Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Advice for the next leader of the Labour Party

The Labour Party will announce its new leader this weekend at its conference in Manchester. As a member of the Labour Party, I have an interest in its future development. There will be much work to be done once we know the new leader after a fairly healthy and interesting campaign these last few months.

Whoever the new leader is will be charged with the task of reclaiming 10 Downing Street. This would be my advice to the new Labour Party leader on how this might be best accomplished:

"Dear [insert name],

Many congratulations on succeeding Gordon Brown. Enjoy your celebrations tonight because there is much work to do lying ahead.

Brown's Government has now been replaced by an uneasy Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. This coalition has lasted without much threat these last few months, but primarily because of two factors. One factor was the absence of a new Labour Party leader replacing former PM Brown. A second factor was the fact that Parliament has been in summer recess for much of the current Parliament's existence.

We should be unsurprised to find the coalition functioning in light of these two factors, but real cracks have already appeared in the coalition that should offer Labour a major opportunity if it were to move swiftly. The cracks we see now show signs of only getting much worse now that Parliament is back in session. The task now is what to do about it.

There will be much media attention over the weekend covering the Labour Party conference and your election. This attention offers a real opportunity to employ a two pronged campaign to end the coalition government and force a general election returning Labour to power.

The first prong is the task of proper scrutiny required by all Shadow Cabinets. One area requiring scrutiny will be the forthcoming spending review. I would strongly recommend repeated references to the case of the Republic of Ireland. Many recommended immediate action in terms of swift cuts, including to the public sector. (The BBC's Stephanie Flanders has a helpful summary here of the financial problems facing Ireland.) The result? The recovery that was to happen has not yet materialized.

I believe the better strategy would be to argue that, yes, we should balance the books, but now is not the time. The UK's recovery is fragile and slower than has been predicted. There is every reason to believe that major cuts now will only make the recovery far more difficult.

Now is the time for further investment, not economic withdrawl. Investment should be made in areas, such as improving public transport and roads as well as education. These are areas that would help decrease unemployment and provide benefits in the long-term. Better transport will make it easier for business to reach the marketplace. A better educated public is a public with a higher skill set and this has its own long-term beneficial effects on future economic growth. The best time to tackle the debt crisis through cuts should be when the recovery is secured in this way. The recovery would then be easier, more sustainable, and much less painful for the public.

The second prong is to further expose cracks within the coalition. Labour's aim should not be to win over Conservatives, but raise new doubts amongst Liberal Democrats. One task already adopted by many Labour MPs has been to note how Liberal Democrats have abandoned much of what they argued for during the recent general election. This should continue.

A second task is to particularly focus on defeating a major coalition bill. My recommendation is to target the proposed Fixed Parliaments Bill. I offer some arguments for why this Bill should be rejected here, but let me say more about it now.

I would recommend that Labour attack the bill for its many demerits, but also a piece of legislation that is distinctly illiberal. Again and again. One reason is that if the Bill became law, then defeating the government more quickly will become far more difficult. A second reason is that the Bill's defeat may be just enough to help secure a no-confidence vote in the still shaky coalition.

Adopting these two prong strategy might help to weaken Labour's opponents and increase the likelihood that a new general election will be called. Labour can then tell the public how neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems are fit to lead the country--after all, they've had their chance and swiftly imploded. So what d'ya think?

Congratulations again on becoming party leader.

Sincerely yours,


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