Time to return to core values?

logosOn Thursday (9th July) I went along to a Bristol Festival of Ideas and Guardian Live event at the Arnolfini in Bristol, where the two Liberal Democrat leadership contenders (Norman Lamb and Tim Farron) were in discussion with Andrew Rawnsley. It was a fascinating debate, with real honesty and integrity from both speakers, expertly facilitated by Andrew, which left me thinking about how seldom we seem to engage in real political debate about the issues that matter. Too much of the debate we see and hear is shallow, reactive and glosses over the real problems and instead focuses on ones that are easier to solve or popular to attend to.

What was so refreshing about the approach taken by both Tim and Norman, was the recognition of what had gone wrong during the general election and how they needed to get back to positive campaigning. The focus was very much about core values and rebuilding the party on those values and principles, with a realisation that the Liberal Democrats need to remind people what they really stand for and give people a reason to vote for them. It was a grown up debate about principles and values, about issues that really matter and thought provoking on what Liberalism is and who it appeals to.

Tim Farron spoke eloquently about the housing crisis as one of the biggest issues we are facing at the moment. He spoke about wanting to make a difference to people and doing what’s right for the powerless. Norman Lamb referred to the importance of the liberal principle of community politics and reminded us of the need for ideas, inspiration and vision. They both saw the Lib Dems as a radical, progressive party that needed to operate effectively beyond and outside the Westminster bubble.

Despite their obvious agreement over many issues and general approach, the two leadership contenders couldn’t be more different. Tim comes across as a charismatic, opinionated, confident and someone who will undoubtedly take bold positions on key issues. Whilst, Norman, is quieter spoken, more deliberate and considered in his approach, providing an air of wisdom and experience as well as a long standing record of delivery on Liberal values. I was impressed with both for different reasons and they would seem in my view to make an excellent double act at the head of the party! As the members vote draws to a close over the next week or so it will be interesting to see who wins this contest and what direction they take the party.

For me the debate and discussion was interesting because it is exactly what I had been hoping to see in the Labour leadership contest, a grown up political debate where the issues that matter are addressed in a thoughtful and considered manner. But perhaps more important than this is the need for the labour party to go back to basic principles and remember why it was set up and where its core values are. Sadly, so far, I have seen little evidence of this kind of self awareness in the party, with little serious reflection on what so obviously wrong for Labour during the election. The constant suggestion that it’s because Miliband was too left wing so the party needs to move to the right, reflecting conservative policy and values, is deeply worrying and depressing.

For me the Labour Party has always been about challenging inequality and poverty, representing and standing up for those that are powerless, and providing and supporting the services we need in a civilised society so everyone benefits from them. Somewhere along the line the party seems to have forgotten some of these values and is playing a reactive role, firefighting whatever the latest Tory policies are with little to offer in exchange. That’s why the Labour Party need to have a proper debate about what the party stands for, what its core values are and what that means for the future leadership of the party. Without that debate, how do we judge leadership contenders? How do we know how the party will move forward? Without that debate, people like me will continue to remain outside the party, looking for a way forward politically and for a party that reflects our core values – it used to be Labour, but isn’t any more!

Labour is not a ‘project’


poster 3A post by Lilia Giugni from November last year, on the New Labour ‘project’ and how it profoundly changed the Labour Party is worth looking at again. Particularly now as the Party begins the process of working out what to do next and how to win the next election.

Whilst many were indeed carried away by the rhetoric and spin of the New Labour Project in the beginning, in more recent years there has been a real backlash in response to the reality of what it actually meant and what it has done to the Party. It has left the Party in turmoil, not quite knowing which direction to take and who their core voters are. It’s left a Party devoid of values or ‘soul’.

“In 2010 and in 2015, Gordon and then Ed allowed themselves to be portrayed as moving backwards from the aspiration and inclusion that are the heart of any successful progressive political project,” (David Miliband, 11-5-15).

According to David Miliband (in that TV interview), and Peter Mandelson, we lost because we ditched New Labour and now is the time to return to their political project! I can’t tell you how much I detest this notion of labour as a political project, please can we move away from this?

This piece by Zoe Williams pretty much hits the nail on the head – Labour’s leader is not the problem. The Party’s missing soul is. Those at the core of the Labour Party need to stop seeing it as one big ‘project’ and start thinking about values, principles and its wider membership. They need to reflect on what went wrong, but determine to change things by engaging and involving the membership. The Party needs to take its time and consider what it stands for and what its core values really are before it can choose the right leader. I agree with Zoe, it’s not about who the leader is, it’s about what the Party believes in and stands for.

At the moment I would be hard pushed to really answer that point. I used to know what Labour meant, I used to be a member. I stood for election to my local council and served for 8 years as a labour party councillor at a time before and during New Labour. I left because of my disillusionment with the New Labour Project, and the notion that something that I felt was about values and belief had suddenly turned into a political project for a group of intellectuals and spin doctors. Labour did of course gain power during this time, and like others I was initially carried along on a tide of optimism and enthusiasm. Until, that is, I realised that actually the political landscape had shifted so far to the right during the previous administrations, that there was a mountain to climb to turn things around and sadly, New Labour never really seemed to have that as their agenda.They appeared content to just get re-elected and move ever further into the right of centre political ground where English politics has been for some time now.

I have listened to all the narrative about Ed Miliband being too left wing and how Labour lost this time because of the return to left wing politics. Well, really, I seem to have failed to notice just what was so left wing about much of the Labour manifesto. To me, Labour very much seemed to be trying to fight the Tories on their own ground, spouting the same kind of policies and underlying approach, just being a bit nicer about it. The Party has undoubtedly, in my view, lost its way. But now there is time for a fundamental rethink. There’s time to talk to Party members and time to re-evaluate core principles, values and beliefs and once more become a party that has a soul that is connected with its members and beliefs that matter. I just hope someone picks up that challenge before the leadership contest begins and falls into the same traps as before – it has to be about real people and what matters to them, not some political project run by people with little experience of the real world!