2 August 2015: What Labour should do now

I rejoined Labour in 2010 when Ed Miliband was elected party leader, because he is a decent, intelligent man and had been a good Energy and Climate Change Secretary. I thought he was the right leader in 2010. So I accept that my views on who should lead the party now need to be taken with a large pinch of salt. Ed wasn’t perfect as leader of the opposition. And some of the policies were too anti-business – though not the energy and climate policies. Labour screwed up in 2010 by allowing the Tories to establish an anti-Labour economic narrative while it held a leadership election. (plus ça change…)

Someone with Blair’s charisma might have won in 2015. But he or she would have struggled to overcome the challenges posed by the SNP. I think Labour was right to campaign with the Tories and LibDems against Scottish independence – though there should have had a more active Labour campaign alongside the cross-party Better Together campaign. (I’ve joined the Labour Movement for Europe to try to contribute to this in the EU referendum.) Once the ‘unionists’ had won the Scottish vote, the Labour near-wipeout in the General Election was hard to avoid, because we had been in bed with the toxic (to Scots) Conservative Party. And whatever Ed said about not forming a coalition with the SNP, voters in England worked out that a Labour-led government would be dependent on SNP votes in Parliament. The English don’t like being ruled by the Scots. The last Scot to be elected UK prime minister was Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. (Gordon Brown was not elected PM.)

Who should be leader?

Since the election, Labour has been in meltdown. None of the leadership contenders has great charisma, at least on TV. (I’m told Liz Kendall has more presence in person.) The inhumane, xenophobic reaction of the UK government to the Calais migrant crisis has been blasted by Tim Farron, the new leader of the LibDems, and by the Church of England. Labour’s reaction? Acting leader Harriet Harman suggests that the British government ask the French government to compensate affected British businesses. (See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33745702) Harriet – those of us arguing for a more pro-business stance don’t mean that only business is important. Human beings matter too. The people risking death trying to get into the UK are not just ‘potential migrants’. They are children, women and men.

Labour should chose a leader who is humane, intelligent and electable. That rules out Corbyn. Jeremy is no doubt humane and intelligent. But he is completely unelectable. Political parties exist to win elections. Those wanting to ‘make a point’ should get active in a pressure group.

Andy Burnham is a good campaigner, as he showed by persistently seeking the truth about the Hillsborough disaster. But the Tories would attack him mercilessly over the mid-Staffs affair (as the Spectator does here http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/04/andy-burnham-still-cant-answer-questions-on-mid-staffs/). He’s also wrong on energy policy, claiming that renewables alone are enough. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Loq0EPqrc).

Yvette Cooper gave a speech on climate change last week. But I was on holiday, and haven’t been able to find out much about what she said. The candidate with the clearest commitment to climate action is Liz Kendall. She has said that:

“As Labour leader I will challenge George Osborne’s myth that we need to choose between the economy and the environment. Low carbon businesses were the biggest growth area during the recession, and the CBI estimates that the number of green jobs will increase to 1.4 million by 2020.”

(See http://leftfootforward.org/2015/07/where-cameron-sees-green-crap-i-see-future-jobs-investment-and-prosperity/).

So I’ll be voting for Liz first and Yvette second.

What should the new leader do?

At the next election Labour should present a package of policies which is pro-business but also radical. In the areas of climate and energy, this package should involve support for all low-carbon technologies and firmer opposition to coal without CCS – this could accurately be called an Obama package.

Labour should promise to cut subsidies to the fossil fuel industry but increase them to energy efficiency, renewables, CCS and advanced nuclear power. This would not be anti-business but anti-business as usual. That was a phrase used by Ed Miliband, which I thought was good. (But I’m a north London policy wonk, so I guess I would…)

Would these sensible policy ideas appeal to the radical voices, particularly the radical young voices, now singing Corbyn’s praises? No. Worthy but dull. So here’s a suggestion for something more exciting. Abandon Trident, unilaterally.

The party’s existing defence policy is essentially based on outdated Cold War notions plus electoral fears. Before the election Labour was adamant that it would upgrade Trident. For example, the then-Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said that there would be absolutely no concession on Trident to the SNP (see http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13199745.Douglas_Alexander_warns_SNP__we_d_not_move_on_Trident_in_post_election_deal/ ) Much good this did us – or indeed Douglas personally.

Nuclear weapons were arguably necessary during the Cold War. Labour’s proposal in its 1983 manifesto – the longest suicide note in history – to give up the UK’s nuclear weapons was a political mistake. But the Cold War is over. Trident delivers no defence benefits to the UK. In the words of former head of the armed forces Field Marshal Lord Bramall, plus two other retired generals:

“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism…Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant, except in the context of domestic politics.”

(see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/4268661/Trident-nuclear-deterrent-completely-useless-say-retired-military-officers.html

The end of the Cold War does not, of course, mean that the world is now a safe place. But Trident does not address the threats we now face. The letter from Bramall et al goes on to say that the UK should increase spending on conventional weapons. Labour should follow the generals’ advice. The 2020 manifesto should  promise to meet the NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence – as Liz Kendall has said she would do. To help pay for this, and numerous other priorities, Labour should  promise to give up Trident.



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