The Thick of It

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mandelson meddling again?

Peter Mandelson's speech to Progress yesterday was a predictable, right and honest appraisal of the Labour Party's current predicament.

It isn't news that Labour needs to make a bigger impact on voters after a natural period of reflection following defeat a year ago. It isn't news that Labour is skint either, but how exactly the party is going to fund itself is a rather large, unaswered question. At the moment the reliance on trade union funding is stark and quite worrying. A return to the days of big business donations is also unlikely as a party of opposition is far less attractive a proposition.

His lesson is that what Labour learnt in the 1980s and 1990s - that it must focus on appealing to voters first and last is as true today. That is why the real lesson of New Labour, which is about having an honest centre left appeal to people that is based on an understanding of what people actually want, stands as true today as it did in 1994.

Personalities may change but the principle should remain exactly the same. 

Changes do need to be made to the wording. Party structure and policies need to change to reflect that we are not in 1994, 1997 or 2005 any more. The game has changed and will have done so further after at least five years of Tory destruction. The relationship between state and individual will be completely different in 2015 to the one Labour left behind.

As Ed Miliband said in one of his first speeches as leader, we need to be the optimists. Labour need to show the country that we can improve public services and offer better value for money. We also need to stand up for services that improve people's lives, protect the environment, enhance opportunity and create opportunities for business. The Tories are pessimists who don't believe it is even worth trying to achieve many of these goals. Labour needs to show that things can be different.

Mandelson's speech demonstrates there is a lot of work to be done to get Labour into a winning position again. He also shows that by sticking to the principles that made the party so successful not that long ago, it doesn't have to be that difficult.

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