fight and fight hard for a victory they really believe in.
3. Use the resources the Party has ignored for too long.
One way of doing this is to be more sensible about how the Labour Party utilises the resources it has. One great example of this is the Socialist Societies. These are single issue groups full of people who really, really know and understand both their policy areas and the way these impact on the core Labour values of fairness and justice. As the party currently lacks money for research, this vacuum could be filled by these groups, providing not only a wealth of expertise, but also a great way of offering to members a way of getting engaged in the issues they really care about.
4. Ensure CLPs are properly engaging in their communities
I have been banging on for years about the value of changing the CLP meeting structure and getting people out on the streets, cleaning up graffiti and litter or painting dilapidated play spaces or eyesores. I suspect you as leader could be far more influential in changing our meeting culture to that of activism as well as policy engagement.
5. Chill out!
The coalition may well be here to last for 5 years. Relax and stop obsessing over the polls. Be Labour in the face of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express while in opposition, and you will be able to govern with a strong agenda and mandate. Also lead by example with your work life balance. Get a hobby, take holidays and enjoy your families. You need to be a person as well as a politician.
6. But don’t be someone you are not.
When I say get a hobby, don’t – for Gods sake – focus group it. Do something that interests you, not what a clever pollster tells you the public want you to do. If you actually have terrible taste in music, that’s actually OK, no one will vote for you on the strength of your music taste (though I am impressed with your love of the Wedding Present Andy!).
7. Read something you disagree with every day.
It will raise your blood pressure, but will also keep your skills of argument sharp. I make a point of reading Conservative Home and Lib Dem Voice regularly. Knowing what the other side are talking and arguing about can only make you stronger.
8. The “other side” is never your own party except Frank Field.
The Labour Party is a broad church. You won’t agree with everything and they won’t all agree with you. But that’s not the point of leadership. Never attack your own members. But you should cut Frank Field loose. He’s an embarrassment and we need better party discipline from our MPs.
9. Cut out the dead wood.
This will be really difficult, as it is natural to turn to our predecessors for advice, but the following people need to be nowhere near the Labour Party for the sake of cleansing our brand for the foreseeable and indeed distant future: Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, James Purnell, Charles Clarke. The following should be left on the back benches: Jack Straw, Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears, Caroline Flint. I’m sure they are interesting and have much to offer, but the hard political truth, and what they would be advising you were it 20 years ago, is that talent is no match for the stigma they bring.
10. Don’t forget each other’s good ideas
There have been plenty in this leadership campaign. Remember to be both magnanimous and sharing in victory, then coldly pinch all that was the best about your combined talents!
I hope this advice is helpful to you. I promise here and now I will continue to work and fight hard whoever wins, and I hope you all do the same.
Yours in Socialism,
Tags: Alan Johnson, Alan Milburn, Alastair Campbell, Andy Burnham, Caroline Flint, Charles Clarke, CLPs, Conservative Home, David Miliband, Diane Abbott, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, focus groups, Frank Field, Hazel Blears, Jack Straw, James Purnell, Labour, Labour leadership, Labour members, Labour Party democracy, Lib Dem Voice, New Labour, Peter Mandelson, polls, Socialist Societies, volunteers