Labour needs to do more than find a new leader: it must again become a movement. by Andy Winter

A concept I used to refer to regularly in the earlier incarnation of this blog was borrowed from the West Wing, the Big Mo – Momentum. Political parties in the ascendency enjoy momentum, and with it can come political success. Up to the 2011 council elections the Green Party locally had the Big Mo. Labour enjoyed the Big Mo in 1997.

In 2015, the old Big Mo, as in momentum, has given way to a new Big Mo – Movement. A political movement transcends party politics, it is a positive force routed in aspiration for change. Such aspiration should not be confused with the shallow use of the word when applied to ‘hard working families’ or ‘strivers’. 

The independence referendum in Scotland, although unsuccessful, unleashed something that proved to be the death knell of the major parties in Scotland on 7th May.  The support the SNP enjoyed came from across the political spectrum. People were not necessarily voting for the SNP as a party, but for what the SNP symbolised. There was a sense amongst the people that things could be different, could be better. It overcame the politics of austerity of the Conservatives and austerity-lite of Labour. And with it Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were all but wiped out north of the border.

Across the UK, the debate about the new leader of the Labour Party is focused on the ‘presidential’ characteristics of some rather bland individuals who appear to be more concerned about not offending anyone than putting forward a message of hope. Austerity-lite is neither one thing or another. The revolutionary slogans of the 1970s and ’80s have given way to ones mumbled by those unwilling or incapable of arguing an alternative economic plan:

“What do we want?”

“Cuts!”

“When do we want them?”

“Not as quickly as you!”

The debate demonstrates that Labour activists and commentators have learned nothing from the movement in Scotland that has thrust the SNP into the forefront of British politics. They have not grasped that the people of Scotland didn’t just vote for a party, they voted for a movement.

By comparison, Nichola Sturgeon embodies the hopes and aspirations of the majority, yes the majority, of voters in Scotland.  The Sturgeon / SNP Phenomenon has reached far beyond Scotland. I can’t remember how many times during the elections people in Brighton said to me:  “I wish I could vote for Nichola Sturgeon”.

But it wasn’t that Sturgeon presented herself in a presidential manner. The debate between the seven party leaders was a watershed in British politics, with three women party leaders showing that they offered more than four rather grey stale males. They spoke to ordinary people and, in particular, to ordinary women. They spoke ‘human’. Isabel Hardman from the Spectator said that if she had had a bad day, got caught in a down pour, and had lost her keys, she would want to pop in for a cup of tea with Lianne Wood. Lianne Wood is the next door neighbour we all wish we had.

I imagine many Labour activists and supporters regard Nichola Sturgeon as the leader they wished they had. 

But that is where they would be going wrong. A party is more than its leader. Electoral success has become much more than just the Big Mo.

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One Response

  1. The problem with the SNP/Sturgeon approach are their policies. Whereas I am entirely happy to end austerity, scrap Trident, abolish tuition fees and so forth, the average Labour voter and even the average party member is not. There are still, like me, plenty of LP members who have remained (or become more) radical over the years, but all the evidence suggests that a SNP style radical left programme could never succeed in England. Lack of confidence in Labour’s ability to manage the economy was a main cause of our recent failure, along with lack of confidence in Mr Milliband. If anyone has the answer to how to find a leader who could successfully promote (i.e. get elected) radical policies I would be glad to hear about it.

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