Harriet Harman MP
Young Fabian Seminar
Tuesday 13th March 2007
What does Labour need to do to win a fourth term? Policies, personalities and party reform.
To win a fourth term we need to do four things.
- Never ourselves take for granted or let others forget the important progressive things that Labour has done in government
- Develop a forensic and effective attack on the Tories under Cameron
- Develop the new policy agenda for the next ten years and
- Rebuild the party.
First, our achievements in government
There are things that we wish the government had done more of and there are things that we with the government hadn’t done at all. But we must never lose sight of the fact that Britain is now, with a Labour government, a fairer and more prosperous country. You will all know what stands out for you ….for my constituents it is the minimum wage, the new childcare services, the ability to get a job, not having to wait 2 years if you need a hip replacement.
Our opponents want to deny our achievements in government or make it seem that these things would have happened anyway. We must not allow them, let alone help them, conceal our achievements.
Second, attack the Tories
We used to be the masters of Tory attack. But we got out of the habit. We couldn’t get near attacking Ian Duncan Smith – there were so many of his own party in front of us in the queue. And no-one really thought William Hague or Michael Howard was going to be Prime Minister so the focus was rightly on us rather than them. Now, without over-stating it, Cameron is giving the Tories more confidence and we must subject the Tories to a forensic critique.
We need to take apart and expose the fact that
- Cameron will say anything that he thinks people want to hear but he would not deliver because there is no principle underpinning it and it has no coherence or practicality.
- And the Tory party remains unchanged. The same Tory party that it always was. So when Patrick Mercer makes appalling comments about black people serving in our armed forces – everyone in a Tory area thought it was there Tory MP and quickly the Tories have sought to rehabilitate him.
Thirdly, developing policy
And the party, about which I will say more in a moment will have a vital role to play in this.
We need to be prepared to be bold as we plan our policies for the next 10 years. To offer, as we did in 1997 to double investment in the NHS and cut waiting lists, to double investment in Aid to developing countries and to double maternity pay and leave. Those were all bold, radical proposals which were bitterly opposed by the Tories and the CBI.
We need that same spirit of determination and ambition as we look ahead to the challenges of the next 10 years
- And plan to support families with as much commitment as we have supported health and education services
- And plan to sustain economic growth at a time of growing competition from China and India and determination to cut carbon emissions at home and abroad.
- And plan to build a strong, safe, confidant multi-cultural community
So the challenges are different but the ambition and the determination must be undimmed.
Fourth, rebuilding the party
We need to rebuild the public trust that we have lost and we need to renew the party strength that we have lost.
We can renew the party so that it is
- Dynamic, committed and confident.
- Connected with the local community.
- Representative of the community in terms of age, gender and ethnicity.
- At national level, more willing to involve and listen to our representatives in local government.
- Prepared to work closely with our trade union affiliates at all levels.
- Democratic, with members making the decisions about the party.
- Connected with Labour in government with Ministers being connected with the party in all constituencies, including those which do not have Labour MPs.
The renewal agenda for party organisation has to acknowledge that:
- During the ten years we have been in government the party membership has fallen by half from 400,000 to around 200,000.
- Our committed and dedicated activists are working hard but they face difficult electoral challenges – particularly in the forthcoming elections this May in Scotland, Wales and England.
During the campaign for those elections as I have campaigned with party members, councillors and our trade union supporters in different parts of Scotland, Wales and England. I have listened to members in Labour strongholds, and also in those areas where despite the efforts of the local membership we have no Labour MP and few councillors.
I am also drawing on my experience as MP for Camberwell and Peckham for 24 years, representing a Constituency Labour Party of nearly 800 members and my experience as a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee for many years, a position to which I was elected by the national membership of the party.
We need to use the opportunity of a new leadership team:
- To bring back into the party those who cared enough to be members to help us get into government but who have left the party since we have been in government.
- To bring more “first-time” members into the party – particularly younger members.
- To support active campaigning.
- To strengthen the links between party and government.
We need to engage our grass roots members in how we renew our Party. It is in the Party itself that we will find and develop the renewal programme that we need for a fourth term.
I have set out some proposals for consideration which are a contribution to the widespread and important debate about renewal of the Party.
1. The party should have only one Chair and that person should be chosen by the party.
2. Connecting the party at all levels with trade unionists
3. Strengthening the network of women in the Party and having a balanced leadership team.
4.Strengthening the National Policy Forum
5. Building the future of the party through young members and young councillors : A new Youth Strategy
6. Acknowledging community activism as a key part of party membership
7. Embracing the new and less “controlled” methods of communication.
8. A new relationship between Labour ministers and Labour constituencies without a Labour MP
It is a challenging and uncertain time. But we have fought back from much more difficult and dark times in the past. I am in the party because it is a cause. – it’s the same for all of you. Because we hate injustice and poverty and inequality. We have made progress but we have much yet to do. Because of that we are determined that we shall not fail.
Harriet Harman MP