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Hartlepool shows Labour needs to build on the coalition of 2017, not canter to the right – Sam Browse.

“Thursday’s results dramatically demonstrate the need for a change in direction. Labour urgently needs to build on the coalition of 2017, bringing people together on the basis of progressive vision of the world. Without that vision, there’s a real danger more Hartlepools are on the horizon.”

After the Hartlepool, local and regional elections, Labour must change strategy, bringing together a coalition of voters based on the progressive vision of the society we want to build, writes Sam Browse, Streatham CLP.

Thursdays Hartlepool byelection saw a seat that had previously been won twice under Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – and in 2017 with 52.5% of the vote – fall to the Tories. The Conservatives won the constituency, which has been Labour for more than four decades, with 51.9% of the vote, compared to Labour’s 28.7%, winning a majority of over 6000.

The result was announced as Labour suffered heavy losses in local and regional elections up and down the country, losing control of 4 local authorities while the Tories gained 9, and losing 182 seats while the Tories gained 202.

While Labour gained an extra seat, Rhondda, in the Senedd giving it an overall majority, in Scotland it lost ground to the SNP, losing East Lothian.

At the time of writing, of the mayoral and London Assembly elections that have been announced, there are no changes, although in Tees, the Conservative incumbent mayor, Ben Houchen, consolidated his position winning 72.8% in the first round.

Following the bruising results, Labour left figures have urged Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner to reconsider the strategy of the last 14 months.

Speaking to the BBC, John McDonnell said, “the Labour Party nationally has traded off for quite a while this slogan ‘we are under new management’, but if you’re saying that you also have to say what that means in policy terms and you have got to explain to people what kind of society you want to create, and that has not happened, and that policy vacuum is the issue that has got to be addressed now”.

Diane Abbott outlined the problems with the frontbench’s current approach in an article for LabourList, saying “we will not recover, let alone win, with a combination of becoming more like the Tories and only repeating the word ‘sleaze’. That political line has been tested to destruction. More of the same will only lead to the same result.”

“Nor will we win by more hammering the left. It demoralises many of our own voters and it only feeds the appetite of the Tory press it is designed to satisfy.”

On BBC radio, Len McCluskey pointed to the discrepancy between Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign and the approach taken in office  – ‘he was elected a year ago on a radical programme… he said he wanted to make the moral case for socialism. He wanted a united Party, and unfortunately he’s failed in all of those areas because we’re now in a situation, and Hartlepool is the manifestation of it, where people don’t know what his vision is. People don’t know what Labour stands for anymore’.   

Describing what that vision should be in the Independent, Richard Burgon said ‘policies from our recent manifestos continue to be much more popular than the party itself. They are backed by a large majority of voters. The pandemic has made many more relevant than ever: from free school meals for all primary school children, to an end to zero hours contracts, big investment in rebuilding public services and free social care.’

He contrasted the timidity of Labour’s approach with the US President, Joe Biden’s ‘progressive domestic agenda funded by tax increases on the rich.’

‘Labour should be acting with similar boldness to paint a picture of the country we want to build out of the pandemic: a fairer, more equal and more inclusive country.’

As Diane Abbott argued, ‘if you’re in a hole, stop digging. The worst possible reaction to the disastrous defeat in Hartlepool is to claim that Labour reforms are not going fast enough’.

Thursday’s results dramatically demonstrate the need for a change in direction. Labour urgently needs to build on the coalition of 2017, bringing people together on the basis of progressive vision of the world. Without that vision, there’s a real danger more Hartlepools are on the horizon.

MP Portraits Project in The Reasons Room..

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