What is Labour about?

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There are times when it is apparent why the Tories win elections and Labour do not. The Tories want to win. It’s not always clear that Labour does.

Take the aftermath of the recent elections. It is true that Labour lost Hartlepool, which given that the Brexit and UKIP votes were always going to swing largely to the Tories was wholly predictable. But it won in Cambridgeshire, the West of England, across Home Counties councils, and even in Chipping Norton. The wins in Manchester and Liverpool were pretty impressive too. And yet Labour cast itself - from the Leader onwards - as the loser of the election. They immediately passed the narrative to the Tories.

They have form in doing so. They did, after all, never challenge the Tory claim that Labour crashed the economy in 2008, which was never true. And they perpetually trash their own past leaders in ways the Tories never do despite having such howlers as Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith in their midst.

Over the weekend Starmer has announced that Labour is now in a policy void for some time to come by abandoning its past manifesto, leaving it with nothing to say. And Andy Burnham made a less than subtle leadership bid, which he has failed to win twice before and is not even an MP.

In the meantime, the Tories have tens of thousands of excess deaths to account for; a Prime Minister who is very obviously a liar and corrupt; corruption scandals galore; and ministers in office who have still not accounted for how the Brexit campaign was run. And that’s just for starters. But, in the Tory way, they keep telling lie after lie in support of the one aim, which is Tory power based on belief in a leader that lasts until precisely the moment when they are deposed. In contrast Labour has belief in, well, what?

It could, of course be argued that the difference between the two parties is all about principles. It might be said that Labour tries to have them, and the Tories do not. And it could be argued that having prime ministers as diverse as Cameron, May and Johnson is evidence of that on the Tory side. But that would also not be true. Since the days of Thatcher the Tories have had principles, albeit better described as dogma. A loathing of the state, the welfare state and those who rely on it, liberal views and a belief in the nation whilst loathing the state have been powerful unifying forces in the modern Conservative Party that distinguishes it quit radically from that which existed during the 1945 - 75 era, when power alone motivated it, and any opinion that suited that objective was tolerated. Hartlepool voted on principle. So too, I suspect, did Cambridgeshire and the others noted. And both knew what the Tories were offering.

But does anyone really know what Labour is offering? It’s not socialist. It’s hard to tell what its social democracy means. And if it is for something you cannot be sure for how long that might last. And its economic are confusing, old fashioned, and poorly communicated. It didn’t take Starmer abandoning the manifesto for Labour to not have anything to talk about. Apart from the cut through of the Corbyn manifesto - which was his success, but which was too complicated to communicate - Labour has not anything to talk about for far too long.

Unsurprisingly, people looking for a message are not convinced.

They are, in some parts of the country, convinced that they do not want the sleaze and corruption that in fairness I think Thatcher would never have tolerated. But even then they are not sure what Labour is offering. And it shows. And being against something is never enough.

Starmer does not need a new manifesto. He needs to say what Labour is for. And Labour needs to agree about that issue. Then and only then might it work. That’s what has worked for the Tories, more than anything else.

So what is Labour about?