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In the last two years politics has changed. The coalition has seen a Conservative party dragged kicking and screaming further left towards the centre of politics by a Liberal Democrat party fuelled by a desire for electoral and banking reform. People have a greater desire to challenge authority; whether it is the power of the banking elite, scandals over MP expenses or the issue of climate change, more and more people want change in the system. So, for all those who have been following the recent Labour leadership election, the question is simple: where does this leave Labour?
The simple fact is that Labour lost the election due to the unpopularity of its leader and the lingering spectre of Blairism. Utilising Tony Blair during the election campaign reminded so many voters why they had turned away from Labour’s government in the first place: two hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have overshadowed Blair’s reign and secured his legacy as the simpering puppet of George W Bush, one of the worst US Presidents of the last century. For any government that has been in power for years eventually people begin to grow tired of you. And then they vote in a new government.
However, this is not the death of the Labour party. Or, should I say, this is not necessarily the end of the Labour party should it choose the right man to lead the party in to the next election in five years time. Labour has to grapple with new ideas and a new politics of reform. Whilst Labour should be rightly proud of its social achievements over the last thirteen years, it should recognise that it cannot rest on its laurels if it is to win back its place in Downing Street.
Labour must move further left. The scene had been set for a shift away from the primacy of the private sector through the financial crisis. It is the perfect opportunity to change our system of taxation and reform a shell-shocked and hugely unpopular financial sector and allow for a fairer society. It is a chance to realise that the MP expenses left a chance to completely reform a flagging electoral system and to attack the culture of greed that has permeated society. It is a chance to recognise that ordinary people need to be supported, society needs to be more equal and the country needs to find a new place in the world and within Europe.
However, it is severely disappointing that as so far the right of the party seems to be the most dominant. David Miliband is seen as the heir to Blair. For that exact reason he is unelectable. The last election was as much a condemnation of Blair as it was of Gordon Brown. It was an understanding that ID cards and the war in Iraq were not policies that the public either wanted or felt were genuine attempts at improving peoples’ lives. It was a rejection of New Labour. For people like David Miliband, Andy Burnham and their supporters within the party, it is believed that all that needs to happen is for a young former minister to follow in Blair’s footsteps. And it is exactly that kind of thinking that would win the Conservatives a majority at the next election. David Miliband would be Labour’s William Hague. Burnham would be its very own Iain Duncan Smith.
If the party wants to resurrect itself, it must find a new set of principles to rally round. Jon Cruddas’ refusal to join the leadership contest is a blow to the party’s hopes of resurrection. Now it must look towards Ed Miliband, a descendent of New Labour but one who, crucially, realises that Labour must move on from the old battlegrounds that were fought in 1997 and move in to a new radical future.
Rejuvenation will not come easy. It will come with much soul-searching and introspection and an understanding, not only of the challenges the country faces in the future, but also of what the new coalition means for the party. Simply rejecting the government will not work; only new ideas and a new system will do it. Labour cannot beat a coalition government if it does now set itself out as a true alternative. The party needs to reject the cardboard cut-outs of Blair and Brown and look to embrace a new left-leaning future. New Labour is dead and the nation knows this. It is time for Labour to realise this too.